Service dogs have long provided companionship and support for individuals with disabilities of all types. From seizure response support to autism service dogs, canines make terrific partners while also providing scientifically backed solutions to myriad health issues. The same is true of Diabetic Alert Dogs, also known as DADs. These specially trained service dogs are able to detect high and low blood sugar, seek help for their owners when they are in need, retrieve food and medication, and even dial 911 on a special device when necessary.
The support of a Diabetic Alert Dog allows diabetic patients freedom and independence they may not have otherwise and also helps relieve the stress Type 1 Diabetes can cause for caretakers. The primary purpose of this type of service dog is to monitor blood glucose levels and alert individuals when they experience low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). Several scientific studies have sought to explore how dogs may be able to detect high and low glucose levels. There is substantial evidence suggesting Diabetic Alert Dogs can not only successfully alert owners to drops in their blood sugar, but DADs also contribute to increased quality of life for diabetics and their caretakers.
How exactly do Diabetic Alert Dogs monitor blood sugar?
Like many working dogs, DADs use their nose to support their humans. As most know, dogs have an incredibly powerful sense of smell. Their olfactory capabilities are highly sophisticated and can be used in many capacities including monitoring glucose levels in individuals with Type 1 Diabetes.
Some patients with diabetes can detect their blood sugar lows and highs just by the way they feel, but it’s not always so simple. When a diabetic is unable to detect their glucose level it’s called Hypoglycemia Unawareness. This unawareness can be life threatening and sometimes occurs when an individual is asleep. This is where alert dogs can come in handy. Alert dogs are there with their humans at all times and are able to alert their owners of shifts in their blood sugar by detecting shifting compounds in their breath.
In a study from Diabetes Care conducted in 2016, scientists found that individuals with Type 1 Diabetes experience changes in their breath during glucose highs and lows. When someone with Type 1 Diabetes experiences hypoglycemia there is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that increases in exhaled breath. This VOC is called isoprene. In this particular study, scientists were unable to determine why or how hypoglycemia increases isoprene in the breathe, but the evidence of this increase provides an explanation for how canines are able to detect hypoglycemia in individuals with Type 1 Diabetes.
While there are many ways to monitor highs and lows in glucose levels, i.e. Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) devices, having a constant companion is probably the most enjoyable and meaningful for Type 1 Diabetics. Canines are one of the most non-invasive means to detect glucose levels and they provide an increased quality of life for their owners. DADs can detect highs and lows about 20 minutes in advance before alternative detection systems and have a 91.7% accuracy rate.
What is training like?
Similar to other working dogs, DADs go through intensive training. Trainers use positive reinforcements to help dogs memorize the scents they are meant to detect in their human companions. This training doesn’t stop once the dog becomes a member of their owner’s family. It’s important to continuously maintain high standards and challenge a working service dog like a DAD.
Though there is still much to learn about service dogs and glucose detection, there is solid research supporting the effectiveness of the work of Diabetic Alert Dogs. We also now know more clearly what enables DADs to do their incredible work.
Service Dogs by Warren Retriever, or SDWR, provides custom-trained Diabetic Alert Dogs as well as service dogs for other invisible disabilities such as Autism, PTSD, and Seizure Disorders. Puppies are hand picked and matched with owners based on their individualized needs. Support is also provided for owners long after their service dog is placed by SDWR. For more information visit www.sdwr.org or call (540) 543-2307.