Diabetes Service Dogs

Type 1 diabetics commonly experience hypoglycemic unawareness—a condition where a person cannot feel when his or her blood sugar is rapidly falling or is dangerously low until other symptoms, such as stomach cramps, nausea, dizziness, or even seizures, begin. To bring your blood sugar level back to normal, you must drink fruit juice or eat a hard candy (which provide a boost of sugar quickly). The juice or candy sends your glucose number skyward—though sometimes too high. In that case, an insulin injection is needed to prevent blood sugar numbers from reaching a critically high point. The insulin helps lower the blood sugar, and the cycle begins again—up and down, up and down.

The constant need to check blood glucose numbers, combined with the physical toll the swings of blood sugar can take on the body means once-active people may no longer be able to sustain long periods of activity for fear of a medical emergency. This is where diabetes service dogs may be of assistance.

Diabetes service dogs are given special training to learn how to assist people with type 1 diabetes. (Some training facilities will also train dogs to work with people who have type 2, but not all. Some insurance companies do cover the cost of a service dog, but most only cover dogs for people with type 1 diabetes.) They are trained to recognize symptoms of dropping or too-low blood sugar and alert you so you can treat yourself. This prevents your blood sugar from going too low so you avoid any possible severe side effects. It may also help you regain a normal, active life.

What Does a Diabetes Service Dog Do?

Diabetes service dogs are trained to help patients in the following ways:

  • Recognize symptoms and alert you to impending hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
  • Test your breath for low blood sugar.
  • Act as a brace if you have fallen and need support getting up.
  • Alert others if you are unresponsive and need assistance.
  • Bring objects such as juice bottles or medicine.
  • Retrieve cordless phones in case of an emergency.

How Are Service Dogs Trained?

Programs such as the National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs, Dogs for Diabetics, and Can Do Canine train dogs to assist people with insulin-dependent diabetes live an independent life. If you are looking to adopt a dog, do thorough research on the organization and trainer who will be helping you. In some cases, organizations can only provide dogs for specific states or regions of the country. Be sure to find one that services your area.

Is a Service Dog Right For You?

If you have type 1 diabetes and have developed hypoglycemia unawareness, you may welcome the companionship and abilities of a trained diabetes service dog. However, getting a service dog may take some time. In the interim, it is important you work with your doctor or nurse educator to better monitor for and control your low blood sugar swings.

Many training groups require that potential clients undergo screenings and home visits to make sure their homes and lifestyles are suited for the use of a personal service dog. You must be able to financially provide for your dog, too. The decision to adopt a diabetes service dog is not one that should be taken lightly. Talk with your family, your doctor or nurse educator, and the trainers from a service dog program before making the decision to welcome a dog into your home.

Read about Odetta, a diabetes service dog from Northern California