2 puppies to sniff out C. difficile with VCH’s Canines for Care team

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Vancouver’s health authority is welcoming two new, adorable members to one of its medical teams.

The English cocker spaniels will be tasked with helping Vancouver Coastal Health’s Canines for Care team detect cases of Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile).

Hospital patients face the risk of being infected by the superbug, which can cause severe diarrhea and sometimes death.

At 12 weeks old, the puppies named Kip Kip Kaboom and Secret Agent Disco officially joined VCH’s Canines for Care program on Wednesday, becoming the latest addition to a team of seven dogs and five handlers.

Program lead Teresa Zurberg says the pair were carefully selected from a kennel VCH works with in Utah.

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into it,” Zurberg told CTV News on Wednesday, adding it will take two years to fully train the puppies to detect C. difficile.

“Every dog ​​can sniff, but not every dog ​​can work, so we have to do a lot of testing and make sure we’re getting the right dog and then putting all the training behind it,” he said. “It’s not like we can just go to the grocery store and we pick a dog off the shelf and, boom, it’s trained.”

While humans are capable of smelling C. difficile—especially if a patient is infected with it—Zurberg says dogs are able to detect the reservoirs left behind by bacterial spores.

“That’s what we can’t find feasibly by people. Even by swabbing, it would take, logistically, hours and the cost would be phenomenal. The dogs, they can find it in seconds,” she said.

The Canines for Care team searches common areas and high-touch places in health-care settings, but the dogs don’t go inside patient rooms.

Every dog ​​behaves differently when they detect the bug, according to Zurberg.

“Their partner, the canine detection specialist, has spent hundreds and hundreds of hours working with the dogs, so they understand that dog’s communication and can interpret to the team what’s going on,” she explained.

VCH says it was the first health-care organization in the world to create a C. difficile detecting canine program.

Since 2016, the Canines for Care team has searched thousands of hospital areas for the superbug and traveled to 30 Canadian health-care facilities to share knowledge, according to the program’s website.

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