Can dogs do the same job as advanced medical testing equipment? When it comes to blood glucose meters for diabetes, it appears they can. Thanks to our canine companions’ incredible sense of smell, diabetic alert dogs can function as blood sugar level detectors. Although dogs can’t provide exact measurements like a blood glucose meter, and are not meant to replace them, they can alert their owners when those levels are out of range.
Diabetes is a serious, chronic disease affecting the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. It involves the hormone insulin which has the role of controlling the amount of glucose (sugar) present in the blood stream. Diabetic people either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin their body produces. This results in blood sugar levels that are too high, a condition known as hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia results in severe, and sometimes life-threatening complications such as chronic kidney disease, eye diseases that can lead to blindness, nerve damage, and heart attack or stroke.
In 2015, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Also, over 30 million Americans were living with the disease. Diabetes has no cure, and requires careful management such as regular monitoring of blood sugar and sometimes treatment with insulin. Unfortunately, although insulin is essential for some diabetics, it can occasionally result in hypoglycemia, a condition where blood sugar levels go too low. Low blood sugar has complications just as dangerous as high blood sugar, making blood sugar monitoring even more critical.
Interestingly, low and high sugar levels both release chemicals into the body that have distinct smells. Humans can’t detect these odors, but dogs can. So just as a dog can be trained for bomb or drug detection, diabetic alert dogs are trained to sense this change in a diabetic person’s breath or sweat. When the dog detects the target odor, he will alert with a specially trained behavior such as pawing, licking, vocalizing, or even fetching a blood glucose meter. And as a service dog under The Americans With Disabilities Act, diabetic alert dogs can do this for their owner in almost any location.
In recent research, Nicola J. Rooney and her colleagues found that diabetic alert dogs could accurately detect both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia. The seventeen diabetic patients they observed had fewer calls to the paramedics, fewer unconscious episodes, and improved independence after getting a diabetic alert dog. The study concluded that alert dogs are potentially valuable for increasing a patient’s ability to control their blood sugar levels, decreasing health-care costs, and providing their owners with enhanced quality of life.
There are physical signs that can alert people when their blood sugar levels are out of whack. However, constant anxiety is a common symptom of diabetes because patients worry about missing the warning signs. Shifting blood sugar levels during sleep are of particular concern for some people with diabetes. This anxiety can impact a patient’s quality of life and emotional well-being.
Here is where a diabetic alert dog’s true value comes in. Diabetic alert dogs are trained to monitor their owner, and detect blood sugar level changes before they can become dangerous. This detection allows the patient to take appropriate measures, such as using their blood glucose meter or injecting insulin. Alert dogs will even monitor their owners while they are sleeping, and will wake them up if they sense anything amiss. That provides emotional security and confidence to those struggling with such a serious condition. These amazing dogs offer all the joys of canine companionship, and better diabetes management too.