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Diabetes Medical Alert Dogs Could Save a Life

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If you have Type 1 Diabetes or know someone who does, there’s a dangerous condition called hypoglycemia unawareness. When you’re blood sugar drops too low you don’t get the usual symptoms of shaking, confusion and sweating; if your blood sugar is extremely low you could have a seizure or, if it’s dangerously low for a long period of time, you could go into a coma. One of the ways to help solve this condition is with a diabetes medical alert dog.

Dogs are naturally perfect hunters because of their extraordinary sense of smell; professional trainers around the country have utilized these skills. They teach dogs to identify specific smells like the unique scent a person produces when they’re having a hypoglycemic episode; the dogs can also be taught to identify the fruity ketones a person gives off when their blood sugar is very high, known as a hyperglycemic attack.

Yet, having a diabetes medical alert dog doesn’t mean you don’t have to monitor your blood sugar. The dog is simply a safeguard for those who don’t have warning signs that a hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic attack is coming on.

Training Dogs to Become Diabetes Alert Dogs

Country-wide, there are many institutions who train service dogs including Diabetic Alert Dog University and National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs (NIDAD). At these places, dogs are taught to discern how specific scents are different—like a scent someone has when their blood sugar is low or high.

For those with diabetes, there are two types of diabetes service dogs. One is a diabetes alert dog which is trained to spot a change in someone’s blood chemistry; the dog can let the person know 15-30 minutes prior to any symptoms which gives the owner time to do what’s needed. The other type is a diabetic medical response dog; once their owner begins showing signs of a low blood sugar, this dog responds to the symptoms.

There are various ways these dogs are tutored to respond if their owner is experiencing an attack of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. Some of these ways are:

  • Leaping on their owner
  • Tapping their owner with his/her nose
  • Sitting near their owner and staring at them
  • Gripping a toy in their mouth

Besides alerting their owner to their blood sugar changes, these dogs will also execute other activities like:

  • Bringing medications or other needed items to their owner
  • If it’s an emergency, in some cases, they’ll dial 911 through a specific device
  • Notifying other members of the family if their owner needs help
  • Fetching a cell phone

There are a few dog breeds that will make a good candidate for a diabetes alert dog and will be successful in training. Some of these breeds are: Labrador retrievers, poodles, golden retrievers and mixed sporting breeds. Each dog that’s brought to an organization is first put through scent ability and temperament tests to see if the dog is suitable for training. Once a dog’s training is complete—at the age of 1 or 2 years—they are paired with a diabetic person.

It costs about $35,000 to breed, raise and train a canine that’ll be able to identify a diabetic attack. Furthermore, there’s non-profit organizations that may supply diabetic dogs for free or at a low price; however, these agencies likely have long waiting lists.

Getting a Diabetes Alert Dog

Agencies like Assistance Dogs International will help you locate any organizations in your community that train diabetes dogs. Likewise, you could go on these service dog organization’s websites to explore more information or fill out an application. A lot of these organizations want details such as personal information (age, address, etc.), medical history and personal or professional reference letters. Additionally, you could ask your endocrinologist if he/she has any suggestions for possible diabetes dog-training associations.

Depending on the association, the selecting and matching procedure can be slightly different. Most of the time, the selection process is lengthy. It’s frequently expected that a dog and likely owner meet many times; only then will the canine finish his training to identify that person’s special scent.

Things You Need to Ponder Prior to Obtaining an Alert Dog

Unfortunately, not every diabetic needs or could benefit from having a diabetes dog. If oral medications keep your blood sugar under control or you don’t have regular hypoglycemia attacks, then the responsibility and added cost of a diabetes dog might not be required. Some people who would reap the advantages of having a diabetes dog are:

  • People who must control the blood sugar with injections or an insulin pump
  • Children who need repeated blood sugar tests during the night
  • People with hypoglycemia unawareness
  • College students who don’t live at home and need more help
  • People who get regular low blood sugar levels

Your health insurance might pay for the expense of owning a diabetes dog. But, frequently, owners are ordered to get pet health insurance along with providing food and paying for other veterinary care costs. Owning a diabetes dog—like any other service dog—is an investment in money as well as time; yet the relationship will last no less than 10 years.

Challenges and Rewards to Owning a Diabetes Dog

Owning any kind of service dog can be challenging; especially because there’s such a huge commitment on your part. It’ll take a lot of time to build a loving bond which is critical and must be forged with the canine so that you and he will work well together.

As with having any dog, you’re responsible for exercising, feeding, routine veterinary visits and bathing. Likewise, if you can’t get your health insurance to pay for the diabetes dog, then, unfortunately, you might end up with the considerable expense that comes with procuring the dog.

Yet the advantages of having a diabetes dog far outweigh the challenges. There was a survey issued by the American Diabetes Association in their publication “Diabetes Care” that documented these benefits of owning a diabetes alert dog:

  • 75% of surveyors reported an enhanced quality of life
  • 75% found they were able to take part in physical activities more often
  • 61% worried less about hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia

If you really want to check out this opportunity, get in touch with an association that’s been effective in placing diabetics with diabetes dogs for many years. There’s a great amount of money, time and training involved in pairing an owner and diabetes dog, but, as you can see, in the long run it’s well worth it.


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