Nosey Friends: What Dogs Detect in Diabetics

Dogs are the undisputed best friends to pup lovers everywhere. Some go beyond simply enhancing the overall quality of life by helping people with certain health conditions handle daily activities that they couldn’t otherwise. And incredibly, some dogs are literal lifesavers and have been trained to detect the onset of potentially fatal reactions and alert their humans so they can administer or seek immediate treatment.

dogs and diabetes

Dogs, the ultimate odor-achievers.

For example, people with diabetes must constantly watch for a drop in blood sugar because it can trigger hypoglycemia, a dangerous condition that can cause symptoms ranging from dizziness to loss of consciousness. For the past several years, medical alert assistance dogs have been helping diabetics by informing them with a nose nudge or paw touch when blood sugar levels dip too low — and before symptoms come on. And how do these amazing dogs do this? By using their scent-sational sniffers to detect changes in their human’s breath.

As reported by CNN, a recent study has identified that a chemical called isoprene nearly doubles during hypoglycemic episodes, and scientists hypothesize that dogs are detecting this change. Experts in other fields of study suspect that these perceptive pups are picking up on additional physical reactions as well. The good news is that with this kind of knowledge, organizations can learn to better train these dogs.

dogs and diabetes

Photo: Can-Do Canines

On the other paw, limitations exist, including both the high cost of training these dogs and the high demand for them. In CNN’s article, Alan Peters, executive director and founder of Minnesota’s Can-Do Canines, which provides trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities, remarks on the unmet needs in our area.

However, for those unable to have an assistance dog of their own, these canine superpowers are inspiring ideas for the development of noninvasive technology designed to detect the same thing. Scientists have long studied dogs’ acute sense of smell, and most people have amazing anecdotes of their own. We’re betting our furry four-leggeds can and will continue to teach us to do better — in more areas than we can even imagine.

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