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Who’s a good boy? The dogs saving the lives of their diabetic owners

It’s a well-known fact that all dogs are good dogs – they are man’s best friend after all – but a recent study has found that for those suffering with type 1 diabetes, these faithful pooches could actually protect them from dangerous spikes and dips in their blood sugar levels.

The University of Bristol has performed the first large-scale study of the effectiveness of detection dogs and found that, out of the 4,000 events surveyed, they were able to spot hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) 83% of the time and hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) 67% of the time.

It’s a well-known fact that all dogs are good dogs, they are man’s best friend after all

The dogs are trained to smell subtle changes in a person’s odour as their blood sugar levels stray out of the acceptable levels and are able to alert them by performing a set task (barking, licking, etc.). This makes them especially effective for alerting those whose blood sugar drops severely overnight, waking them or others in the house so that they can take the appropriate action.

The study also found that, in some cases, the dogs were able to outperform modern wearable blood sugar monitors which provide a constant reading of the wearer’s blood sugar levels. Dr. Nicola Rooney from the University of Bristol’s Veterinary School told The Independent: Reports and records suggest that in some instances the dog is ahead of devices – dogs can alert parents in a different room, and they have added benefits of not being invasive and fulfilling social functions as well.”

The study also found that, in some cases, the dogs were able to outperform modern wearable blood sugar monitors which provide a constant reading of the wearer’s blood sugar levels

She goes on to explain how the dogs can provide a much more supportive system of alert: “Some owners have anecdotally reported that the buzzing of a machine alert merely reminds them that they had something wrong with them. In contrast, being able to interact with a dog who is alerting them to a glucose rise or drop promotes some happiness in what is otherwise a recurring and burdensome event.”

This of course isn’t the only field in which medical dogs have been shown to help those with serious conditions. Over 7,000 people in the UK living with a disability are helped by a trained dog, 5,000 of which use a guide dog to help them live with blindness. But dogs have also been shown to be effective at alerting owners to oncoming seizures and allergic reactions.

This of course isn’t the only field in which medical dogs have been shown to help those with serious conditions

In all of these cases the dogs are improving the quality of life of their owners, giving them the freedom and peace of mind that they may not otherwise be able to have. And that doesn’t only apply to physical disabilities either; therapy dogs are a proven method of helping those dealing with depression, anxiety and many other forms of mental illness, as well as relieving stress and improving mood.

These findings won’t come as news to many; the first diabetes alert dog was trained in California in 2003, and the first in the UK was in 2009. Back in 2015, BBC News reported on Jess, a Springer Spaniel living with a family near Porthmadog. Jess was self-trained by the family to be an alert dog for their diabetic son Jac, with Jac’s mother commenting: “She is his best friend and she does save his life.”

Therapy dogs are a proven method of helping those dealing with depression, anxiety and many other forms of mental illness, as well as relieving stress and improving mood

As of 2016 there were 60 diabetes alert dogs trained in the UK and since the publication of this study, this figure is sure to increase.

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