Dogs may beat tech alone when it comes to detecting and preventing bouts of hypoglycemia, according to a new study out of the University of Bristol in the U.K.
As reported in the online journal PLOS one, 17 dogs studied were able to reliably detect hypoglycemia and alert their owners about the life-threatening condition. Dogs alerted owners by licking, barking, whining, and pawing, but one dog even alerted its owner by fetching a blood glucose test kit. Some dogs also were able to communicate when blood sugar levels were dropping but had not yet reached hypoglycemic levels.
Having the dogs led to better blood glucose control and fewer negative medical outcomes due to hypoglycemia, according to the researchers. The dogs’ owners reported making fewer 911 calls and losing consciousness less often. They also felt more confident having the dogs by their sides.
According to a Psychology Today report, the 17 dogs (6 Labrador retrievers, 2 retriever crosses, 2 labradoodles, a poodle, a golden retriever, a collie cross, a cocker spaniel and a Yorkshire terrier) were either picked for their special sniffing abilities or given special training. Trainers gathered the scent from people with diabetes when they were in a hypoglycemic state, and then exposed the dogs to the scent and trained them to take action. All 17 owners reported positive medical outcomes, but the researchers focused on 10 who kept reliable records. Of those 10, glucose readings of 9 participants improved significantly after they had been given hypoglycemia-sensing dogs.
Researchers say the dogs can sniff out the bouts of hypoglycemia by detecting changes in the chemical composition of the sweat or breath of their owners. More research is needed, however, to understand exactly how the canines can use their superior noses to keep blood glucose levels at optimal levels.
Diabetes companion dogs are becoming more popular, but there still is some reluctance to provide them the same access as other service dogs. Already in this school year, a New York public school has barred the service dog of a young girl with Type 1 diabetes (See Insulin Nation’s “Diabetes Service Dog Barred from New York School”), a move sure to spark a lawsuit.