Diabetic Alert Dogs are trained to alert diabetic Handlers in advance of low (hypoglycemia) or high (hyperglycemia) blood sugar events before they become dangerous. The Diabetic Detection Dog's Handler can take steps to return their blood sugar to normal such as using glucose sweets or taking insulin. They are considered Service Dogs by the Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
Hypoglycemia unawareness is a common and dangerous condition that can develop in those with diabetes. This condition means you don't experience the symptoms most people do when their blood sugar gets too low. Normal symptoms of low blood sugar include sweating, shaking, or confusion. At very low levels, you may experience seizures, or go into a coma if your blood sugar is too low for too long. One of the solutions for this condition is man's best friend: a Diabetes Detection Service Dog.
Dogs have a naturally heightened sense of smell that makes them excellent hunters. Professional Dog Trainers have learned to harness these skills by training dogs to recognize certain smells, like a Drug Dog or a Bomb Dog. These could include the Distress Odor a person's body produces when they are experiencing a'hyperglycemic episode when blood sugar is too high, or the change in Body Odor a person gives off during a hypoglycemic episode when blood sugar is too low.
A diabetes service dog isn't a replacement for checking blood sugar levels. However, it is a safeguard for those who experience episodes low or high blood sugar, especially if they do not have warning symptoms or the changes occur overnight.
Service Dogs for people with diabetes are trained to respond to signs that an owner may be experiencing low blood sugar levels before they have become symptomatic. A diabetic alert dog is trained to recognize changes in a person's blood chemistry changing their Body Odor, which often allows the dog to alert the person or the caregivers to take action in the important window of time 15 to 30 minutes before symptoms occur.
If a person has their dog they would like to have trained to become a diabetes alert dog, they must bring it in for testing to determine if the dog has the temperament, scenting ability, and drives needed to be trained to do this type of work. Most service dogs are between 1 and 3 years old when they are started in training! This can be thought of as the same as selecting a dog to be a Narcotics or Explosives Detection Dog. They all are Detection Dogs (including the Diabetic Detection Dog), and it takes a "special" dog to be able to be trained to do any kind of detection work. I have found personally that most owner supplied dogs are not able to do this type of training, but I am certainly willing to test your dog if you would like to try.
Not all people with diabetes will benefit from a Diabetic Service Dog. Some who might include:
- those with hypoglycemia unawareness
- those who control their blood sugar using an insulin pump or injections
- those who experience low blood sugar levels frequently
- children who require frequent blood sugar testing at night
- college students who are now living away from home and may require additional support
If you or a loved one do not experience frequent episodes of hypoglycemia or you're able to control your blood sugar with oral medications, you may not need or want the added expense and responsibility of a Service Dog.
In terms of expenses, insurance companies very seldom, if ever, pay for the costs associated with a Diabetic Service Dog. At least this is what I have experienced with my clients. Having a Diabetic Service Dog is an investment of time and money, and is a relationship that will normally last at least seven or eight years for the dog and owner.
There are certainly time commitments and responsibilities associated with caring for a Diabetic Service Dog, but the rewards can be great. According to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care, published by the American Diabetes Association, owners of Diabetic Service Dogs reported the following benefits:
- decreased worry about hypoglycemia/hyperglycemia (61.1 percent of respondents)
- improved quality of life (75 percent of respondents)
- enhanced ability to participate in physical activities (75 percent of respondents)
It can take a lot of time (up to a year in total), money (varies with needs), and training (varies with needs) to match a Diabetic Alert Dog with its new owner. If you are interested in learning more about if a Diabetic Detection Dog would work for you or a family member, or you have questions, please feel free to call me!