Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Dogs have long been trained to assist people with certain medical conditions, including mobility impairment and blindness. Now, diabetes is getting added to the list, at least experimentally.

Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs, a nonprofit center and sponsor of research in Aylesbury, England, is in the process of training 17 Diabetic Hypo-Alert Dogs to detect hypoglycemia in people with diabetes. Dogs’ sense of smell can be sharp enough to detect changes in blood glucose level before humans notice them, possibly a boon to people who frequently experience low blood glucose or who have hypoglycemia unawareness.

According to an article on the Today show Web site about the program, 65% of people with Type 1 diabetes reported in a survey (conducted last year at Queen’s University Belfast) that their dogs reacted when they had episodes of hypoglycemia. But no large trial has been conducted to study how early, and how effectively, dogs detect blood glucose changes, or to discern whether other technology — such as a continuous glucose monitor — might accomplish the same goals more effectively or at a lower cost. The chief executive of Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs maintains that dogs can detect blood chemical changes in the realm of parts per trillion, something that no external man-made sensor can do.

So how good — or crazy — is this idea? Watch this video to see it lampooned on The Colbert Report.

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Cheating Death - Diabetes Dogs, Chocolate Milk & Swearing in Pain
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Mark Sanford

What do you think — would you be interested in a dog trained to detect hypoglycemia? If you have a dog, does it react when your blood glucose gets low? Would you rather rely on a medical device? Is this too small a function for a full-time medical dog? Leave a comment below!

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Comments
  1. I would like to find out more about these medically trained dogs. I wouldn’t put more emphasis on a dog over a medical device but if you have both in play then one could be protected in different ways. Supposing one’s device fails then there is always the back up of a dog. Would these dogs be considered Service Dogs? If so, then they would be allowed to go where ever the person does?
    Where can I find out more?

    Posted by Sheri |
  2. My current dog has never really been around when I’ve had a serious low bloodsugar. My last dog, Jackson-a black lab, woke me up abou three different times while I had him for a low blood sugar. I was in the 30s each time he licked my foot or leg to wake me up. I usually wake up on my own, but these three times, it was because of Jackson. I’d love it if my current dog Barkley could to do the same.

    Posted by Victoria |
  3. The dogs seem very reliable. My husband said they would be good for people alone but I disagree. I’ve had low blood sugar when he’s been here and he doesn’t do anything. They need more research for me to make an honest opinion but so far they seem fine. Would they be called a service dog so they could go anywhere? Which would cost more is one of my questions - the dog or your own reaction? there are many questions that are unaswered. Need more reseaarch.

    Posted by Cindy Stamm |
  4. In June 2005, I adopted a rescued dog named Louie to work with children and do therapy visits. In September 2005, Louie began to do a strange thing-he would suddenly jump up, come over to me at my desk, get on my lap, sniff my mouth and lick my chin. I just thought he wanted attention. He started doing this on a regular basis, daily in fact. I noticed that after he did it, I felt bad-sweaty, nauseated and weak. I noticed increase thirst, blurred vision, etc. Made a doctor’s appointment, had tests done. In November 2005, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Louie became my service dog and has helped me on a number of occassions. He did this without training. These dogs are life savers while Louie picks up on the highs, mostly he notices the lows. I won’t go anywhere without him.

    Posted by Vivian |
  5. I cannot believe that there are that many people that have hypoglycemia that you need a dog to sniff it out. They would be best used to sniff for dope rather than hypoglcemia.

    Posted by Mitchell |
  6. We are using stevia in the place of sugar. What do you know about this plant? Is it better than sugar or canderel? We notice that we don’t suffer pain in our joints with stevia.

    I would like to hear your and others opinions about this subject.

    Thank you Renè

    Posted by Renè |
  7. My dog woke me 2-3 times while asleep with low blood glucose about an hour or two before my normal wake up time. He hasn’t done it recently but I would like to find out more about this.

    Posted by Bob R |
  8. My previous dog, Brandi, woke me several times by licking me continuosly, when I had severe low blood sugars. One night when my husband had to call 911, she woke him to do that. When they tested me my blood sugar was 20. Went to the ER that night. Yes I believe that dogs have a sense of when my blood sugars are low. My new dog hasn’t exhibited any signs that he knows, but we have only had him about 6 weeks.

    Posted by Nancy |
  9. I had a wonderful little pound puppy that was a chow shepard mix that seemed to know when I was having problems with my blood sugar. On days that it was low he would not leave my side and many times he would wake my husband and keep pestering him until my husband would check on me. Most often he would have to get me juice. I am sure that dog saved my life on a couple of occasions. I think it is a wonderful idea and hope that more dogs would have his instincts or be able to be taught to recognize when help was needed.

