Medical sniffer COVID-19 dogs being trained in the UK
Photo courtesy of Bex Arts.

Medical detection dogs in the United Kingdom are joining the fight against COVID-19!

With the Coronavirus pandemic causing major lifestyle and employment upheavals, the team at Medical Detection Dogs, a UK charity, are training a team of six sniffer dogs (pictured below) to detect COVID-19. Scientists believe that these dogs can be trained to sniff out coronavirus in people. Some of these talented canines are already pre-trained detector dogs that could be taught to detect the virus in no time at all.

The charity is working alongside Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) to train the dogs. According to the trainers, it may be take up to six weeks to finalize the dogs’ training after they’ve been taught to safely sniff out the virus. “In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19,” says Dr. Claire Guest, CEO and Co-Founder of Medical Detection Dogs. “We are now looking into how we can safely catch the odor of the virus from patients and present it to the dogs. 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.”

With each disease having a specific odor, medical detection dogs are experts when it comes to identifying skin temperature changes and unique smells. The hope is that these dogs will be able to help detect travelers at airports with fevers linked to COVID-19 so that they can be tested and treated.

Medical detection dogs play an important role in disease control, and would also beneficial in locating infected travelers at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent a re-emergence of this often fatal virus. Dogs have been trained to sniff out malaria, Parkinson’s, cancer and numerous bacterial diseases with high accuracy, making them an ideal option for providing a non-invasive diagnosis for COVID-19.

According to Gemma Butlin at Medical Detection Dogs, the team is taking every possible step to keep these working dogs safe. “We will keep in constant contact with scientists and veterinarians to confirm this, however it is believed that this is completely safe for dogs to perform this duty,” she says. “Scientists have found that although COVID-19 is a novel virus that originated from animals and was passed on to humans, dogs cannot contract the disease. A recent published paper indicates that cats can contract it, but that dogs can’t. The dogs will be trained on non-infectious samples and will not need to make contact with the individuals they are screening.”

For more about these wonderful dogs, visit