Diabetic alert dogs: Life-saving noses!
What is a diabetic alert dog?
Diabetic alert dogs, also known as hypo alert dogs, are service dogs that have been trained to alert their diabetic owner when their blood sugar levels start to become hypoglycemic.
Similar to how a police sniffer dog can detect even the tiniest scent, diabetic alert dogs are trained to monitor for changes in the glucose level of their owner. By reacting in a certain way, they let their owner know that their blood sugar levels need testing. This “warning time” gives diabetics vital time to monitor their insulin levels and perform the remedial steps to get their glucose levels under control in a timely and safe manner.
Although they can help someone of any age, these dogs are often paired with children and accompany them to school. This gives parents some peace of mind that their child will be safe from an attack. The dogs sometimes carry an emergency support pack attached to them, so that if they sense a problem, all the necessary equipment is readily available to be used by the child or a trained teacher.
As hypo alert dogs are trained service dogs, they can be with their owners at all times, including public places such as shops, restaurants and on public transport.
How are diabetic alert dogs trained?
Firstly, the trainer must select a suitable breed of dog. Most typically these are Labradors and Golden Retrievers due to their exceptionally sensitive noses that are capable of picking up even the slightest changes in their environment. Flat-faced dogs such as Pugs and Shih-Tzus are usually not suitable, as their face shape means they have less scent detecting cells and therefore don’t have the same “power of smell” as dogs with longer, wider snouts.
Diabetic alert dogs are trained from a young age to make the most of their nose. Scent-based training helps them become more sensitized to changes that occur around them. They are taught to recognize the scent of the chemicals that are released by a person when their insulin levels are dropping or rising rapidly and to react appropriately when that happens.
How do they react in medical situations?
Service dogs can identify changes in glucose levels far in advance of when the person actually starts to feel unwell.
The way in which a dog lets its owner know that it can sense a problem can vary based on the dog’s specific training. For example, it could start barking, go into a restless, agitated state and try to get its owner’s attention or interact directly with the person by going up to them and placing its paws on their leg or lap.
Are hypo alert dogs effective?
There are some conflicting opinions as to the effectiveness of diabetic alert dogs. Some say that the scientific evidence of dogs’ ability to detect insulin shifts is lacking. However, we disagree. All over America there are stories of where these diabetic alert dogs have saved lives – from a 3-year-old girl in Texas to a man in Indiana.
As long as the dog is fully trained (preferably by specialized service dog trainers such as Canines for Change) then their enhanced nasal abilities are perfectly developed to monitor their owner’s blood sugar levels and provide the support and warnings needed for them to continue their everyday lives with confidence and security.