Living with diabetes blog

For those with diabetes, service dog can be best friend

By Sara J. Carlson, R.N., C.D.E. July 25, 2015

I've heard several accounts of family pets warning their owners with diabetes if their blood sugar is too low.

One gentleman with Type 2 diabetes told me he was camping and hiking. Sometime at night as he slept in his tent, his blood sugar dropped significantly. His dog recognized the problem, continuously barked and nudged him until he woke up.

A colleague's son with Type 1 diabetes had been up for many hours and finally fell into a sound sleep. His blood sugar dropped significantly. The family cat repeatedly jumped on his chest. He woke up four times, but only long enough to shew the cat away. Finally, the persistent feline bit his arm and he awoke to find his blood sugar was only 40 mg/dL.

If these untrained pets can be so intuitive and helpful, imagine what a trained service dog could do.

When considering service dogs, one often thinks of guide dogs for the blind or hearing impaired, dogs that assist people with physical disabilities, dogs that help locate missing people or dogs that sniff out drugs and explosives.

The new generation of service dogs can be trained to sniff out cancer, oncoming seizures or changes in blood sugar. If you have diabetes, service dogs can help in the following ways:

  • Alert you to impending hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or significant hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
  • Act as a brace if you've fallen and need support getting up
  • Alert others if you're unresponsive and need assistance
  • Bring objects such as juice bottles or medications
  • Retrieve cell phones in case of an emergency or even dial 911 with a special assistance device

The dogs can be especially useful if you develop hypoglycemia unawareness, which is a condition most common with Type 1 diabetes. If you have it, you no longer experience symptoms such as sweating, shaking and weakness which typically accompany a falling blood sugar.

Without these warning signs, you risk passing out or having a seizure. A service dog acts as an early warning system and prompts you to treat hypoglycemia while you're still alert enough to do so.

Fully trained service dogs can be very expensive. Many families hold fund raisers to help cover the cost. There are non-profit training centers that provide dogs for free or at a reduced cost.

For more information, visit Assistance Dogs International at assistancedogsinternational.org

Please share your experience with trained service dogs or amazing household pets.

Warm regards,

July 25, 2015