For many a dog is the best medicine: Are They Reliable Helpers?
November 23, 2018
For diabetic patients hypoglycemia is an emergency. Specially trained warning dogs should help to recognize a hypo in good time. How safe is that? There have been some case reports of dogs that have sensed an early hypoglycemia at their owners early and warned against it. However, larger studies are missing on this phenomenon. It is therefore not proven whether or which dog reliably detects and report low blood glucose levels. It is also not examined whether the attitude of a warning dog has a long-term beneficial effect on the health of diabetes.
What are the facts that you should know?
Do dogs have a sixth sense for low blood sugar? There are many such anecdotes about dogs warning of emergency situations. For some years now, scientific research has also been conducted into whether dogs can warn people who have diabetes about hypoglycemia. Some institutions in the US and Europe see specially trained dogs as an opportunity to better manage diabetes. The dogs cannot replace the regular measurement of blood sugar and the administration of insulin. But they should act as blood sugar control bodies and reliably recognize and report impending hypoglycemia. But the four-legged remain around the clock near mistress or master. That means they also go to school, to the church or to the grocery store. As soon as they perceive hypoglycemia they should draw attention to it by special behavior by nudging with their muzzle, jumping up or licking their hands. Some dogs also retrieve the blood glucose meter or can get help by pressing an emergency button.
Many hints, no evidence
Various institutions train diabetes warning dogs. The purchase of such a dog is expensive and associated with a lot of responsibility. But a sound scientific basis for the assessment of whether dogs can reliably detect low blood sugar is unfortunately missing. Therefore, much better studies are important. Because the undoubtedly fascinating and positive case reports and surveys may indeed provide interesting information but statements about the reliability of the warning dogs cannot be met in this way. It would be important that unbiased people judge the performance of the dogs. In agreement with laboratory values determined in parallel it would be possible to show how quickly service dogs for people with Diabetes recognizes hypoglycemia and what stimuli are decisive for this.
Conclusion: The studies in detail
For some years there have been reports in the scientific literature about dogs which warn their owners and masters of hypoglycemia. This behavior also seems to show some dogs who have not received special training. The animals bark, whimper and howl, stare, jump or nudge with their nose. Sometimes they also wake up their people when they fall into the dreaded nighttime sugar lows even if the dog and master or mum sleep in separate rooms. Since this behavior does not seem to be accidental the experts started to train diabetic warning dogs. There are no uniform standards for training or quality control at the dog suppliers.