COVID-19 Information Center

Using Dogs to Sniff Out Respiratory Disease in Calves
Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)

Date Published: 04/25/2023

Bovine respiratory disease is the leading cause of death in calves, and Texas A&M University is researching how dogs can be used to sniff out which calves are infected. 

Dogs have been trained to sniff out human diseases, and Dr. Courtney Daigle, DVM, Assistant Professor, West Texas A&M University, is working with respiratory specialist Dr. John Richeson, B.S., M.S., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Animal Science, and dog training expert Dr. Nathan Hall at Texas Tech University, to see if dogs can be trained to do the same with cattle.

The first study looked at the equipment and training needed. The second study used cattle from the Texas AgriLife Research Center and guard dogs from the prison system in Huntsville, TX.

Dr. Daigle says this technology could change how antimicrobial treatment is applied in commercial beef production. Currently, cattle health is evaluated at the group level, and if thought necessary, the entire group is treated with antibiotics. By using trained dogs to find individual animals that are infected, fewer antibiotics would be needed.

A well-trained dog and handler near the cattle chute could allow the producer to target only infected animals with antibiotics, significantly reducing the amount of antibiotics and saving the producer money. 

In the pilot study, two dogs were trained in a series of stages over seven months to be able to know the difference between nasal swabs collected upon arrival at the feedlot from cattle that developed a respiratory infection within 20 days and cattle that did not develop a respiratory infection in the next three months.

The first study did not show a positive response, and it was concluded that bovine respiratory disease may be more difficult to diagnose than other diseases. The second study, now underway, will decide if the dogs can tell sick cattle from healthy cattle.