Some say dogs are the best medicine for people with diabetes. Maybe they’re not for everyone, but in at least seven ways, dogs can make your life with diabetes better.
Exercise. Dogs need to go for walks, so you have to walk with them twice a day or more. You should have a dog you can easily walk; not one who is so big and strong you can’t handle him, or so lazy he doesn’t want to go anywhere. Most dogs work out fine for walking.
On schedule. We know how important it is to keep to your schedule of eating, exercising, monitoring, and medications. Dogs are great for that. You have to walk them, feed them, and put them to bed, so you can structure your own care around theirs. They’re like children without all the crying.
Emotional support. Dogs are absolutely the best at giving support. Not standoffish like a cat. They know when you are feeling down and will come to you to cheer you up by contact or petting.
Alerting about hypos. Dogs can be trained to recognize when blood sugar is going down and alert their owner or owner’s parents. They do this by smelling slight differences in the odor of breath or sweat, or possibly by some other means.
Dogs have a far more sensitive sense of smell than any Breathalyzer machine. Many people say their lives have been saved by a dog’s getting excited, barking, jumping up on them, or doing something else to alert them to a low sugar they weren’t aware of yet.
Several companies train diabetes alert dogs (DADs). The first one was Dogs 4 Diabetics, started by Mark Ruefenacht, a forensic scientist with Type 1 diabetes. Raising and training a DAD can cost up to $20,000, but donations pay that cost. People who receive the dogs only have to show a history of hypos, pay about $150, and commit to caring for the dog.
Hunting dogs like retrievers are usually used as DADs, but most dogs can do it. Dogs often train themselves after living with a person and associating certain smells with a bad event for their owner.
Petting. Petting an animal is known to reduce blood pressure, an effect that often lasts for hours. Petting a dog has also been found to improve depression symptoms and help in coping with anxiety, grief, and stress.
Social contact. In addition to contact with the dog, walking a dog attracts nice people into your life. People will stop you to admire your dog and start conversations. Social contact is good for you.
Unconditional love. Nobody loves you like your dog does. Substantial benefits in life expectancy come with dog ownership, and I believe much of that comes from the love dogs give.
This list is just a start. Here’s a slide show giving 27 different ways pets (not just dogs) improve health.
Things to consider
Owning a dog isn’t like buying a new monitor or starting a new medication. You will form a close relationship with your dog, which brings responsibilities. The dog becomes a significant part of your life. You may not want the extra effort. You may fear not being able to provide for the dog’s needs.
Vet bills can be enormous. Most communities have low-cost or free vet service, but they won’t cover everything. You’ll probably need veterinary insurance.
Veterinarians sometimes charge significantly more than humans would pay for the same drug. You can often switch a pet’s prescription to Walgreens or Costco and save a ton. According to the blog Fight Canine Cancer, one pet owner “reduced her pet’s anti-cancer drugs from $187 to $41.14 by switching the prescription to Walgreens where pets can be included as family members in that store’s Prescription Savings Club.”
Not all experts believe dogs are always good for you. Some studies find no benefit, but those studies aren’t publicized. For one reason, dogs can bring in fleas, mites, and bowel infections that can harm people they live with.
Of course, as you come to care about a pet, you leave yourself open to worry when they get sick and grief when they die. So that is a potential downside, as it is with any relationship. But should we avoid relationships because of the pain of loss? That would leave us with pretty empty lives. I would say the benefits of dogs will outweigh the problems for most of us.
P.S. for cat people: Yes, cats are good too. Maybe not quite as good as dogs — I haven’t heard about cats detecting hypos — but definitely good to have if you like them.
Two new stories on my blog The Inn by the Healing Path. One about the river of creativity in which we all float, and one about seeing people as they really are. Enjoy and comment if you’re interested.
Are you dealing with diabetic neuropathy? A new study shows that a certain type of diet can significantly reduce the nerve pain of this condition. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more!