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Yes. Dogs can be trained to help people with diabetes who have difficulty knowing when their blood sugar is low (hypoglycemia) or high (hyperglycemia). Changes in blood sugar are a common side effect of insulin therapy. If you don't realize you have hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, you might not have or no longer recognize the signs and symptoms that usually go along with falling or rising blood sugar.
Diabetes alert dogs (DADs) are trained to detect low or high blood sugar levels. They're also trained to prompt you to treat your blood sugar while you're still alert enough to do so. It's thought that organic compounds in exhaled breath change at low or high blood sugar levels. Dogs can be trained to respond to the smell of these compounds. Dogs may sense the change in saliva or sweat, too. And they may pick up on your visual signals.
Some studies have suggested that DAD owners show improvements not only in their blood sugar control but also in their quality of life, well-being, and independence and physical activity levels.
But these diabetes alert dogs aren't a substitute for managing your diabetes. You still need to carefully monitor and treat your blood sugar levels.
The dogs may need ongoing training to maintain their ability to detect low or high blood sugar. DADs may need to be monitored periodically to make sure they are still able to accurately alert their owners to low or high blood sugar.
Also, the accuracy of diabetes alert dogs can vary. And accuracy standards aren't available. Training methods may vary, too. It also can be difficult for owners to notice a signal from their dogs, as the signals include common dog behaviors such as barking and licking.
Fully trained service dogs can be expensive. Some nonprofit training centers may provide dogs for free or at a reduced cost. For more information, check out Assistance Dogs International.
Sara J. Carlson, R.N., C.D.E.
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