Sniffing Out Wildlife Diseases

Waterfowl and other wild birds carry the avian influenza virus without showing any symptoms. They leave behind fecal droppings that contain the live virus, which can spread to chickens and other poultry. Scientists at The National Wildlife Research Center and Colorado State University are partnering in a program that is training dogs to detect avian influenza. Research shows that some diseases cause odor changes in infected animals. Because their sense of smell is so acute, dogs can detect those changes.

Dr. Glen Golden is a research scientist at Colorado State. He says the university is underway with a three-year training program where dogs will learn to detect feces from infected mallard ducks, versus feces from non-infected mallards.

"We’re going to go to areas that are known for having avian influenza present in those wetlands and where those mallards are, and we’re going to be testing those areas as a positive," says Golden. "We’re also going to go into other areas where we don’t know whether or not there’s avian influenza and seeing how the dogs respond there."

After training is complete, he says they’ll be looking for wildlife biologists to do the surveillance.

"After we identify six wildlife biologists, we’ll be deploying these dogs to those biologists across the country so they have them in their regions of the country, so they can go out and on a regular basis, say once a week, go out and check certain areas."

Golden says they expect to have the first dogs ready to go in 2020.

Learn more about how dogs are being trained to sniff out wildlife diseases