The weekend science ticket. Coronavirus: what if we relied on our dog friends?


May 13, 2020. Thanks to their highly developed sense of smell, dogs are trained to detect the Covid-19 virus at the Maison-Alfort veterinary school near Paris. An initiative led by veterinary professor Dominique Grandjean. (JOEL SAGET / AFP)

A team of French researchers recently proved that dogs can detect the Covid-19 virus thanks to their ultra-developed sense of smell. Since then, the use of sniffer dogs has increased across the world.

Over 30 years ago, the scientific journal The Lancet already suggested using dogs to detect, among other things, cancers, and it now seems that they are able to detect the Covid-19 virus in humans. This discovery is the result of research by a team of French researchers, which exposed dogs to samples from patients positive for Covid-19 and the results are impressive.

We very quickly noticed that the dogs wedged themselves to the smell of samples coming from positive patients, so they were discriminating. Today, we have 10 operational dogs in France, which operate on values ​​of sensitivity and specificity which oscillate around 95% and often at 100%.

Dominique Granjean, veterinary professor at the Maison-Alfort school

Dominique Grandjean is responsible for the Novaïs-Covid-19 project.

May 13, 2020 at the Maison-Alfort veterinary school.  A woman teaches her dog to detect material infected with Covid-19.  Thanks to their highly developed sense of smell, these sniffer dogs achieve feats.
May 13, 2020 at the Maison-Alfort veterinary school. A woman teaches her dog to detect material infected with Covid-19. Thanks to their highly developed sense of smell, these sniffer dogs achieve feats. (JOEL SAGET / AFP)

This ability to detect the virus is possible thanks to the extremely developed smell of dogs, with 200 million olfactory cells, compared to only 5 million in humans. This discovery was of great interest to many countries around the world, which were quick to deploy sniffer dogs in high-traffic areas such as airports. This is the case, for example, in Finland, at Helsinki airport. However, in France, the approach is still struggling to convince.

It is a quick, non-invasive, repeatable, and inexpensive test. We have been waiting for months for a recognition fund, support and help. This help did not come from France, it came from the WHO, which validated our protocols and supports us materially, which allows us to move forward.

Dominique Granjean, veterinary professor at Maison-Alfort

Watch this amazing video on dog training at Maison-Alfort veterinary school with veterinary professor Dominique Grandjean.

Beyond screening for Covid-19, various studies have shown that dogs are also capable of detecting tumors and cancers.

Even more amazingly, a horse has also shown this ability. He is a former show horse named Peyo, who now works in hospitals within the palliative care services. Hassen Bouchakour, Peyo’s traveling companion, is president of the Les Sabots du Cœur association.

Peyo has the instinctive ability to detect cancers and tumors. He is released in a corridor of ten patient rooms, among which he has the mission to choose his ‘friends’. Sometimes he finds one, two, three, sometimes no one. If contact is made, a relationship will be born.

Hassen Bouchakour, trainer and traveling companion of Peyo

Scientists who have followed Peyo for several years still struggle to explain his extraordinary empathy for the patients who are in pain and whom he has chosen to help. Today, Hassen Bouchakour and his extraordinary horse accompany patients at the end of their life:

What we are trying to understand is why a patient who does not want to communicate with the doctor, with caregivers or with his family, all of a sudden, will end up like a child? How will the two of them manage to leave together, until his last breath? Sometimes they stick to each other, it’s quite surprising “, concludes Hassen Bouchakour.

Peyo surprises scientists and researchers.  This retired horse from the show, works miracles in palliative care, with patients who sometimes no longer even speak with their loved ones.
Peyo surprises scientists and researchers. This retired horse from the show, works miracles in palliative care, with patients who sometimes no longer even speak with their loved ones. (HASSEN BOUCHAKOUR)

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