Health & Wellness

Dogs Are Being Trained to Sniff Out COVID-19

The project could provide a quick and reliable way to test for COVID-19 at airports


Research has found that COVID-19 can be spread by those without any obvious symptoms. As a result, testing efforts at airports and other large public spaces that rely on temperature checks and screening for common symptoms have their limitations.

However, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) say a possible solution may be teaching dogs to sniff out of the virus.

“In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19,” said Dr. Claire Guest, the CEO and co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs. The UK organization is working in collaboration with the LSHTM researchers and has previously succeeded in training dogs to sniff out cancer.

“The aim is that dogs will be able to screen anyone, including those who are asymptomatic, and tell us whether they need to be tested. This would be fast, effective, and non-invasive.”

Experts say that anywhere from 10% to 27% of those infected with COVID-19 don’t experience the symptoms mostly commonly associated with illness, such as a fever, cough, or loss of a sense of smell.

“We know that other respiratory diseases change our body odour, so there is a chance that [COPVID-19] does. And if it does, dogs will be able to detect it,” said James Logan, a professor and head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM. “Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odours from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy—above the World Health Organization standards for a diagnostic.”

In another study, conducted at University Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany, researchers found that dogs from the armed forces were able to identify the virus with a 94% accuracy after testing with more than 1,000 healthy and infected people. Their training lasted only five days.

Photo: iStock/Dragos Cojocari.