    Posted by CJ |
  10. My dog detects hypoglycemia and signals me. He started signaling me spontanteously, and then I worked with a service dog trainer to make sure he would do it consistently, and also to make sure that his behavior would be good enough to go places with me. He has traveled with me for 2 years now, and is very consistent about signaling me when my blood glucose is low.

    There are several training programs in the U.S. if you search the term “diabetes alert dog,” you can easily find them. The most well-funded one seems to be “Dogs 4 Diabetics” in San Rafael, CA; but there are others in other parts of the country.

    I have also heard that there have been some research studies published out of Australia.

    Posted by Ann |
  11. I have had 2 Frenh Poodles who have always alerted me to episodes of low blood sugar, especially in the middle of the night. He
    nudges, kisses, or stands on my to get me to wake-up and constantly smells my breath (and it’s not because of poor oral care.)

    Posted by LETA |
  12. My service dog, Angel, has woken me from a sound sleep because my bloodsugar had dropped to 40. She has done this several times. I never had low blood sugar in my sleep before. This is not a trained response for her.

    She is trained for mobility and balance for Dystonia but nothing for diabetes.

    Posted by Sharon |
  13. Hi All!! I have been a boxer dog addict since 1992 and type 1 diabetic since 1973. I have a couple of boxers that have detected hypoglycemic episodes on me. Usually at night. It took the death of one of them for me to realize after he was gone what “magical” powers he had. I think a dog can be trained to detect and respond as needed and would be a wonderful asset for SOME people but not all. You have to have a lot of real animal love and trust in your animals. But for some folks, yes it is certainly an option. Boxer and Frenchie Mom to Moonee and Vertee, Boxers; Marge and Serena my French Bulldogs.

    Posted by Susan |
  14. I thought I was imagining that my 2 1/2 year-old maltese, Abbey, was responsive to my low blood sugars. She has woken me up several times, usually around 3 or 4 in the morning. My sugars have gone as low as 18! I know she’s saved my life, as I live alone and would probably not be able to rouse myself enough to wake up if not for her licking my face and sniffing my breath. Nobody trained her. It’s just instinctual! God bless her little heart!

    Posted by Patti |
  15. I adopted a dog from the humane society and he alerts me when my bloodsugars drop. I feel like I saved him and he saved me several times.

    He has not been trained formally but has saved me several times. He is never wrong.

    I also have a cat who will actually come to the door at night and bang until my husband gets up I check a bloodsugar and get juice. She checks the cup my husband gets to make sure it is orange juice. She is never wrong in the 10 years I have had her she gets a 100%

    The intelligence, love and value of animals is boundless.

    Posted by Lora Edwards |
  16. I have had Type 1 for 42 years now, and my only complication is ‘low-blood-sugar unawareness’…which is a very serious matter. After coming close to death many times, I looked into getting a trained dog which would alert me of my low sugars.
    It obviously is an awesome solution for some…but I talked myself out of getting a dog because I considered all the obstacles…like matching a dog to my personality, the training involved, the challenge of taking the dog with me when attending meetings, when flying, when using rapid transit, and even just going for groceries.
    I am presently trying out a continuous glucose monitor which is also very challenging to use at first, and also is expensive to maintain…
    I think it wins out over the dog mainly because the monitor can be programmed to be silent when necessary (e.g. duriing a wedding). I am still learning the finer details of using it…but as long as it proves that is it is very accurate at reading my low blood-sugars, then it will be a life-saver…and that is worth a lot!

    Posted by M Johnston |
  17. Yes I do believe that dogs have a sense of detecting Hypoglycemia. I have 16 yr old dalmation named Lacey……..she has senced my low blood sugar several times the pass few months & has made several attempts at waking me from a sound sleep, causing me to test my blood sugar which has been around 40. Lacey is just a family pet no training.

    Posted by Linda |
  18. Yes I do believe……….I have a 16 yr old dalmation named Lacey, she has come to my side several times the last few months waking me & my blood sugar readings have been around 40. she has been a family pet with no training. Just earning her keep. Lacey is very special girl to me.

