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Trained medical dogs found to help diabetes sufferers control insulin levels

The dogs are trained to know when blood sugar levels are too low so they can alert their owners

Photo (c) filadendron - Getty Images
Diabetes sufferers are constantly checking their insulin levels to avoid health scares, and researchers often try to make headway in making that process as easy as possible.

Now, researchers from the University of Bristol found that type 1 diabetes sufferers could see improvements in their day-to-day lives with the help of a medical detection dog. Having a detection dog to monitor glucose levels could serve as a non-invasive, all-natural option for patients.

“We already know from previous studies that patients’ quality of life is vastly improved by having a medical detection dog,” said lead researcher Dr. Nicola Rooney. “However, to date, evidence has come from small scale studies. Our study provides the first large-scale evaluation of using medical detection dogs to detect hypoglycemia.”

Life-saving treatment

To see just how effective the detection dogs can be, the researchers followed nearly 30 trained dogs and their owners across a six- to 12-week period.

The dogs are trained to respond to their specific owners’ needs, and as both pet and owner form a bond over time, the dog can become attuned to their owners’ behaviors, which can help alert the dog in case of emergency.

The dogs are trained to sniff out when their owners’ blood sugar is dipping too low, so they can be very effective at heading off a medical emergency before it can happen. Seeing the dogs’ response, an owner can take the necessary steps to regulate their blood sugar.

The researchers found that there are several variables at play that affect trained dogs’ effectiveness at responding to their owners’ varying blood sugar, including if the dog was previously a pet and how intense the dog’s training was.

However, the researchers found that the results were better than they anticipated, and they think this could be a great way for diabetes sufferers to have an all-natural remedy to regulating their blood sugar.

“Our research shows a dog’s effectiveness is affected by the individual dog and its connection with its human partner,” said Dr. Rooney. “Since the usage of such dogs is growing, it’s important that any dogs used for these purposes are professionally trained, matched, and monitored by professional organizations like Medical Detection Dogs. It’s also vital that research continues both to assess true efficacy and determine ways to optimize their performance.”

Too much testing

Medical detection dogs could serve as a good alternative, especially after a recent report found that many diabetes sufferers are checking their blood sugar too often.

According to the study, researchers found that millions of people with type 2 diabetes are checking their blood sugar more than is necessary, which can become costly to insurance companies and consumers. Additionally, for those testing too often, they can become inundated with so many different readings and become unsure of which ones to follow.

“One of my patients who didn’t need to be testing daily told me that her previous doctor had told her to test her sugar two or three times a day,” said researcher Dr. Kevin Platt. “These data show that over-testing is quite common -- and with the appropriate guidance can be reduced significantly.”

For those who don’t want to prick their fingers, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new device that would check blood sugar without a finger prick.

Users would insert a small sensor wire below the skin with a patch, and the device would always be monitoring the wearers’ blood sugar. To check current levels, users would wave a registered mobile device over the wire.

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