Trained dogs have the potential to vastly improve the quality of life of people living with Type 1 diabetes by helping them regulate their blood sugar in a non-invasive way, according to a study.
The research, published in the journal PLOS One, found that on average trained dogs alerted their owners to 83 per cent of hypoglycaemic episodes in over 4,000 hypo- and hyper-glycaemic episodes that were examined.
A hypoglycaemic episode is where blood sugar drops dangerously low and if left untreated, can lead to unconsciousness or even death. The findings by researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK confirm that alert dogs can help Type 1 diabetes patients regulate their blood sugars in a non-invasive way and avoid the risks of hypoglycaemic episodes and hyperglycaemia.
"We already know from previous studies that patients' quality of life is vastly improved by having a medical detection dog," said Nicola Rooney from the University of Bristol.
"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 hypoglycaemia," Rooney said.
The researchers assessed the reliability of 27 trained glycaemia alert dogs, whose owners provided six to 12 weeks continual worth of blood records detailing every time the dog was alerted. Medical Detection Dogs train pet dogs to respond to the odour of human disease and help owners cope with life-threatening diseases.
Familiar with their owners, dogs are conditioned to respond with alerting behaviours when their owners' blood sugar levels fall outside a target range. Encouraged by the alerting behaviour of their pet dog, if such out-of-range (OOR) episodes occur, the patient can take appropriate action, usually by administering insulin or eating to retain the right glucose levels.
"Our research shows a dog's effectiveness is affected by the individual dog and its connection with its human partner," Rooney said.
"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 organisations like Medical Detection Dogs.
"It's also vital that research continues both to assess true efficacy and determine ways to optimise their performance," Rooney said.
"The findings are fantastic news for all those who are living with Type 1 diabetes and other conditions," said Claire Guest, Chief Executive and co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs which collaborated with the University of Bristol for the research.
"Medical detection dogs primarily serve patients looking for more effective and independent ways of managing their condition," Guest said.
"Our dogs also serve the wider medical community by offering proactive solutions that are natural, non-invasive and have been shown to provide countless psychological benefits," Guest said.