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Diabetic Alert Dogs – what an incredible job they do to help people with Diabetes

Diabetic Alert Dogs – what an incredible job they do to help people with Diabetes
Posted on March 21, 2017
Archive : March 2017
Category : Blog

To start with, did you know that dogs can be trained to help people with Diabetes? I didn’t until I saw this article about Diabetic Alert Dogs in the USA.

There is an organisation in the States called Companion animals which support Americas working dogs (companionanimals.org)

Dogs can be trained to carry out many tasks including providing emotional support –Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs who are specifically trained to perform tasks that will benefit an individual who has a disability. Help can be offered for a wide range of disabilities including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. These dogs can be trained to perform a variety of tasks including pulling a wheelchair, retrieving lost items and alerting a person to take their medication. Quite incredible!

Dogs trained to help people with Diabetes

In terms of Service dogs that help people with diabetes, they fall into 2 categories – Medical Response dogs or Diabetic Alert dogs.

Medical Response Dogs are trained to respond to signs that their owner may be experiencing low blood sugars once they are showing symptoms.

Diabetic Alert Dogs are trained to recognize changes in the person’s blood chemistry, thus recognizing that changes are occurring and will alert their owner to take action before, a high or low blood sugar episode occurs. They can actually detect changes in blood sugar levels up to half an hour BEFORE a blood glucose monitor can detect a change.

How can dogs be trained to do this amazing task?

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. Their sense of smell is a thousand times more sensitive than humans, having 225 million scent receptors in their noses compared to humans having about 5 million! Now we know why dogs smell everything!

They can be trained to detect odours that are produced by the body when in a hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) state. This anatomy and a dog’s natural desire to hunt prey for food allows them to be trained to identify a distinct smell.

How do they alert their owners of a forthcoming episode or a current one?

Dogs are trained to react in a different way whether the owner is having a high or low blood sugar episode. Examples of what they will do, are touching the owner with its nose, holding a particular toy in its mouth or jumping onto the owner’s lap!

Training Training starts when the dogs are about 6 months old and can take a year or so before being placed at the age of 18-24months. They are taught a variety of hand signals and verbal commands which are then learnt by the patient to be able to communicate with their dog.

In the United States Service dogs can go anywhere with their owner i.e. supermarkets, shopping centres, restaurants, hotels schools swimming pools and public transport.

We have all heard of ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind’ and how they help so many people who have lost their sight; give them their independence back and provide them with a friend who they trust with their lives. To be able to train dogs to achieve a similar relationship for people who have diabetes, who looks after them and can alert them of a hypo or hyper before it occurs, must be incredible.

This was based on an article from the United States by Mike Callahan published on the Companion Animals website, but there is a similar organisation in the UK called Medical Detection Dogs if you want to find out more about this amazing work.

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