Hypoglycemic Alert Dogs

Have you ever heard of a dog that could sense when blood sugar is dropping to an unsafe level? They are called Hypoglycemic Alert Dogs and they are changing lives.

The March 2008 issue of Diabetes Forecast, the consumer magazine of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), features an article about assistance dogs that are trained to sense episodes of human hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose, and sound a life-saving alert.

According to the article, these dogs seem to sense a dangerous drop in blood glucose before it begins, allowing the people they work with to prevent an episode altogether. Some dogs seem to sense high blood glucose, too. Mark Ruefenacht is a forensic scientist with type 1 diabetes who started a hypoglycemia alert dog training center in California and has been placing trained dogs with people who need them for three years.

“Clients are coming back saying, ‘I have never had better control of my blood sugar in my life as I have since I got this dog.’”

Scientists remain unsure about how the dogs are able to sense changes in their human companions. It is believed that the dogs are reacting to scents created by chemical changes related to glucose imbalance, but no one knows exactly which chemicals cause the scent. Despite this scientific uncertainty, hypoglycemia alert dogs have provided a great sense of relief to people with diabetes and their families, including parents of young children with diabetes and adults whose history of hypoglycemic episodes made it difficult or even dangerous to live alone.

Currently, there are only a few groups in the United States that are training assistance dogs to sense hypoglycemia. The training requires years of expensive work, which severely limits the number of people who can be paired with dogs. For those who do get the chance, however, the benefit can be remarkable.

“The first time that dog gets you up in the middle of the night because your child is dropping into a serious low, rapidly you realize it’s worth every penny you spent, and every minute you had to wait,” says Donna Cope, whose child has diabetes.

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