    Posted by Linda |
  19. I have two small rescue dogs. Chihuahua Mix who are always with me when at home, sometimes when we are traveling. They sleep with me, and have never reacted to low blood glucose readings in either myself or my husband who is also diabetic.It would be nice if they did, I have to rely on symptoms and a monitoring device. Usually I wake with symptoms of shaking and sweating when I have low readings in my sleep, but I cannot rely on this always being the case and it would be nice if the dogs or even one of them would react and let me know when sleeping that I have a low reading.

    Posted by Phyl Herman |
  20. I had a shiztu who woke me at night when my blood sugar would drop. He did that at least two or three times a year for five years. Then I lost him. I am now alone and I have a cat. My cat knows when my blood sugar begins to get low and he licks my forehead or takes his paw and taps my cheek until I wake up.

    Posted by Shirley |
  21. I am a firm believer in the ability of animals to alert to medical conditions, including Diabetes. As a child, I was spending the night with a friend. Their family dog alerted the parents to an extreme hypoglycemic reaction. The dog likely saved my life that night. My husband tells me that my cat, who has since passed away, would bat at his nose to wake him in the night when I was having a hypoglycemic reaction. Having hypoglycemic unawareness, I am very interested in the development of this ability in animals.

    Posted by Lora |
  22. I HAVE A DOG THAT WILL LET ME KNOW IF MY SUGAR IS TO HIGHT OR TO LOW. ONE NIGHT MT SUGAR WAS UP TO 365 AND MY DOG WOULD WAKE ME UP BUT I WOULD FALL BACK TO SLEEP. SO HE JUMP UP ON THE BED AND WOKE UP MY HUSBOND. HE WOKE ME. MY DOG ALSO KNOWS IF I AM NOT FEELING GOOD HE WILL STAY BY MY SIDE.

    Posted by kathy payne |
  23. I would prefer some sort of device similar to the insulin pump or included in the pump to alert you of low blood sugar.

    Posted by Ottilie |
  24. I had a German Shepherd mix that witnessed me have a seizure due to low blood sugars and awoke my parents. After that time, she was always very sensitive to my blood sugars, especially when I was sleeping and would wake me or pester me until I realized what she was after. My husband and I estimated that she saved me at least 8 times from severe lows in the middle of the night during her 17-years of life. I have not had a dog sense with such accuity for my blood sugars. Maybe one day.

    Posted by Debra |
  25. There are several organizations that train dogs in the United States to be diabetes alert dogs. If you google this topic, you will find several options for officially training a dog to do this. Also there is an organization in Australia that does this also. And it does work. Many parents who have children with type 1 diabetes wish to have these dogs. Children with type 1 can have both rapid rises in their blood glucose level and sudden severe drops also; based on activity levels, hormones, stress, incorrectly calculating carb. counts, giving insulin for food that the child does not eat, illness, etc. The variables that can affect blood sugar are endless and scary. My daughter was diagnosed at age 2 with type 1 diabetes, and she could not always communicate to us that she felt hypoglycemic. It would have been fabulous to have a dog who could let us know when she wasn’t able. We even get up through the night to check her blood glucose levels. Imagine if she slept with a dog who would jump up and let us know that she was low while she was sleeping. Yes, Mitchell, there are that many people out there who need these dogs to SAVE THEIR LIVES from these serious life threatening seizure inducing low blood glucose levels. Trust me, we live with this every day.

    Posted by Jennifer |
  26. I would love to have a service dog for this purpose. I am guesing that those that think we should automatically feel and know when we go high or low don’t have diabetes. At least my experience with type 1 I don’t always know in time when I am going low and it can hit fast where confusion can set in making it difficult to know what to do. With a service dog I might be cued in to check even before I have noticeable symptoms.

    I also would feel much better knowing that my child had a dog that can send warning signals because kids don’t always understand their symptoms and even if they do they sometimes think it can wait a minute.

    All I need to know is where can I get one?

    Posted by Tracy |
  27. I have developed low blood sugar unawareness, especially during the afternoon when I am distracted by work. I would love to have a dog that would bugged me when my sugar was at 45 or 50 or so. It would keep me from getting to the very incoherent stage.

    I would be very interested in the details about the alert dogs. How are they trained? Is there a breed that is more acute than others?

    This is a great idea. I was on a pump and it didn’t work any better than syringes. I mean pumps are amazing but doesn’t alert ahead.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Are there clinical trials to measure the effects of dogs?
    THanks for your article and the posts afterwards.

