I’m always impressed by the skills dogs can learn—skills that save lives in some cases. Service dogs help sight-impaired individuals better maneuver through their environment, are used in search and rescue missions, and protect soldiers over seas. Perhaps a less-widely known role for service dogs is assisting individuals with diabetes.
ABC News recently published a unique story about 15 year-old Elle Shaheen, a type 1 diabetes patient, and her service dog Coach, a yellow Labrador Retriever. Diabetes alert dogs are able to smell changes in blood sugar and can alert their owner right away by nudging or scratching their owner. Shaheen felt immediately reassured the first time Coach alerted her to a change in blood sugar. She was testing her blood sugar up to a dozen times a day, but now Coach can let her know right away if she needs to take a test. However, there is a waiting list for diabetes alert dogs and it took two years before Elle was matched with Coach.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) encourages diabetics to do their homework when researching a diabetes alert dog to make sure the dog is properly trained. There isn’t a standardized training method, so it’s important to ask a lot of questions about how the dogs are trained. Diabetes alert dogs also aren’t a replacement for monitoring blood sugar levels with a blood glucose meter and continuous glucose monitor, but they can add an additional level of comfort and security to keeping up with blood sugar levels. Also, finding a diabetes alert dog can be a long and pricey process, but non-profit organizations often provide dogs at low to no cost to the owner. For a full list of qualifications to look for in a diabetes alert dog, as well as suggestions of organizations to go through, take a look at this buyers guide by the American Diabetes Association.