'Diabetes Dogs' Alert Owners To Sugar Levels

  • 13/11/2018
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diabetic-alert-dog.jpgPeople with diabetes may have a new way to indicate their blood sugar level is too high or too low, by turning to our trusty canine friends, after researchers have found that dogs can help with hypoglycemia monitoring.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, is the first of its kind to analyze whether trained dogs can accurately and consistently serve as an "early-warning system" to monitor blood sugar levels for their owners and notify them when the levels are too high or low.

For the research, 17 dogs were trained by Medical Detection Dogs - a UK charity that works with researchers and universities - to warn their owners when their blood sugar levels were "out of target range."

Researchers then collected data from the owners to analyze whether the dogs were accurately able to respond to their owners' hypoglycemic levels, and also whether the owners experienced better blood sugar control and wider benefits.

The results show that all 17 owners reported positive outcomes, including:

  • Fewer paramedic calls
  • Fewer unconscious episodes
  • Improved independence.

Additionally, the owners' data showed that the dogs notified them with "significant accuracy" during times of both low and high blood sugar.

Lead author Dr Nicola Rooney says:

"Despite considerable resources having been invested in developing electronic systems to facilitate tightened glycemic control, current equipment has numerous limitations."

"These findings are important as they show the value of trained dogs and demonstrate that 'glycemia alert dogs' placed with clients living with diabetes, afford significant improvements to owner well-being, including increased glycemic control, client independence and quality-of-life, and potentially could reduce the costs of long-term health care."

Sniffing out blood sugar

The study authors note that although dogs respond to their owners' high or low blood sugar levels, they cannot be entirely sure how they do this. They cite odour cues as the most likely explanation, saying:

"It is likely that dogs detect changes in the chemical composition of their owners' sweat, or breath (including products of ketosis), using their acute sense of smell."

They say their study confirms that trained detection dogs perform above the chance level, which is the level that would be expected if random choices were made.

Dr Nicola Rooney adds:

"Some of the owners also describe [that] their dogs respond even before their blood sugars are low, but as they start to drop, so it is possible that the dogs are even more effective than this study suggests."

She says that further research is needed in order to determine how the dogs "carry out this amazing task."

Researchers recently revealed that they are creating a method for dogs to sniff out ovarian cancer.

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Comments (4)

Adrienne Murray
Said this on 14/12/2017 At 09:05 pm

Hello my son is 21 yrars old was dignoised at age 8 with t1. Je was never offered a pump because his bloods wwre never in control. I would like to buy a trained dog to help manage his control better so eventually he will be able to have a pump. 

Geraldine Mulligan
Said this on 04/11/2016 At 09:38 am

Hi, i have just read your artical about assist dogs for people with type 1 diabetis , my grandson Aidan was diagnosed in september 2016 in Mullingar hosp, Aidan is only 18mts old and waiting for his pump to be fitted, at the moment he is being injected by myself and his mum 4-5 times over a 24hr period, and while i understand that Aidan is very young and there is a long waiting list for a assist dog, i would like to know the criteria on how we apply for one. thank you for all the fantastic work you do and the dogs are truly beautiful amazing animals x

Said this on 30/07/2016 At 04:40 pm

is this service available in the republic of ireland

Said this on 19/08/2018 At 05:28 pm
My name is Glenn Kelly I am from Co.Offaly. I am a type 1 insulin dependent diabetic for the past 29 years. At present my control is bad and my sugar levels do be very irregular all the time. I am very interested in knowing more about the diabetic dog and how I can apply as it would be very beneficial to me and would make my life a lot easier. I would be very grateful if you can get back to me as soon as possible. Thank You Glenn
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