Medical alert dogs help their owners with type 1 diabetes to be aware of more than 80% of hypoglycemic events, a recent study shows.
The University of Bristol led the research in collaboration with the charity Medical Detection Dogs to examine the impact of the trained animals upon people with type 1 diabetes.
There has been a wealth of anecdotal reports of medical alert dogs significantly improving quality of life for people with type 1 diabetes and hypo unawareness. However, prior to the study, there had been little in the way of clinical studies to assess the effectiveness of alert dogs.
The trial involved tracking the reliability of 27 trained glycemia alert dogs. Their owners provided between 6-12 weeks’ of blood glucose records and also included the occasions when their dog had alerted them.
Medical Detection Dogs, based in Milton Keynes, teach the animals to identify low blood glucose by recognising changing odours on the breath.
Out of more than 4,000 hypo and hyperglycemic episodes, the animals detected 83% of the incidents.
These findings confirm that highly trained medical assistance dogs can help their owners regulate their blood sugar levels more effectively.
Some people with type 1 diabetes find it difficult to recognise the signs of high and low blood sugar and having an alert dog can help to spot high or low sugar levels that could otherwise be missed.
Lead author Dr Nicola Rooney from the Bristol Veterinary School said: “We already know from previous studies that patients’ quality of life is vastly improved by having a medical detection dog.
“However, to date, evidence has come from small scale studies. Our study provides the first large-scale evaluation of using medical detection dogs to detect hypoglycemia.”
Dr Claire Guest, Chief Executive and co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs, said: “The findings are fantastic news for all those who are living with type 1 diabetes and other conditions. Medical detection dogs primarily serve patients looking for more effective and independent ways of managing their condition.
“Our dogs also serve the wider medical community by offering proactive solutions that are natural, non-invasive and have been shown to provide countless psychological benefits.
“As our natural companions, and with a highly refined sense of smell, why shouldn’t they be able to detect changes in our personal health?”
The study findings have been published in the PLOS One journal.