30 August 2013

Dogs Can Sniff Out Diabetics’ Blood-Sugar Levels

Previous research has shown that dogs are capable of detecting abnormal blood sugar levels in humans, and a new study from scientists at the University of Bristol in the UK indicates that dogs can be trained to alert their owners when their blood-glucose levels are reaching dangerous levels.

The British researchers set out to discover if specially trained ‘glycemia alert dogs’ could reliably match blood sugar tests taken of hypoglycemic participants when their blood sugar was either too high or too low.

Seventeen specially trained dogs were included in the study, a report of which was published in the online journal PLOS ONE. While some dogs were specifically chosen for their sniffing potential from animals that had been donated to the charity The Company of Animals, others were pets that had simply been given special training.

Researchers collected data from the dogs owners’ that enabled them to objectively determine whether the trained animals reliably recognized and alerted owners about their hypoglycemic state, and if owners started to exhibit a tighter glycemic control and other benefits.

The scientists found that all 17 clients in the study reported positive effects such as fewer calls to paramedics, fewer unconscious spells and greater independence after their dogs were properly trained. Self-reported data indicated that the dogs alerted their owners with varying but significant accuracy at times of low and high blood sugar.

“Despite considerable resources having been invested in developing electronic systems to facilitate tightened glycemic control, current equipment has numerous limitations,” said study author Nicola Rooney, a research fellow in Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences.

“These findings are important as they show the value of trained dogs and demonstrate that glycemia alert dogs placed with clients living with diabetes, afford significant improvements to owner well-being including increased glycemic control, client independence and quality-of-life and potentially could reduce the costs of long-term health care.”

Out of the ten dogs that owners provided accurate records for, eight responded consistently more often when their owner’s blood sugar levels were found to be outside the target range. Data from nine clients’ records showed noteworthy overall change after receiving their trained dogs, with seven clients reporting a considerably higher proportion of good test results after obtaining a dog.

“Some of the owners also describe their dogs respond even before their blood sugars are low but as they start to drop, so it is possible that the dogs are even more effective than this study suggests,” Rooney added. “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 glycemic control, further research is now needed to further understand how dogs carry out this amazing task.”

Hypoglycemia is a serious medical condition that can cause a variety of health problems when it results in insufficient levels of glucose reaching the brain. Those suffering from the condition can experience symptoms from mild dysphoria to seizures, unconsciousness or even brain damage in severe cases.

Hypoglycemia is treated by returning blood glucose to normal levels by administering sugar or carbohydrates.

Read more: Injectable smart sponges could deliver medications only where needed, success treating diabetes.


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