Can service dogs help people with diabetes?

Answer From Sara J. Carlson, R.N., C.D.E.

Yes. Dogs can be trained to help people who have difficulty knowing when their blood sugar is low (hypoglycemia unawareness), which is a common side effect of insulin therapy. If you have hypoglycemia unawareness, you no longer experience signs and symptoms that typically accompany falling blood sugar.

Diabetes alert dogs (DADs) are trained to detect hypoglycemia and prompt you to treat it while you're still alert enough to do so. It's thought that organic compounds in exhaled breath change at low blood sugar levels. Dogs can be trained to respond to the smell of these compounds.

A small survey of DAD owners report improvements not only in their blood sugar control but also in their quality of life.

However, these diabetes alert dogs aren't a substitute for managing your diabetes. It's important to carefully monitor and treat your blood sugar levels.

The dogs may need to be trained over time to continue to be able to detect hypoglycemia. Also, the accuracy of diabetes alert dogs can vary, and standards for their accuracy aren't currently available.

Fully trained service dogs can be expensive. Some nonprofit training centers provide dogs for free or at a reduced cost. For more information, check out Assistance Dogs International.

July 14, 2018 See more Expert Answers