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Diabetic Service Dogs

by Lilly

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Diabetic Service Dogs

Most animals are incredibly intelligent creatures and dogs, being a man’s best friend and all, are no exception. We’ve all heard of service dogs at some point, but it’s usually limited to police dogs, sniffer dogs, dogs that offer emotional support, and guide dogs. But service dogs also extend to assisting those with diabetes and here is how.

Why Do Some Diabetics Require a Service Dog?


There are several stages of diabetes and all cases need to be closely monitored. Unfortunately, people with diabetes need to be constantly aware of their condition as it can lead to a number of issues later in life including the loss of fingers, toes, and limbs. On top of that, if sugar levels aren’t monitored and corrected when they dip or peak, there is a high risk of losing consciousness and falling into a diabetic coma. The diabetic alert service dog is trained to help those with diabetes and are capable of alerting their owner when there is a concern with their blood glucose and blood sugar levels. As part of the diabetic alert, they also have the skills to retrieve medication or a telephone in case of an emergency. Should the worst happen and their owner become unresponsive, they are also trained to get help from the nearest person. Even though diabetic service dogs are able to notify their owners when their sugar levels are concerning, it’s not to say that the owner shouldn’t be monitoring it themselves. However, DSDs are especially handy for diabetics that develop hypoglycemia unawareness. This is condition rarely affects diabetics that have type 2 diabetes, and it is mostly seen in those with type 1 diabetes. Hypoglycemia unawareness means that the usual and familiar symptoms of a declining sugar level no longer present themselves. The typical feelings of weakness, sweating, shaking, and dizziness are no longer present, and so those with hypoglycemia unawareness can no longer rely on their body to tell them their sugar levels need balancing. As well as being extremely dangerous to those who suffer from this debilitating disease, there is also a great sense of uneasiness. Having a diabetic service dog can quite literally save their lives.

What Can Diabetic Service Dogs Do?


It’s widely known that dogs have a highly sensitive nose and part of a diabetic service dog’s role is to use their exceptional sniffer to detect a person’s sugar levels as part of the diabetic alert. They do this by picking up organic compounds in their owner’s breath and monitoring them in case of changes due to diabetes. When diabetes service dogs, also referred to as DSDs, notice changes in blood sugar, they alert the owner. Once notified the owner can balance the levels again before they end up unconscious or in a diabetic coma. Diabetic service dogs are trained to help those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes along with hypoglycemia.

How Are Diabetic Service Dogs Trained?


Like all service dogs, DSDs begin their training from birth. It’s similar to how children absorb much more information when dogs learn things early on it quickly becomes second nature to them. Their training usually lasts until they are 18 months old. Of course, the levels of training will vary depending on which agency they work with, but the goal remains the same. In most cases, public access training is the first step as this then conditions them to work in different environments. By doing this, they are able to work among various scents with various sound and object pollution. After they have completed this step, the trainer then works on the scent detection phase which is where the service dogs learn what compounds require a reaction. The final stage is continuing to practice the skills learned in all sorts of distracting situations and environments to improve their efficiency. Occasionally, those with diabetes who require a diabetic service dog are present through the training process which enables them to start building a bond with their new special assistance friend.

The Accuracy of Diabetic Service Dogs


To put it into perspective, we can compare a human’s sense of smell capability with that of a dog. We have around five million olfactory cells which enable us to smell; however, dogs have approximately 220 million olfactory cells, which is why their sense of smell is so powerful and can detect changes in blood sugar. Essentially, the sense of smell of a dog is roughly 1000 times more powerful than ours. The exact precision of a diabetic service dog’s ability is yet to be established. Surprisingly, it is still being debated. Some research shows how powerful they are and others suggest that they aren’t that effective.

Benefits of a Diabetic Service Dog
Aside from the obvious benefit of alerting the owner when their sugar levels are dangerously low, these assistance dogs can also help in many other ways. For your loved ones they are likely to feel a bit more relaxed knowing that you have a special friend with you 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week. As the owner of the super talented pooch, you also have a loyal companion that is trained well enough to be able to go everywhere with you. With a service dog being part of the household, it encourages the owners to get a bit more exercise in, leading to an increase in activities. Having a diabetic service dog enables the owner to feel secure everywhere they go. A greater level of independence is found and social lives start to thrive.

A diabetes alert dog costs a lot of money as their training is very extensive. Certain diabetics may be able to acquire a grant or be eligible for a service dog from a non-profit organization. If you feel that this could be you, then you should be able to get more information from your doctor. Those that have already applied for a diabetic service dog should consider going to visit their pup while they are being trained. This way they can start to bond with their new friend as well as get a good idea of what the dog may require from you. Most trainers prefer for the owner to visit as they can then pass over any necessary information face to face. In some cases, the service dog’s owner actually becomes part of the training program which helps the dog to get familiar with them right from the very start.