Trained dogs can help diabetes patients regulate insulin levels
Dogs that are trained to detect changes in blood sugar levels can help improve the quality of life of owners with Type 1 diabetes, new research shows.
Medical Detection Dogs is a charity that trains pet dogs to respond to the odour of human disease, such as when their owner's blood sugar levels fall outside a target range. When alerted by their dog to such episodes, the patient can take appropriate action, usually by administering insulin or eating to ensure the right glucose levels.
In a study carried out by the University of Bristol in collaboration with Medical Detection Dogs, researchers assessed the reliability of 27 trained glycaemia alert dogs, whose owners provided six to 12 weeks of blood records.
On average, trained dogs alerted their owners to 83% of hypoglycaemic episodes in over 4,000 hypo- and hyper-glycaemic episodes that were examined. A hypoglycaemic episode is where blood sugar drops dangerously low and, if left untreated, can lead to unconsciousness or even death.
For hyperglyaemic episodes (high blood sugar), the 'positive predictive value' was 67%. On average, 81% of alerts occurred when glucose levels were out of target range -- and four dogs had a 100% success rate during the research period.
Dogs varied in their performance depending on individual characteristics of the animal, the partnership and the household, e.g. whether the dog was previously a pet, when it was trained, and whether its human partner was an adult or child.
According to lead author Dr Nicola Rooney from the Bristol Veterinary School, this is the first large-scale evaluation of the use of medical detection dogs to detect hypoglycaemia.
The results of the study have been published in the journal PLOS One.
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?"