Dogs Are Able to Detect Presence of Coronavirus by Sniffing Human Saliva, New Study Finds

Nicholas Rice 07-31

Dogs with only one week of training were capable of identifying individuals infected with the novel coronavirus disease with a success rate of 94 percent, according to a new study by a German veterinary university.

The study, which was conducted by the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover in cooperation with the German Armed Forces, found that if trained properly, dogs were able to sniff out the disease in the saliva of patients with COVID-19.

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To conduct the study, researchers trained eight dogs for one week, where they sniffed the saliva of more than 1,000 people who were either healthy or infected with the virus. The canines were successfully able to determine the difference between saliva samples from patients who tested positive for the disease and those who tested negative.

"Within randomized and automated 1012 sample presentations, dogs achieved an overall average detection rate of 94% with 157 correct indications of positive, 792 correct rejections of negative, 33 false positive and 30 false negative indications," the authors of the study shared.

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“Dogs devote lots of brainpower to interpreting smells. They have more than 100 million sensory receptor sites in the nasal cavity as compared to 6 million in people," according to VCA Animal Hospitals. “The area of the canine brain devoted to analyzing odors is about 40 times larger than the comparable part of the human brain. In fact, it’s been estimated that dogs can smell anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times better than people."

They added, "Unlike humans, dogs have an additional olfactory tool that increases their ability to smell. The organ serves as a secondary olfactory system designed specifically for chemical communication."

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But how do the canines sniff out COVID-19 specifically?

"We think that this works because the metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient are completely changed,” Maren von Koeckritz-Blickwede, a professor at the aforementioned university, said in a YouTube video about the study. “We think that the dogs are able to detect a specific smell."

While more research is still needed, Von Koeckritz-Blickwede says the next step is to train dogs to differentiate COVID-19 samples from other diseases.

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The study authors said that the findings are preliminary and further research needs to be done to help develop more reliable screening methods of COVID-19-infected patients.

The study also notes that the method of detection could one day be used in public areas such as airports, sporting events, country borders or at other mass gatherings. It could also serve as alternative to, or in addition to, laboratory testing to help prevent further spreading of the virus.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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