Program teaches dogs to detect high and low blood sugar in diabetics
Published Wednesday, November 13, 2013 10:17PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 14, 2013 7:30AM EST
A special class of canines is about to graduate from a new program that trains dogs to detect when their owners are experiencing dangerously high or low blood-sugar levels.
Four dogs and their owners have completed training at the Lions Foundation of Canada in Oakville and are ready to graduate as official “diabetic alert guide dogs” on Thursday -- fittingly world diabetes day.
The dogs are trained to detect sudden changes in their owner’s blood sugar through scent and alert them, so that they can take measures to normalize their levels.
According to the foundation, the guide dog’s ability to detect changes in its owner’s breath can help patients avoid slipping into diabetic comas and other life-threating effects.
The canines can also run and seek help from within an owner’s home and even activate an alert system if needed.
"It’s a gradual realization that dogs can do so much more," said Ian Ashworth, director of program development at the Lions Foundation of Canada.
The dogs are trained to assist people with Type 1 diabetes who breathe into a special container when they are having a low or high blood sugar episode.
The dogs are then exposed to the smells, learning to respond appropriately by either warning the adult patient or fetching a parent for a sick child.
Jade and Brooke Boardman are 11-year-old twins who are living with Type 1 diabetes. They have been paired with a guide dog named Nettle.
Brooke says she feels Nettle will become a valuable friend by her side.
“She can smell there is something wrong then she goes into my dad's room and jumps on the bed and warns them and wakes him up,” she explained.
Terry Boardman, Jade and Brooke’s father, said he and his wife often stay up all night checking on their daughters’ blood-sugar levels.
He said having this new canine companion will help give him and his family peace of mind.
“It’s very tough at times. The girls are always at risk so having another tool like Nettle to help with this. I can't explain it, it just means a lot to us,” he said.
The dogs are bred by the foundation and are offered at no cost by the Lions Foundation to patients who qualify, a relief for many families since similar diabetes alert dogs can cost up to $25,000 in the United States.
"Hopefully we are flooded with applications," said Ashworth.
Linda Brown, a diabetic who suffered from weekly blackouts when her blood-sugar levels would dip too low, said her new dog Wilf has given her a new sense of independence.
“He offers me a lifeline, giving me a chance to get back to doing what I did before and feeling safe,” Brown said.
There are currently about a dozen patients across the country waiting for the next class of diabetic guide dogs to be trained.
The Lions Foundation of Canada is currently accepting applications and donations to expand the program. You can find the website here.