Statement on the Effectiveness of Gluten Detection Dogs for Patients with Celiac Disease

January 29, 2024 

The Society for the Study of Celiac Disease is committed to supporting medical practitioners to provide the highest quality of care and support to individuals diagnosed with celiac disease. Recently, there has been an increasing interest in the use of gluten-sniffing dogs to assist individuals with celiac disease in detecting gluten in food. While we understand the appeal of such interventions, we feel it is our responsibility to inform our community about the potential risks associated with relying on gluten-sniffing dogs. 


After careful consideration and consultation with experts in the field, at this time, the Society for the Study of Celiac Disease does not recommend the use of gluten-sniffing dogs as a reliable method for detecting gluten in food products for people with celiac disease. It should be noted that the Society for the Study of Celiac Disease recognizes that animals may be helpful for support and the role of an emotional support animal can be discussed with your primary care provider or mental health professional.  


This recommendation is based on several compelling reasons: 


Primarily, it's crucial to note that detection dogs are trained to identify odors. As gluten is an odorless protein, there is a legitimate concern about the accuracy of what the dog is actually alerting to. 


Gluten Detection Methods: Gluten is a colorless, odorless protein found in all forms of wheat, rye, barley, and oats that are not manufactured to be gluten-free. Several validated methods are used to detect gluten in food, ensuring accurate and reliable results for individuals who need to avoid gluten due to celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These methods include Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA), Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), Mass Spectrometry, and Immunochromatographic Tests (Lateral Flow Devices). Accounting for margin of error, these tests are validated to quantify gluten down to 5ppm. 1 


Lack of Standardization: The training and reliability of gluten-sniffing dogs can vary significantly. There are currently no standardized guidelines or certifications ensuring the accuracy of these animals in detecting gluten. Trainers promote that gluten-sniffing dogs have the ability to detect as little as 1ppm of gluten2, yet there is no commercial test available to measure this level of gluten in food to confirm the accuracy of the detection.  


Handler Bias: To date there is no published data on gluten-sniffing dogs, however there is a wealth of research on the efficacy of drug-sniffing dogs. One study published in the journal Animal Cognition found that drug and explosive-sniffing dogs erroneously alerted or identified a scent when there was no scent present more than 200 times, particularly when the handler believed that there was a scent present. 3  Research shows that extreme vigilance to a gluten-free diet can result in increased feelings of anxiety and fatigue, stronger feelings of limitation, and reduced quality of life. 


Washing Works: A recent viral video on social media showcased a gluten-sniffing dog identifying gluten in a plate of food in a dedicated gluten-free restaurant where no gluten is used in any food item. When the food items were presented to thee dog separately, it suggested the food was gluten-free but the plate itself was a cause for concern. The handler speculated that the plate contained gluten under its chipped edges though it had been cleaned. There are now several published peer-reviewed studies that have found that traditional washing methods are an effective and reliable way to remove gluten from kitchen utensils, equipment, and cooking surfaces.4,5,6   


Alternative, Reliable Methods: There are established methods and tools, such as gluten-free food labeling, careful ingredient reading, and communication with food providers, that can help individuals with celiac disease make informed choices about their diet and reduce the risk of gluten exposure. 


Health and Safety Concerns: The commitment of time and financial resources required for the training and upkeep of an odor-sniffing dog is substantial. Consistent exposure to gluten over time is necessary to sustain the dog's training, as detection dogs can experience a decline in proficiency without ongoing maintenance. This holds true not only for specific odor detection training but also extends to the broader spectrum of handling and service-related training for the dog. For individuals managing celiac disease, prioritizing proven, secure, and economically viable methods is crucial in effectively addressing their condition. 


We understand the challenges that individuals with celiac disease face in managing their dietary restrictions, and we encourage open communication with healthcare providers, dietitians, and support groups to explore effective strategies for maintaining a gluten-free diet.

[2] Training standards. Nosey Dog Detection Partners. March 14, 2022. Accessed December 13, 2023. 
[3] Lit, L., Schweitzer, J.B. & Oberbauer, A.M. Handler beliefs affect scent detection dog outcomes. Anim Cogn 14, 387–394 (2011).
[4] Weisbrod VM, Silvester JA, Raber C, McMahon J, Coburn SS, Kerzner B. Preparation of Gluten-Free Foods Alongside Gluten-Containing Food May Not Always Be as Risky for Celiac Patients as Diet Guides Suggest. Gastroenterology. 2020 Jan;158(1):273-275. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.09.007. E
[5] Studerus D, Hampe EI, Fahrer D, Wilhelmi M, Vavricka SR. Cross-Contamination with Gluten by Using Kitchen Utensils: Fact or Fiction? J Food Prot. 2018 Oct;81(10):1679-1684.
[6] Parsons K, Brown L, Clark H, Allen E, McCammon E, Clark G, Oblad R, Kenealey J. Gluten cross-contact from common food practices and preparations. Clin Nutr. 2021 May;40(5):3279-3287.


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