Some dog-owning diabetics have reported that their dogs alert them to the fact that they are having a low blood sugar. As such, there are a number of organizations out there that train dogs specifically to alert their owners to a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) event. So, does having a hypoglycemia alert dog actually work?
A recent study evaluated seventeen diabetics (age 5-66) who acquired trained hypo alert dogs. Though the accuracy of the dog alerting the individual of a low blood sugar was variable, all 17 people reported reduced paramedic calls, decreased unconscious episodes, and an increase in independence compared to before they had the dog. Pretty impressive!
People who have diabetes and require insulin, or are taking a type of diabetes medication called sulfonylureas, are at risk of low blood sugars. Having a low blood sugar can be a very unpleasant feeling, and can be downright dangerous, as both the heart and the brain depend on sugar to function. Older people with diabetes, people who have had diabetes for a decade or more, and people who have frequent low blood sugars, may not feel their low blood sugars. Not feeling a low makes it even more dangerous, as people who not aware that they are low don’t recognize the need to take steps to bring their sugars back up. It is for these people that a hypo alert dog may be of particular benefit.
How could a dog know that a person is having a low blood sugar? When a person is having a low blood sugar and doesn’t know it, they may show symptoms of decreased blood sugar to the brain – for example, confusion, or a change in behavior. The dog may be noticing and responding to this. It has been suggested that there may be a scent released by the person with the low blood sugar that the dog may pick up, but this has not been proven.
Interestingly, even untrained dogs have been shown often to attract their owners’ attention when the owner is having a low – to my knowledge, there is no research to study directly how a trained dog performs compared to an untrained dog.
Perhaps another reason to call a dog a wo/man’s best friend!
PS thanks to Erin for the inspiration for this blog. 🙂