    Posted by jaime jameson |
  28. My husband was just recently diagnosed diabetic after being rushed to the ER with ketoacidosis. A couple days before he was experiencing excessive thirst and other symptoms. Our little chihuahua Mia, who I have to be honest is usually extremely attached to me, seemed to start hanging around with him and becoming anxious. The morning my husband was taken to the hospital he awoke with blurred vision and throughout the morning was becoming more disorientated. We also noticed that Mia was pacing, anxious and stuck to him like glue. She would not let him out of her sight and when he would stop to sit she would paw at him over and over as if she wanted to tell him something but couldn’t. We realized that she was definetly sensing something was going on with him. When we think back to that day we are amazed and touched by it. I’m so thankful that my husband is doing well and managing his diabetes with the help of our little angel, Mia.

    Posted by Denise |
  29. I was priveleged to own the first fully accredited Hypo Alert dog in Australia. If you take a look at the web-site there is a link to an organisation in the U.S. that can help you. These dogs are little life-savers, many have done exactly that for their owners. What most peple fail to grasp, is that at no time does the dog take the place of regular testing, but the dog will give you the nudge to actually take that test, and often before you feel anything yourself.

    Posted by Lorraine Jessep |
  30. Apparently publishing the web-site isn’t allowed. So, you can try and google my name, and it should lead you to the site. There are two organisations in Australia, the one with the link is the one with only three dogs featured at this time.

    Posted by Lorraine Jessep |
  31. I am a diabetic and insulin dependant.I own a nine month old Bernese Mountain Dog,which I understand have been trained in this area.I wish to have my dog trained also.ANY input or yhelp to point me in the right direction would be appreciated.

    Posted by Dennis Cormier |
  32. What area do you live Dennis?

    Posted by Lorraine Jessep |
  33. I am a 33 yr old type 1 diabetic. I have a 2 1/2 yr old male maltese which was given to me as a puppy. He has never been trained to detect lows or highs but seems to be accutly aware of them. He always reacts when my sugars are low and high, lower than about 60 and above probably 250. Family and friends have even commented on his behavior. I would love to know more on how you train dogs to detect and react to highs and lows and would love to try to train some. However, I do feel that medical advancements and devices are essensial in taking the best care of our bodies. When the question is posed if this is too small a task for a full time medical help dog my answer is no. There is no help too little when you speak of helping one to better there life and the quality and length of it. As far as being more affordable, I have been a insulin pump user for the past 9 years and with insurance the copay for pump alone would almost cover the price of a trained dog, not to mention the monthly supplies that never end and still waiting for my insurance to cover the cost of a CMG and its monthly supplies.

    Posted by alicia perez |
  34. ^^^ was quite right

    Posted by Emo |
  35. I have Type II diabetes and would love to have a dog alert me. I do have a rescue dog my husband and I received from the SPCA. Interestingly, this little dog rushes to my aid anytime I sneeze. He jumps up, looks at me and then pushes his cheek or neck onto my cheek or mouth and nose. I don’t know why he does this but he finds it very important to him. He will even get up from a deep sleep to come to my aid. Funny, but when he des this it seems to stop any further sneezing. He always does this and will look me over before he will get down. I honestly think he is trying to help me in some way. He touches my heart. He is so mattentive I think he could be trained to be one of these dogs.

    Posted by Vicki Childress |
  36. I have been a diabetic for 35 years and i have nearly died to many to mention. But i think if mans best friend, can help detect low blood sugars i would love to have one, I have a little dog i took in because its death cannot hear, but she cannot detect my low sugars, and i have alot. If you get this going please contact me, I would love to hear from you! Sincerely Ms Howell.

    Posted by jackie |
  37. I have type 1 diabetes. I often have low blood sugar, especially at night, because my diabetes is very hard to control. my mom has to use a sleep apnoea machine, which is very loud, so she can’t hear me when I have a seizure-which happens every now and then. These are potentially deadly, and an alert dog could go alert my mom and wake her up even if her machine is really loud. This may save my life in the event of a seizure. Please help me get a medical alert dog.

    Posted by Hannah Lyman |
  38. my baby brandy is one of the dogs that can sense out medical problems. one night she woke me up from a very sound sleep and would not stop until i was awake i checked my blood sugar and it was 59 it is not supposed to go below 70. i have a friend that has mental issues and i didnt know but she tried to commit suicuide and my dog
    made me wake up with very little sleep to find a letter and her unconious and could have died as i sit here 2nite she is right by my side. Most nights she has to lay up-against me so she can feel me breathing and lots of times she gets in my face so she can tell that im still breathing so i do believe that there are dogs that can sense if there is a medical problems

    Posted by shanda |
  39. Directed towards the people who dont understand how hard diabetes is on a person…

