Trained dogs can detect Covid as well as PCR lab tests, study shows

Dogs can be trained to detect positive coronavirus cases even when there aren't symptoms (Credits: Getty Images)
Dogs can be trained to detect positive coronavirus cases even when there aren’t symptoms (Credits: Getty Images)

Dogs can be trained to detect coronavirus just as accurately as lab-based PCR tests, scientists have claimed.

In fact, our canine companions may even be better at identifying asymptomatic infected people than the tests.

A study that involved trained sniffer dogs and the sweat samples of 335 people. Of those 335 volunteers, 109 had been confirmed positive via PCR, including 31 who were asymptomatic.

The detection dogs were able to detect 97 per cent of the positive Covid cases, including all the asymptomatic cases.

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In the study, which has been published in the journal Plos One, the dogs sniffed the samples inside an olfaction cone. If they detected Covid, they would sit down in front of it.

According to the researchers, the dogs were better at detecting the positive cases while the traditional PCR test was better at determining negative cases. In a couple of false positive cases, the dogs detected repiratory illness strains that weren’t Covid.

It’s not clear exactly what the dogs are smelling when they detect Covid-19, but experts believe it could be a pattern of increasing and decreasing aromas, rather than the smell of a single chemical.

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One undeniable benefit to using dogs is the speed. While a standard PCR test can take a day or more to deliver a result, the scientists involved in this study said the dogs were able to analyse 20 samples in 15 seconds.

But there are drawbacks. It takes time to train sniffer dogs and, at present, there just aren’t enough available for the amount of testing that needs to be done. And secondly, while dogs perform well in lab settings, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to do the same in the real world.

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Ultimately though, the scientists say the results are encouraging and may make for an alternative to PCR. For example, the dogs could be employed in places like airports or event venues to test for Covid or when people have difficulty with undergoing nasal swabs for traditional tests.

‘Dogs are one of the highest-tech devices we have. They’re just biological sensors, instead of electronic sensors,’ said Kenneth Furton, a forensic chemist at Florida International University in Miami who was not involved in the study.

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