Wendy and Holly - Medical Detection Dogs

A new scientific study by the University of Bristol and the charity Medical Detection Dogs has discovered that alert dogs trained by the charity have a very high level of accuracy when detecting changes in human blood sugar levels.

The ability to detect changes in blood sugar isn’t a new experience to the charity’s clients partnered with medical alert assistance dogs, and could vastly improve the quality of life of those living with Type 1 diabetes.

Credit – Jon Stockham, Apple Photography

For some people with diabetes, the bodies natural warning signs don’t work and they loose their awareness when blood sugar levels change. This is called Hypo Unawareness and has potentially devastating consequences and can lead to emergency hospitalisation. A medical alert assistance dog will allow these individuals to closely monitor their blood sugar levels and avoid the risk of both hypoglycaemic episodes and hyperglycaemia.

Hypoglycaemic episodes and hyperglycaemia can both have devastating effects if not recognised and treated promptlyHyperglycaemia is when blood sugar levels run high and over prolonged periods of time, this can cause blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage. Hypoglycaemic episodes can happen rapidly and lead to confusion, behaviour change, seizures, unconsciousness and death.

Claire and Magic LJ Photography

In order to feel safe many people with diabetes compensate by manipulating their insulin levels and running their blood sugar level higher than is safe, which itself can cause long-term damage to their health.

Medical alert assistance dogs provide a valuable life-saving service which enables people with diabetes to regain their independence and live without the fear associated with the complications of the disease. 

The dogs are specially trained to work one on one and use specific alerting behaviours to warn when the individual’s blood sugar levels fall outside a target range. Warned by their medical alert assistance dog, the person with diabetes can take appropriate action, usually by administering insulin or eating to retain the right glucose levels.

Alice and Holly – Nigel Harper Photography

The study, conducted by the University of Bristol and the University of Dundee, has found that medical alert assistance dogs were, on average, able to give an early warning of these changes with 83% accuracy. 

Dr Claire Guest, Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs, said, “These findings are confirmation of dogs ability to detect the odour of human blood sugar. Medical Detection Dogs help people with complex health conditions to manage them more effectively, reduce the fear of frequent hospitalisation and enabling them to live more independent lives.

“Our alert assistance dogs also benefit the wider medical community by reducing the need for emergency intervention and the evidence that our alert dogs can assist with a wide range of life-threatening conditions is now clear.”

Lead author Dr Nicola Rooney, from the University of Bristol Veterinary School, said, “We already know from previous studies that patients’ quality of life is vastly improved by having a medical alert assistance dog. 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.”

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