Diabetes Alert Dogs Sniff Out Trouble

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Portrait of beautiful Golden Retriever

When you get a dog, you invite a new best friend into your life. But did you know a furry friend could also be a champion for people with diabetes?

Trained to React

Diabetic alert dogs are specially trained to sniff out when your blood sugar is too low. They detect a scent that researchers haven’t yet been able to identify. In some cases, diabetic alert dogs can pick up on the smell before medical devices, such as glucose meters and continuous glucose monitors, register the abnormal blood sugar levels. This can allow you to treat hypoglycemia before you experience symptoms such as shakiness, weakness, dizziness, and confusion.  

Diabetic alert dogs react to the scent in different ways depending on how they’re trained. They may ring a bell, or nudge, lick, or jump on you when your blood sugar is too low to let you know something’s wrong.

Is a Diabetic Alert Dog Right for Me?

Diabetic alert dogs can help anyone with diabetes who experiences hypoglycemia, no matter how young or old. They may be most helpful if you use insulin injections or a pump, because you may experience more blood sugar lows than someone who takes oral medication.

If you have a child with diabetes, a diabetic alert dog can help give you peace of mind. You’ll still have to test your child’s blood sugar multiple times during the night, but the dog provides an extra layer of protection. Diabetic alert dogs may also make it more manageable to live alone when you have diabetes.  

Diabetic alert dogs are often expensive to train and, therefore, expensive to purchase. They’re not a replacement for the steps you already take to manage your diabetes.

Interestingly, research shows that untrained dogs may also respond to hypoglycemia. In a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 65 percent of dog owners with type 1 diabetes said their dogs had reacted to at least one hypoglycemic episode.

Key Takeaways:

  • Diabetic alert dogs detect a scent you produce when your blood sugar is too low. This can allow you to treat hypoglycemia before it worsens. 

  • The dogs react to the scent in different ways, such as ringing a bell or nudging you. 

  • Diabetic alert dogs may be most helpful if you use insulin injections or a pump. They’re also an extra layer of protection if you live alone.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Aug 31

  1. Canine Response to Hypoglycemia in Patients with Type 1 Diabetes. Wells, D., et al. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. December 2008;14(10). ;

  2. Alert service Dogs. (http://alertservicedogs.com/);

  3. Hypoglycemia. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/hypoglycemia/);

  4. Service Dogs Pick Up Scent of Diabetes Danger. Wall Street Journal. December 10, 2012. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324001104578163423121970336.html);

  5. Dogs4Diabetics. (http://www.dogs4diabetics.com/about-us/faq/);

  6. Clever Dog Smells Diabetic Emergencies. The Telegraph. February 7, 2011. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/8309298/Clever-dog-smells-diabetic-emergenci...;

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