    I’m 17 years old. I have had Diabetes for 14 years. I have went into DKA 4 major times. Most Diabetics dont live after the first time. Go google DKA. Out of these 4 times an alert dog could have saved my life. Yea thats right a DOG. An animal. Something that people think is disgusting or stupid. Yea thats right a DOG. Could have saved me the trouble of kidney failure. Diabetic alert dogs dont come cheap. Some people even have to train their own dogs. Iam. Logan is my 8 month old Labrador retriever Iam training myself. Yea a DOG. He is going to save my life one day. Logan I love more than most humans. Because we have that type of bond. Diabetes doesnt seem nearly as bad as cancer or heart disease or things like that. But it is! Its just as bad! And its silent! It will take your life before you even get the chance to breathe. And why do us diabetics need dogs? To save ourlives, so we can save each other!!

    17 year old diabetic type one :)

    Thank you!

    Posted by Tabitha |
  40. I have type 2 diabetes as well as my husband and we have a chihuahuas that can and has alerted us both to both highs and lows with our sugar she has not been trained to do this it’s just something she does. My question is what do I have to do to be able to take her every where with us most places won’t allow dogs can you get some kind of papers like service dogs have?

    Posted by Susan |
  41. I have a miniature poodle, and he licks my wrist sometimes, I dont know if I have diabetes but I met this guest speaker that has diabetes, and she said that dogs can detect if your blood sugar rate is low, by licking your wrist. I would like to know if a poodle can detect that. Or was he just doing that?

    Posted by Shannon |
  42. Hey I just wanted to add in here I have a calico cat that does all these same things for me- she wakes me up- either licks or nibbles or crys- and does this also anytime I’m crashing hard if I goto the hospital the entire time she’s worried back at the house for my okay and when I get back stays even more aware for a week or so (I’m still in diagnosis stage but she’s been doing this her entire life which is a lil over a year now- I’ve been in and out of hospitals about once a month for unconsciousness) I’m sure this would have happened alot more if she wasnt around- she will sometimes even bring people to me crying to take care of me if I’m failing on it myself– wonderful thing is she’s never had training- she’s even sensitive and assists for the panic attacks not leaving my side-I often take her with me places (she’s leash and shoulder trained) I’m not sure how dogs are for people but I can recommend a good sensitive cat for people who prefer them- it just takes a bit more work on finding the right one for the job. She found me- I can’t complain.

    Posted by Laura |
  43. My poodle has spontaneously alerted since I got her at 4 months, so far 27 times with low sugar. She will lick or paw at me until I acknowledge her and get my test kit. She then sits patiently while I test. She has no formal training for diabetes but is obedience trained and registered with sugardogs.org. They work exclusively with poodles for diabetics.

    Posted by Mark |
  44. I came accross this site because my dog smells my wrist everytime I come home and I was wondering why she did this.
    I have hypocltcemia so I was very interested in seeing this article. I absolutely believe dogs can detect when something is wrong and knowing when blodd surgar is down is only a small part of what the potential is for these dogs.

    Posted by Diane |
  45. I think that the idea of animals being able to sense medical changes in people and animals being able to pick up on / sense / detect other kinds of problems and dangers is truely amazing. How do animals do it???? I am not sure if I know the answer myself.

    Posted by Marisa |
  46. My 11 yr old daughter was diagnosed w/ type 1 diabetes Sept of last year . Her levels were so off the scale (1100)….she was med filghted to children’s hospital
    In L Rock, AR.

    She has it under control Better than myself. I am certain of that. I have to give all the credit to my awesome wife and the Lord above for EVERYTHING else. However. I’m convinced I have the ability to train one of these dogs !

    Any information / contacts , etc n the right direction would b greatly appreciated.
    ,Steven Baker

    Posted by Steven |
  47. I think it would be absolutely wonderful because where some people may think it couldn’t make a difference i think it could but of course use a monito but i myself had a blood sugar of 31 i should have been passed out on the floor but by the grace of god i wasn’t , something told me to check my sugar but if i would have had a medical dog for diabetes i would have known my sugar was dropping sooner because its nothing to play with when it comes to my blood sugars because too low or to high can be deadly and if its not time or you don’t feel that your blood sugar isn’t right you could run into problems where if you had a dog trained for it yea it could save your life so no i don’t think its too muchh to ask that people with diabetes have a little more security in their life with a medical diabetic dog i would love to have my dog trained just not enough money . I think life saving animals should be more affordable for people with low incomes

    Posted by jenni |

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