I've heard of family pets warning their owners with diabetes if their blood sugar is too low. Should I get one?
Answer From Sara J. Carlson, R.N., C.D.E.
When considering service dogs, one often thinks of guide dogs for people who are blind or hearing impaired, dogs that assist people who have physical disabilities, dogs that help locate missing people, or dogs that sniff out drugs and explosives.
The new generation of service dogs may be trained to sniff out cancer, oncoming seizures or changes in blood sugar. If you have diabetes, service dogs may help in the following ways:
- Alert you to impending low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or significant high blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
- 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
Although studies are still being done to test the reliability of a service dog to detect signs and symptoms of blood sugar changes, service dogs may be useful if you develop hypoglycemia unawareness — a condition most commonly associated with Type 1 diabetes. With hypoglycemia unawareness, you no longer experience symptoms such as sweating, shaking and weakness that typically accompany a falling blood sugar.
Without these warning signs, you risk losing consciousness or having a seizure. A service dog may act as an early warning system and prompt you to treat hypoglycemia while you're still alert enough to do so.
Fully trained service dogs can cost several thousand dollars. There are nonprofit training centers that provide dogs for free or at a reduced cost.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits of a service dog if you have diabetes.
Sept. 08, 2018
- Auerbach PS, et al. Persons with disabilities in the wilderness. In: Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2017. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Dec. 7, 2017.
- Sniffing out hypoglycemia: How dogs can detect low blood glucose levels. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/research-and-practice/patient-access-to-research/sniffing-out-hypoglycemia.html. Accessed Dec. 7, 2017.
- Los EA, et al. Reliability of trained dogs to alert to hypoglycemia in patients with type 1 diabetes. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology. 2017;11:506.