‘We’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19’: UK group says it’s training canines to sniff out virus

A U.K. animal charity known as Medical Detection Dogs which trains dogs to sniff out various diseases, including cancer, announced it has begun training dogs to be able to detect people infected with COVID-19. 

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“Together they have started preparations to intensively train dogs so they could be ready in 6 weeks to help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis towards the tail end of the epidemic,” the organization said in a statement.

According to the group, dogs trained to detect the novel coronavirus would be trained in the same way as they would for diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and other bacterial infections. 

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The group said their dogs are able to detect “subtle changes in temperature of the skin,” meaning the dogs could know if a person had a fever. 

“In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19,” said Dr. Claire Guest, CEO and co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs.

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“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 and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed,” Guest said. 

A man wearing a protective face mask due to the spread of coronavirus is walking with a dog. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The organization says it has previously partnered with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as well as Durham University training dogs to detect malaria, which the organization says will contribute to their efforts to use the animals to detect COVID-19. 

“We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19, change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it,” said Professor James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.