Healthy Living

Life-Saving Canines: Everything You Need to Know About Diabetes Support Dogs

Life-Saving Canines: Everything to Know About Diabetes Support Dogs

Dogs are indeed man’s best friends. These adorable balls of fur can cheer you up when you are feeling down and keep you company when you are lonely. Admirably, they are also capable of saving lives, such as in the case of bomb-sniffing canines detecting explosive devices, and also ordinary house pets saving their owners from accidents like fires. But did you know that dogs can help people with diabetes as well? Read on and get to know a diabetes support dog!

Diabetes support dogs: medical assistance dogs for diabetes patients

Diabetes support dogs are a special type of medical assistance dogs that are specially trained to detect and react to a change in blood sugar levels occurring in their diabetic owner’s body through their exceptionally sensitive sense of smell. Although any diabetic may avail of the services of these canines, diabetes support dogs are most helpful to diabetes patients with hypoglycemic unawareness, and diabetes patients who are relying on insulin pumps or injections to maintain normal blood sugar levels.

Diabetes patients with hypoglycemic unawareness are patients with type 1 diabetes who experience sharp drops in blood sugar levels without experiencing the usual symptoms such as profuse sweating and shivering. These diabetes patients are especially prone to danger because when their blood sugar levels drop too low without them noticing, they can potentially go into shock, enter a coma, or in the worst case, die.

Although there are several clinical devices a patient can wear to detect changes in blood sugar levels, more often than not, these tools are too slow in detecting the changes that it is too late when they are discovered. Since time is of the essence when it comes to emergencies, diabetes support dogs are more effective at detecting blood sugar level changes, spotting them at an average time of 30 minutes, way before other devices ever can.

Ways that diabetes support dogs show you something is wrong

As mentioned earlier, diabetes support dogs are trained to detect and react to changes in their owner’s blood chemistry through their great sense of smell. When they find out that something is wrong, diabetes support dogs will begin to act in several ways, depending on how they were trained.

Some dogs first engage in what is called "smart disobedience," by deliberately doing the opposite of whatever their owner tells them to do, much to the latter's annoyance. Other diabetes support dogs are trained to sit and stare for prolonged periods of time at their owners when their blood sugars crash too low or shoot up too high. In some instances, diabetes support dogs will even alert other family members or friends of the patient, bring over an emergency medical kit, or dial emergency assistance through a special device.

Every dog’s way of telling their owner that something is gravely wrong will vary, so it’s best to ask the handler all about the dog's signals to avoid missing the warning signs your diabetes support dog may have already given out.

Looking at the brighter side: the main benefits of having a diabetes support dog

A preliminary survey done on 36 diabetics from Virginia who currently have a diabetes support dog reported a number of benefits and improvements in several aspects of their lives. According to the respondents, having a diabetes support dog around them has made them more effective at managing their blood sugar levels and paved the way to decreased occurrences of moderate and severe hypoglycemia. The patients did not only benefit medically from these dogs, but did so psychologically and socially as well. 61.1% of the respondents said they had lesser worries about hyperglycemic and hypoglycemic episodes, and 75% reported a better quality of life. Furthermore, 75% of the respondents said that with a diabetes support dog by their side, they are more able to participate in physical activities.

A few stories online have also highlighted the advantages of having a diabetes support dog at home. As in the case of one family with two children with hypoglycemic unawareness, their diabetes support dog allows them to sleep soundly by monitoring the children’s blood sugar levels at regular intervals throughout their sleeping time. Blood sugar level drops that occur in the middle of the night are much more dangerous, since they can remain entirely unnoticed until the next day when it’s already too late. With their diabetes support dog around, the parents are assured of their children’s safety, knowing that someone is up and about to keep an eye on them.

Getting your own diabetes support dog

There are several organizations all over the globe that help diabetes patients be matched with their much-needed diabetes support dogs. A few of these are the following:

  • Dogs 4 Diabetics, Inc.
  • Diabetic Alert Dogs of America
  • Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides
  • Paws for Diabetics, Inc.
  • Can Do Canines
  • Assistance Dogs International
  • Hypo Hounds

Some organizations can provide you with a diabetes support dog at a minimal cost; however, waiting lists tend to be long due to the tedious selection and matching processes that can take years. Due to this, a couple of patients have picked out another option, which is to let their own dog undergo training for diabetes support. The downside to this, though, is that the costs (which can be very expensive) for training the dogs are entirely shouldered by the patients themselves, not to mention the fact that not all dogs have the desired aptitude for diabetes support training.

Aside from considerations with regard to the dogs themselves, a few organizations also have to perform a background check on the potential dog owner, to determine the level of need for a diabetes support dog. Small details such as the number of years they have lived with diabetes, their medical history, and other relevant personal information are considered.

The responsibilities that come with having your own diabetes support dog

Owning a diabetes support dog can impose a few challenges upon the patient. One has to be ready for the necessary expenses such as food and medication for the dog, and everything needed to keep them in shape. Aside from these, grooming and other hygienic practices, frequent visits to the veterinary clinic, and regular exercise are also recommended. Those things aside, forming a loving and close bond with your diabetes support dog is a surefire way to get the most out your investment. Why would a dog take care of you if you won’t care for it, too?

On another note, doctors have always stressed to their patients that diabetes support dogs are not an alternative to regular blood sugar level tests. Diabetes support dogs are only there to tell you that your blood sugar levels have dropped way too low or have shot up way too high. Constant monitoring of one’s own habits, self-discipline, and watchfulness in what one puts into his or her mouth should still be kept in mind in order to maintain one’s well-being.

Diabetes support dogs are undeniably another unique breed of heroic dogs, who are specially out there for diabetes patients. Aside from their life-saving capabilities, the joy, companionship, and love they give to humans are invaluable. 

Key Takeaways

  • Diabetes support dogs are trained to detect and react to changes in their owner’s blood chemistry through their great sense of smell.
  • A preliminary survey done on 36 diabetics from Virginia who currently have a diabetes support dog reported a number of benefits and improvements in several aspects of their lives.
  • There are several organizations all over the globe that help diabetes patients get their much-needed diabetes support dogs.