EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SERVICE DOGS FOR DIABETICS
Dogs — they’re man’s best friend. You can train them for a number of important jobs and they’ll stay by your side forever. We’re all familiar with seeing eye dogs trained to assist blind people and “emotional support dogs” people like to sneak onto airplanes — but did you know that there’s a whole class of Medical Alert Dogs that are trained specifically to assist people living with diabetes? They can even tell when you’re about to experience a hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic event!
These dogs are referred to as Diabetic Alert Dogs — or DADs for short — and their sensitive noses are trained to sniff out trouble and alert you before you experience serious episodes. DADs can also be trained to bring you medical supplies, retrieve a cell phone for assistance, alert family members in the event of an emergency, and sometimes to dial 911 on special devices.
Who Could Benefit from Having a Diabetic Alert Dog?
Not everyone living with diabetes needs a DAD. These dogs are especially beneficial for those who frequently test their blood sugar levels, might live alone, and need support, such as:
- people who may not notice symptoms of an oncoming hypoglycemic event.
- those who control their blood sugar using an insulin pump or injections.
- diabetics who experience moderately low blood sugar levels frequently.
- children who require frequent blood glucose level testing throughout the night.
- college students who are living away from home and need additional support.
People with Type 1 diabetes have to manage their condition with insulin. To do this effectively they have to measure blood sugar levels regularly. One of the most common dangers of managing Type 1 diabetes is extremely low blood sugar — and this often happens overnight when you can’t pay attention to potential warning symptoms. In this case your DAD will wake you up when he or she senses issues so that you can test your levels and treat accordingly.
How Do DADs Know When to Alert You?
When you experience a rapid change in blood glucose levels, the chemicals in your body begin to shift, and Diabetic Alert Dogs are trained in a number of different ways to sniff out upcoming episodes. Some trainers will use saliva samples from the patient while others will train Fido to smell for a specific chemical called isoprene, which can double in concentration in the breath during hypoglycemia.
The best part? DADs are trained to alert you before you get to a point where you can’t help yourself and may become unconscious. These early warning signs are critically important and can prevent serious emergencies.
The advancements scientists have discovered in training medical alert dogs could lead to better technology for blood glucose testing! For example, scientists have been exploring potential options to use isoprene levels to test for hypoglycemia — like an isoprene breathalyzer! Unfortunately, this technology has not yet been developed, so you’ll need to continue testing the old fashioned way for now!
Where Can You Get a DAD?
There are several reputable organizations that breed and train medical alert dogs specifically for diabetes. You can ask your endocrinologist for a recommendation or contact one of these organizations directly:
The selection and matching process will vary based on the organization and can be extensive. The process often requires that a potential owner meet with a dog several times before the dog can come home with you.
Getting a Diabetic Alert Dog is a big commitment. They are, after all, still dogs that need to be taken care of. But a furry friend might help you worry less, enjoy life more — and could even save your life!
Want to see a specific topic covered on our blog? Leave us your suggestions down in the comments!