DOGS can be life-savers by acting as an early-warning system for millions of patients with diabetes, scientists have found.
05:05, Wed, Aug 21, 2013
The study suggests that dogs could be trained to act as an early-warning system for diabetics
Experts have proved for the first time that dogs trained to respond to their owner’s low blood sugar levels can save them from a potentially fatal hypoglycaemic attack.
The animals use their acute sense of smell to detect changes in the chemical composition of their owner’s sweat or breath.
They can be taught to raise the alarm by barking, pawing or even fetching a blood testing kit. All people with Type 1 diabetes and those with Type 2 diabetes who are on glucose lowering medication, including insulin, need to regularly check their blood glucose.
If they take too much insulin it can result in hypoglycaemia – or a hypo – caused by abnormally low levels of sugar in the blood.
Symptoms include hunger, trembling or shakiness, and sweating. In more serious cases it can affect concentration or cause slurred speech. Failure to correct the hypo through eating a sugary food can lead to coma and even death.
Now, the first academic study to assess whether dogs could be reliably used to provide an early-warning system to monitor glycaemia control has been carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol and published in the journal PLOS ONE.
At least three million people in the UK have diabetes, mostly Type 2 (PIC POSED BY MODEL)
A role for dogs in detecting a range of medical conditions, including severe hypoglycaemia in people with diabetes, has also been suggested
Dr Alasdair Rankin, director of research at Diabetes UK
Specially trained pet dogs were found to accurately and consistently detect the signs of low or high blood sugar in their owners. Alerting behaviours included licking, pawing,
jumping, staring, barking and running off to fetch testing kits.
The traditional way of testing blood sugar levels is by drawing blood and obtaining a reading on a hand-held monitoring device. But lead author Dr Nicola Rooney from the university’s School of Veterinary Sciences said: “Current electronic systems have numerous limitations. Our findings are important because they show that glycaemia alert dogs placed with clients with diabetes afford significant improvements to owner wellbeing.
“This includes increased glycaemic control, client independence and quality-of-life, and potentially could reduce the costs of long-term health care.”
Previously there has only been anecdotal evidence of dogs warning diabetic owners of a hypo. The new study involved 17 specially trained dogs that were each placed with a diabetes sufferer.
All 17 patients, whose ages ranged from five to 66, reported positive effects, including fewer emergency call-outs, reduced numbers of unconscious episodes and improved independence.
Dr Rooney said: “While it is believed that dogs use their acute sense of smell to detect changes in the chemical composition of their owner’s sweat or breath to respond to glycaemic control, further research is now needed to further understand how dogs carry out this amazing task.”
Man's best friend could help to detect changes in blood sugar levels (PIC POSED BY MODEL)
Dr Alasdair Rankin, Diabetes UK director of research, said: “We know that dogs and other pets can help to improve people’s wellbeing by a variety of means.
“A role for dogs in detecting a range of medical conditions, including severe hypoglycaemia in people with diabetes, has also been suggested.
“However, the challenges of demonstrating dogs can be used to detect severe hypos reliably are considerable.”
At least three million people in the UK have diabetes, mostly Type 2.
Diabetes develops when the pancreas stops or reduces its output of insulin, the hormone that helps us to get energy from the food we eat.
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