You know your dog can smell last night’s chicken bone at the bottom of the compost, but did you know they can also smell COVID-19?
A study published on Monday found that people with COVID-19 have a specific smell, and trained dogs can find that smell really quick. They can even smell people who have no symptoms or who aren’t really that sick.
The study trained six dogs to smell COVID-19 using donated clothes from hospital workers in London, England. Some of those workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19. In the training, dogs were given treats when they correctly identified a piece of clothing from someone who had COVID-19. After 8-10 weeks, the dogs could pick out the COVID-19 socks and shirts almost as accurately as PCR tests, only no one had to send a snot swab to a lab.
The reason dogs can get so good at tasks like this is because they have excellent noses. We have about 5 million tiny smell receptors in our noses, but dogs have 300 million.
Some of the dogs in the study were born into the job—they have parents who were also trained to smell things like cancer. Other dogs were rescue pooches who got a second chance to do something awesome.
While there are no solid plans for COVID-smelling dogs in Canada yet, there’s a chance that trained dogs could be used in airports to sniff out folks with COVID-19 as they come off the plane. Super friendly breeds like cocker spaniels, golden retrievers, and labradors are great COVID-19 sniffers because they love to search, and they like working with lots of people.
Not everyone likes dogs, but they might still be more fun than a brain-tickling PCR test. It would also mean an end to quarantine for everyone coming into the country. Only people who set off Rover’s nose would have to quarantine, and even then they would need a proper test to show whether they have COVID-19.