News and insights brought to you by the International Diabetes Federation

Service dog

Dogs today are no longer simply known as “man’s best friend”. Service dogs ranging in a wide variety of dog breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, serve as essential lifelong partners for people – especially those in need of alert dogs trained to detect illness or provide timely aid. In times of dire need, dogs are able to provide help when necessary, with exceptional dedication, speed, and enthusiasm.

This is especially true for diabetes, a condition that can be difficult to manage. By staying constantly by their side and acting as both a guardian and sub-in health alert, “Diabetes Assist” or “Alert Dogs” can help people with diabetes have a greater sense of comfort and stability.

These dogs offer people with diabetes greater freedom and a better quality of life due to their uncanny ability to alert their owners of any decrease in blood glucose before it become dangerous. This gives the person with diabetes the time to take the necessary action to avoid loss of consciousness and potential injury or possible longer-term complications associated with multiple episodes of hypoglycemia.

How Do Diabetes Assist/Alert Dogs Help?

Along with the ability to alert when blood glucose levels go low, these service dogs are also able to retrieve diabetes-related medicines, equipment and supplies when their owners need them. Diabetes Assist/Alert Dogs are usually larger breeds and therefore more than capable of providing stability during walks and, if required, cushioning a fall. When outdoors, these capable canine friends can also help people with diabetes carry any personal belongings and open or close any doors along the way.

By acting as both a guardian and sub-in health alert, “Diabetes Assist” dogs can help people with diabetes have a greater sense of comfort and stability.

How are they trained?

Diabetes Assist/Alert Dogs are specifically selected and carefully trained to monitor and detect smells in air particles dispersed by human breath. This allows them to detect abnormalities in blood glucose levels. After detection, dogs are trained to send an ‘alert’ signal, which could be a nudge with their muzzles or a push with their paws.

Dogs are chosen for their positive attitudes and nose sensitivity from puppyhood and trained. With an interest and natural curiosity in different smells, they are placed on a two-year scent training period. This includes obedience, socialisation and, when the dogs reach 14 months old, professional advanced service skills. When a person with diabetes experiences low blood glucose (hypoglycemia), chemical changes in the body result in a very unique, detectable scent being released when they exhale. After sniffing the air, a Diabetes Assist/Alert Dog can alert its owner to get something to eat or drink to raise blood glucose. Other examples of assistance include fetching an emergency phone, glucose tabs, or someone else to assist the person.

The most popular choice of Diabetes Alert/Assist Dogs are Labrador Retrievers, followed by Golden Retrievers, Standard Poodles, and Labradoodles.

How are service dogs identified?

Diabetes Alert/Assist Dogs usually wear a very prominent and unique emergency kit that closely resembles a backpack. The kit usually includes identification and contact information, a fast-digesting simple glucose source and medication. If you spot one of these dogs, be on the lookout to provide any assistance in case of a medical emergency and a visible lack of external aid.

When a person with diabetes experiences low blood glucose, chemical changes in the body result in a very unique, detectable scent being released when they exhale.

When should a service dog be considered?

People with diabetes who have service dogs usually live with type 1 diabetes and experience episodes of low blood glucose without alerts, particularly during the day. They must comply with the medication and monitoring plan agreed with their health professional, be at least 12 years old and commit to a full-time partnership with the service dog they are assigned.

If you live with diabetes and are considering a service dog, make sure to stay informed of any requirements, circumstances, and laws concerning service animals and to get parental consent if required.

 

Leo Wilson graduated from university in animal health and behavior. He has more than a decade of experience working in the pet industry and has contributed many pet-related articles to websites before decided to start his own blog - Cyberpet.


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