Canine olfactory detection and its relevance to medical detection

BMC Infect Dis. 2021 Aug 19;21(1):838. doi: 10.1186/s12879-021-06523-8.


The extraordinary olfactory sense of canines combined with the possibility to learn by operant conditioning enables dogs for their use in medical detection in a wide range of applications. Research on the ability of medical detection dogs for the identification of individuals with infectious or non-infectious diseases has been promising, but compared to the well-established and-accepted use of sniffer dogs by the police, army and customs for substances such as money, explosives or drugs, the deployment of medical detection dogs is still in its infancy. There are several factors to be considered for standardisation prior to deployment of canine scent detection dogs. Individual odours in disease consist of different volatile organic molecules that differ in magnitude, volatility and concentration. Olfaction can be influenced by various parameters like genetics, environmental conditions, age, hydration, nutrition, microbiome, conditioning, training, management factors, diseases and pharmaceuticals. This review discusses current knowledge on the function and importance of canines' olfaction and evaluates its limitations and the potential role of the dog as a biomedical detector for infectious and non-infectious diseases.

Keywords: Biomedical detection dogs; Olfaction; Olfactory sense; Screening method; Sniffer dogs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Learning
  • Odorants*
  • Smell*