By Rosie Armond, MRes Biochemistry
A recent study by the University of Bristol reports that glycaemic alert dogs can effectively help type 1 diabetes patients manage their insulin levels. The research was conducted in collaboration with ‘Medical Detection Dogs’, a charity that trains the animals to detect the odour of human disease. Our canine companions have such an acute sense of smell that they are able to sense minute changes in the blood sugar levels of their human-partner. When these levels fall too low (hypoglycaemia) or too high (hyperglycaemia), the dogs are conditioned to prompt the owner to take precautionary actions such as administering insulin or eating.
Although not intended to replace existing technology for monitoring blood glucose, alert dogs act as a non-invasive safeguard against the long- and short-term medical complications of out-of-range (OOR) episodes. This is especially important for patients with hypo unawareness, who have a diminished ability to recognise when their blood sugar levels are falling to potentially dangerous levels, which could lead to unconsciousness, coma and even death, if left untreated.
The study is the largest of its kind and found the medical detection dogs to be more effective than previously acknowledged, with dogs alerting their human partners to 83% of hypoglycaemic episodes in over 4,000 OOR episodes examined. Variation was observed between the dogs and several factors identified to optimise performance such as ongoing training, careful screening of dogs for their working environment as well as a good relationship with their human partner.
The data from the trial is encouraging and indicates that medical detection dogs have the potential to offer owners greater freedom and an improved quality of life.
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