‘Any breed could do it’: dogs might be a Covid tester’s best friend

‘Any breed could do it’: dogs might be a Covid tester’s best friend

  • Researchers around the world are training canines to sniff out the virus – could they be deployed for mass testing?

It is simple and pain-free, could be used to test for coronavirus in care homes, airports and schools, and might just be more realistic than the UK government’s £100bn “Operation Moonshoot” mass screening plan. Its name? Fido.

Around the world – from the UK to Finland, Spain, Brazil, Lebanon and Australia – teams of researchers are training dogs to sniff out Covid-19. And some say the idea of training hundreds of thousands of canine noses to check for coronavirus is not as far-fetched as it may sound.

How do dogs do it? At Finland’s Helsinki airport, where four Covid-19 sniffer dogs have begun work in a state-funded pilot scheme, passengers dab their skin with a wipe, which is placed in a beaker next to others containing control scents. If the dog detects the virus – shown by yelping, pawing, or lying down – the passenger takes a free swab test to verify its verdict.

Speaking to the Guardian, scientists said any breed could in theory be trained – a process that takes between two and 10 weeks – raising the prospect of pet canines joining an army of Covid sniffers.

Prof Dominique Grandjean, of the national veterinary school of Alfort in France, who is leading a research team using bomb detection, cancer detection and search and rescue dogs, said the canines were not sniffing the virus itself but rather tell-tale volatile chemicals produced when the virus infects cells, and released by the body.