Labradors can sniff out COVID in urine

2 minute read

Move over COVID marshals, the time of the COVID watchdog has arrived…

Eight Labrador retrievers and a Belgian Malinois have been trained to detect the scent of COVID-19 in urine samples, according to a proof-of-concept study published in PLOS ONE.

The cutest COVID marshals on the planet.

In the study, the dogs were first given a crash course in sniffing out chemicals using a scent wheel and a universal detection compound. 

The dogs were then trained using urine samples from seven different people who had tested positive to SARS-CoV-2, as well as COVID-negative samples from six children. (Samples were heated or treated with detergent to inactivate the virus.)

In a test of their new sniffing skills, the dogs detected the COVID-positive urine samples with 96% accuracy.

Specificity was 99%, and sensitivity was 68%, meaning there were hardly any false positives but some false negatives. 

The canine noses were so sensitive they caused an issue with the experiment by discriminating between actual patients rather than between their SARS-CoV-2 infection status.

The dogs were also thrown off course by a sample from a patient who had recently recovered from COVID-19.

“The dogs kept responding to that sample, and we kept telling them no,” said Cynthia Otto, the senior author and director of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine Working Dog Center. 

“But obviously there was still something in the patient’s sample that the dogs were keying in on.”

The research team is now working on “the T-Shirt study” where they train dogs to detect COVID-19 infection and vaccination status based on the odour of shirts worn overnight. 

Perhaps in the future we’ll see labradors roaming around at music festivals or sporting matches barking at people with COVID.

If you see something fluffy, say something fluffy … Send cute dog pics to

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