UK researchers have shown that in patients with type 1 diabetes who have well-trained medical alert "diabetes" dogs, the animals have greater sensitivity to changes in blood glucose than has been shown in previous studies.

Such dogs could therefore improve the quality of life for patients with type 1 diabetes, particularly those who are hypoglycemia unaware. The authors, led by Nicola J. Rooney, PhD, from Bristol Veterinary School, University of Bristol, UK, studied 28 dogs and their human partners, and more than 4000 hypo- and hyperglycemic episodes.

Their research, published online on January 15 in PLOS One, showed that the dogs which had gone through a rigorous training program alerted their human partners to 83% of hypoglycemic and 67% of hyperglycemic episodes.

Four dogs even had a positive predictive value (PPV)for detecting high or low glucose episodes of 100%, and the median was 81%. "We already know from previous studies that patients' quality of life is vastly improved by having a medical detection dog," Rooney commented in a press release from her institution.

"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 hypoglycemia."

"Since the usage of such dogs is growing, it's important that any dogs used for these purposes are professionally trained, matched, and monitored by professional organizations," Rooney stressed. And she qualified: "Our research shows a dog's effectiveness is affected by the individual dog and its connection with its human partner."

Coauthor Claire M. Guest, chief executive and cofounder of Medical Detection Dogs, Milton Keynes, UK, which trained the dogs used in the study, commented: "The findings are fantastic news for all those who are living with type 1 diabetes and other conditions."

Dogs Are Another Option to Help Detect Out-of-Range Glucose Levels

The researchers say that a quarter of patients with type 1 diabetes are unaware of changes in their blood glucose levels, which increases their risk of severe hypoglycemia up to sevenfold.

Moreover, the fear of hypoglycemia, particularly during nighttime, can drive patients to manipulate their insulin levels to keep their blood glucose levels high, thus increasing the risk of complications from hyperglycemia.

Among the range of technologies available to help patients monitor their glucose levels, the glycemia alert dog has recently received attention, partly because of the noninvasive nature of the intervention.

Similar to dogs trained to detect contraband, these dogs are conditioned to respond with specific alerting behaviors when their owners' blood glucose fall outside a target range, known as an out-of-range (OOR) episode. This prompts the patient to test their blood glucose level and take appropriate action (eg, insulin administration or eating) to retain appropriate glucose levels.