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For Diabetics: Trained Dogs Can Alert Owners Of Low Blood Sugar Level

Updated on August 3, 2016
American Diabetes Association estimated that 29.1 million Americans have diabetes,
American Diabetes Association estimated that 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, | Source

More and more people are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Research is always ongoing to find ways for diabetics to live more quality lives. Even so, people with diabetes have a fear of suffering from low blood sugar.

There are devices to alert diabetics when their blood sugar drops. One such device is the continuous glucose monitor (CGM). However, most diabetics do not have a CGM. There is another method that diabetics are loving.

Don't Confuse A Continuous Glucose Monitor With A Glulcose Meter

A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is sometimes confused with a glucose meter. A typical glucose monitor is a disposable glucose sensor placed just under the skin. It is worn for a few days and replaced with a new one. It can also be an electronic receiver worn like a pager or insulin pump that displays glucose levels with continuous updates that also monitors rising and falling of blood sugar levels.

Continous Glucose Monitor, also known as CGM
Continous Glucose Monitor, also known as CGM | Source
A glucose meter shows a reading of a diabetic's blood sugar level.
A glucose meter shows a reading of a diabetic's blood sugar level. | Source

A glucose meter is quite different. It is a device for measuring the blood glucose level. A small drop of blood is placed on a disposable test strip and inserted into a digital meter. Within seconds, the glucose reading will be shown on the digital display.

Trained Dogs Can Sniff Out Low Blood Sugar

A trained service dog can alert owners when their blood sugar reaches dangerously low levels.

The cost for a well-trained dog to sniff out low blood sugar in its owner doesn't come cheap. In fact, trained dogs can cost about $20,000. Unfortunately, the trained dogs aren't covered by insurance. There is some good news though. Non-profit organizations might be able to help offset the cost.

Questions About Dogs' Ability to Sniff Out Low Blood Sugar

Alert dogs sound like a great idea, but there is no way to prove the effectiveness of their activity. Evan Los, a pediatric endocrinologist at Oregon Health & Science University, has studied the way dogs respond around diabetics. He concludes that dog trainers and dog users are enthusiastic about the possibility that dogs can sniff out low blood sugar level in their owners.

There are some questions that must be answered before everyone comes on board and agrees with the idea of dogs being able to detect diabetes in people.

  • What are the trained dogs really detecting?
  • Are the dogs actually "smelling" low blood sugar?
  • Are the dogs reacting to low blood sugar level symptoms in their owner or to something else?
  • Are the dogs just smelling the person's breath rather than a low blood sugar level? A person's breath does rise as blood sugar falls.

Dogs can detect low blood sugar in diabetics.
Dogs can detect low blood sugar in diabetics. | Source

Pros and Cons of Dogs' Sniff Test

Another study revealed that dogs are usually slower than a CGM when it comes to alerting owners of actual low blood sugar. This means help might not come in time.

Compared to the use of CGM, the dogs alerted their owner three times more often during low blood sugar episodes than when blood sugar was normal. About 12 percent of the 20 weekly alerts occurred when the patient actually had low blood sugar.

And when both the dog and the CGM were used together, the CGM alerted first in 73 percent of low blood sugar cases an average of 22 minutes sooner than did the dog.

It was discovered that dogs might also be reacting to high blood sugars or rapid changes in blood sugar and not just low blood sugar. CGMs can detect and provide feedback for these occurrences. Dogs aren't trained to do this.

Which Do Diabetics Prefer?

More research is needed to completely determine which is best for monitoring low blood sugar levels. It appears that CGM outperformed trained dogs in this study. However, most diabetics conclude dogs are their best friends when it comes to detecting low blood sugar levels even with some false alerts.

Despite the many false alerts, dog users who were surveyed were very satisfied, On a 10-point scale, the satisfactory rate was 8.9. The fairly confident rate was 7.9 in their dog's ability to detect low blood sugar.

Dogs can be trained to sniff out low blood sugar in people.
Dogs can be trained to sniff out low blood sugar in people. | Source

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