Dogs and rats offer unique tools to detect bacteria and disease

Photo credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The olfactory prowess of dogs is well-documented. They have been trained to sniff out everything from people to drugs, from land mines and bombs to potential seizures.  Not surprisingly, we now have one that is trained to track Clostridium difficile (C. diff), potentially providing a new and effective tool for infection control specialists. Meet world’s only superbug-sniffing dog, a spaniel named Angus who tracks C. diff at a Vancouver hospital tells the story of Angus, an English springer spaniel, who will be employed at Vancouver General Hospital as Canada’s first and only C. diff sleuth. The story, published at National Post and written by Pamela Fayerman, says “Angus uses his scent-tracking abilities to find toxins in the bacterial organisms that cause C. diff. infections which usually follow antibiotic use that alters the normal flora of the gut. He will work in hospital spaces that may prove to need more sanitizing, especially rooms that are being prepared for the next patient admission.” We applaud Vancouver General hospital executives for being receptive to this out-of-the-box thinking and keeping open minds in the continuing battle against hospital-associated infection.

And dogs aren’t the only animals being used in the effort. Rats, another creature with an extraordinary sense of smell and who were previously trained to detect landmines, are being repurposed to help with the fight against tuberculosis in Tanzania and Mozambique. Giant rats used to diagnose prisoners with tuberculosis in jails details why those with the program believe that their TB Detection Rat technology will prove itself as an effective mass-screening tool.


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