A study by researchers from the University of Bristol revealed the potential benefits that well-trained medical detection dogs can have on the lives of patients with type 1 diabetes. Patients with type 1 diabetes cannot self-produce insulin, which can lead to frequent hypo- or hyper-glycaemic episodes. A hypo-glycaemic episode is when the patient’s blood glucose level drops dangerously low while a hyper-glycaemic episode occurs when the patient’s blood glucose level is higher than the normal range. During these episodes, patients need to be alerted to take proper actions, such as eating or taking insulin to retain their blood glucose levels. Domestic dogs can be medically trained to alert these patients about the abnormalities in their bodies by taking advantage of the different odors the patients emanate during one of their hypo- or hyper-glycaemic episodes. For example, in hyper-glycaemic episodes patients would produce acetone and emit a fruity smell.
Taking advantage of this fact, medical detection dogs are paired with type 1 diabetes patients and are then conditioned to show alert behavior in response to their patients’ abnormal odor during hypo- and hyper-glycaemic episodes. Thus, the dogs inform their partners to take insulin or eat to maintain their blood glucose levels. Researchers from Bristol assessed 27 trained glycaemia alert dogs based on the records and ratings provided by the patients and found that, on average, 70% of the out-of-range blood glucose episodes can be detected and alerted for by the dogs. Additionally, 81% of the dogs’ alerts occurred during the abnormal episodes, which supports the reliability of the dogs’ responses.
These findings are of great importance because they show the effectiveness of a non-invasive method used to help patients with type 1 diabetes normalize their blood glucose levels in a timely manner to prevent the worsening of hypo- or hyper-glycaemic episodes into unconsciousness or even death of the patient. In addition, the study shows that a dog’s effectiveness correlates with its connection with the patient as well as its individual traits. Thus, the training of medical detection dogs serves as a field of interest for future studies in order to best help type-1 diabetics.