According to the pilot study published Thursday in BMC Infectious Diseases by the University Veterinary Medicine Hannover, eight dogs from Germany’s armed forces trained for just five days before they could identify the virus in humans. They sniffed the saliva of more than 1,000 people, both healthy and infected, identifying the coronavirus with a 94% success rate.
“We think this works because metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient is completely changed, and we think that the dogs are able to detect a specific smell of the metabolic changes that occur in those patients,” Professor Dr. Maren Von Köckritz-Blickwede said in a YouTube video on the study Thursday.
Dr. Holger Volk, another professor from the university, said that dogs have a sense of smell that is 1,000 times better than humans, so their potential within the medical field is huge.
“We know for a very long time that dogs have been used in a lot of walks of life, but for medical detection, it’s a novel at the end of the day,” Volk said. “People have not really realized the potential a dog could have to detect diseased from non-diseased patients.”
For the study, dogs were trained using the saliva of people who tested positive for COVID-19 and the saliva or people who tested negative and have no history of respiratory disease. A randomized algorithm presented the dogs with the saliva, adding up to 1,012 samples total. Trainers were shocked at how quickly the dogs were trained.
Researchers said coronavirus-sniffing dogs could be used in public areas such as airports, sporting events and borders to help prevent further outbreaks of the virus. They believe they have created a solid foundation for future testing.
Von Köckritz-Blickwede said the next steps will be to train the dogs to differentiate between coronavirus and other diseases, such as influenza.
“That would be quite important to be able to differentiate that in the future,” she said.