Dogs are well known for their abilities to sniff out drugs even when hidden in the most concealed containers. K-9s assist humans worldwide by supporting the visually disadvantaged, hearing impaired and diabetic patients and they are well known to many of us undertaking security checks on airports. In more recent years though dogs are also assisting patients with other life-threatening health conditions.

How can K-9 be so effective?

Dogs are lucky to have about 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to a mere six million in humans. Hence dogs will be able to sniff out far more than humans will ever be able to. Furthermore, the part of a dog’s brain that is responsible for analysing smells is about 40 times larger than in humans. With that in mind, it is no wonder that dogs are able to retrace their steps for days as many of our dog walkers can relate to. There is another thing though. Dogs also have something called neophilia, which means they are attracted to new and interesting odours. Another factor many owners are far too familiar with.

Another more unknown factor is that when humans exhale through their nose, the spent air comes out in the same way it came in. In contrast, when dogs exhale, the spent air exits through the slits in the sides of the nose. This basically means, that dogs can more or less sniff continuously.

All these factors make dogs prime targets to assist in medicine by sniffing.

Any chance of K-9 assisting with fighting the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the UK, ‘Medical Detection Dogs’ has many years of experience in training dogs to detect different kinds of odours of diseases. These “bio detection dogs” are trained in a controlled environment to detect the odour of disease from samples, and then to apply that knowledge to detect certain medical conditions.

Previous work in this area has been published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. During an earlier study, dogs were able to detect the presence of malaria with an effectiveness of over 90%.

Against COVID-19, ‘Medical Detection Dogs’ undertook a small study to assess whether four legs and a wet nose are the next weapon. The, until 01/June/2021, unpublished study found that people that were infected with the COVID-19 virus give off a distinct odour, detectable by our K-9 friends. The most accurate sniffer dog achieved 94.3% sensitivity. Comparing that with 97.2% for PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) tests, an astonishing result.

Another initiative led by the ‘National Veterinary School of Alfort’ is in line with the findings from ‘Medical Detection Dogs’, i.e. that dogs excel in the detection of COVID-19. With an efficiency of 97% based on over 300 people tested, our K-9 friends are very effective in sniffing out the true positives of the virus.

What type of dog might be suitable?

Sighthounds such as deerhounds or greyhounds are probably not a good idea as they are more interested in ‘chasing’, especially moving targets. What is needed are gundogs such as labradors, retrievers or spaniels that are best suitable as their main desire is ‘searching’, less ‘chasing’.

In summary

With K-9s being special to many individuals, by supporting people affected by diabetes or other life-threatening conditions, their support in medicines seems to be just starting. Sniffing out COVID-19 is the latest achievement our four-legged friends can assist with. And with an accuracy of over 90% in detecting COVID-19 during two independent studies that is comparable to more invasive COVID-19 tests, opportunities for support during this pandemic seem endless. Being able to sniff out the virus in airports, train stations or major events in seconds rather than waiting for a more traditional PCR test is an advantage not to be underestimated. The veterinary sector just became another important factor in beating COVID-19.

Samarind RMS is already supporting many clients in the veterinary sector, including the New Veterinary Regulations coming into effect next year.

Published by Olaf Schoepke

Passionate about sharing ideas with regulatory professionals in the human and veterinary medicinal product space.

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