Diabetes Service Dogs: What You Need to Know

Diabetes Service Dogs: What You Need to Know

One sad aspect that pet owners need to cope with is that dogs can also suffer from diabetes, similar to humans. However, the frequency of occurrence of the disease in our canine friends varies among different breeds and individual dogs. Diabetes mellitus in dogs is more frequently seen in middle-aged to older dogs, which are usually around 7 to 9 years of age. However, the disease can also affect dogs regardless of their age.

Certain dog breeds, such as the Cairn Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Poodle, Samoyed, and Beagle, are considered to have a higher predisposition to developing diabetes.

Dogs can help people manage diabetes

Did you know that our canine friends can play a remarkable role in helping people manage diabetes? Mark Ruefenacht, the founder of Dogs4Diabetics, trained the world’s first diabetes service dog and shared his view on the benefits of these wonderful animals.

Diabetes service dogs, such as Medical Response Dogs and Diabetic Alert Dogs, are trained in order to be able to detect and respond to low or high blood sugar levels. Medical Response Dogs are able to recognize symptoms and fetch supplies during hypoglycemic events.

On the other hand, Diabetic Alert Dogs can smell the compounds released when blood sugar is imbalanced and alert their owners beforehand.

Various dog breeds, such as poodles, golden retrievers, and Labrador retrievers, can be trained for such purposes. Ruefenacht’s personal experience with diabetes and his training organization has helped numerous folks with diabetes benefit from such extraordinary dogs.

How can someone train Diabetic Alert Dogs?

Diabetic Alert Dogs are primarily trained for individuals with type 1 diabetes or those who have type 2 diabetes and are insulin-dependent. While the Americans with Disabilities Act sets certain limitations on public service dogs, organizations also train dogs with various support skills to assist those with diabetes at home, and these animals are being referred to as “Diabetes Buddy Dogs” by Dogs4Diabetics.

As you’ve probably already guessed, the training of Diabetic Alert Dogs focuses on scent discrimination. These animals are taught to detect specific smells associated with blood sugar changes while disregarding smells related to normal bodily functions. Research suggests that dogs may sense compounds such as ketones for high blood sugar and potentially a chemical called isoprene in the case of low blood sugar. By using breath samples, the dogs are trained to distinguish these scents in individuals over an intensive period that lasts for six months.

The reliability of diabetes service dogs in alerting their owners to glucose level changes depends on the individual animal and its training. However, research indicates that these dogs can often be effective, leading to improved quality of life and diabetes management in the case of their owners.

You got the point: diabetes service dogs can offer huge assistance to their owners in managing their condition. These animals provide timely alerts without the need for beeping devices.

Except for alerting to blood sugar changes, diabetes service dogs can also be trained for various additional skills. For instance, these animals can recognize audio signals from insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), as well as other devices, benefiting those who are affected by impaired hearing, children, or those who manage diabetes while being asleep. These dogs can alert people nearby to seek help during severe blood sugar fluctuations.

It is crucial to understand that diabetes service dogs are complementary tools when it comes to diabetes management. They should never replace important practices such as using CGMs, implementing hypoglycemia prevention methods, monitoring blood glucose levels with fingersticks, or maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Too bad dogs can’t tell us what’s bothering them. In other words, having to treat animals as doctors can be a lot more difficult than to treat humans.


Even since he was a child, Cristian was staring curiously at the stars, wondering about the Universe and our place in it. Today he's seeing his dream come true by writing about the latest news in astronomy. Cristian is also glad to be covering health and other science topics, having significant experience in writing about such fields.

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