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Research Note: Dogs Helping Diabetic Owners Prevent Hypoglycemia

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)

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Hypoglycemia, a common side effect of insulin therapy in human patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D), can cause cardiovascular and neurologic side effects. Some patients miss the early warning signs of decreasing blood sugar levels (ie, hypoglycemia unawareness).  

One report noted that more than one-third of dogs living with a diabetic owner showed behavioral changes during the owner’s hypoglycemic episodes, even if not specifically trained as diabetes alert dogs (DADs). For this study, 6 dogs selected from shelters were trained with positive-reinforcement methods for an average of 6 months for general obedience and for hypoglycemia alerting. Perspiration samples were collected from 4 human T1D patients during periods of normoglycemia and hypoglycemia and placed in vials in an empty room along with blank samples. Dogs were remotely rewarded when they correctly alerted to the hypoglycemic sample. Sensitivity ranged from 50.0% to 87.5%, with specificity ranging from 89.6% to 97.9%. The authors conclude that DADs can be trained to detect hypoglycemia via smell alone and note that DADs placed with owners could potentially cue to behavioral indicators of decreasing blood sugar levels.  

This capsule is part of the One Health Initiative.

References

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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