Dogs have been long trusted detectors, sniffing out drugs, explosive bombs, and even lost people. But the question is, could dogs go beyond? Like sniffing coronavirus from people and helping in this ongoing health crisis?
Based on accounts and research, COVID-19 belongs to the family of coronaviruses which is the same family that houses the SARS and MERS. Doctors explain that diseases and viral infections have unique and detectable odors but this scent is not palpable to us humans because normally we only have 6 million smell receptors that are able to identify and differentiate common smells in the environment. On the other hand, dogs can see the world from a whole new perspective just through their nose that has over 300 million smell receptors. This enables them to detect and comprehensively differentiate scents from different living and non-living things. Experts want to utilize this advantage in detecting possible coronavirus carriers specifically in airports before travelers can enter the country.
Why is it revolutionary?
A canine's ability to identify the scent of the virus is a breakthrough in contact tracing. Individuals that are infected with the virus can now be easily detected and isolated before he/she contacts other people.
This could work hand in hand with the standard nasal test to carry out a more effective detection of the virus amongst people. If proven successful, the testing capacity of a country could expand to more than ten folds. It would be cheaper, quicker, and possibly more accurate according to experts.
How do dogs sniff viruses?
Dogs are trained initially by letting them identify a familiar odor from patients who are positive of the virus and those who are not. This scent would then be placed alongside other odors to see if dogs can identify the smell of the virus among the other scents. This process is repeatedly performed on a certain range of duration which is about 2 to 3 months. As of the moment, dogs in training shelters are able to classify the scent of the virus up to 94% at a time. Finland was the first European country to employ this method on their airports to test whether this could help ease out the health crisis and prevent the virus from further spreading. Comprehensive data is still needed before concluding on a successful result of the research.
Aside from humans, there have been reported cases of animals like dogs and tigers being infected with the virus. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that is very contagious and letting dogs sniff the virus puts them at high risk of becoming carriers of COVID-19. At this rate, dogs might contribute to the further spread of the virus to people. The question now is, are the dogs safe?
It’s been a year since the pandemic totally changed our lives. The innovative methods that experts are trying to counter are our ray of hope that will soon revert us back to our usual way of living and immobilize the virus. But as we continue in this manner, there is something that we must not disregard among ourselves. As a vet student myself, I want to shed light on two things: Human Health and Animal Welfare.
Many are suffering because of the pandemic. The sooner we get out of this situation, the better for all of us. But as we try to use dogs to counter the virus, let us not forget that these animals also have feelings and experience pain just like the rest of us. Let us put the same weight on human health and animal welfare as we try to seek solutions.
Dogs are very useful and helpful to humans, which is why they are tagged as man’s best friend. If they truly are, then let us learn to respect the boundaries of animal rights.