A new study suggests that medical alert dogs don’t just help people living with diabetes avoid hypoglycemic episodes, they also “vastly” improve their quality of life.
The research, led by a team at the University of Bristol, investigated the accuracy and reliability of medical alert dogs trained to detect hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic episodes over the course of 12 weeks.
Medical alert dogs are trained to respond to indications of medical distress with alerting behaviors, giving the affected individual or those around them the ability to intervene. In the case of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, alert dogs are trained to detect the subtle changes in the scent of affected individuals that accompany changes in blood sugar.
The team found that while detection accuracy varied between dogs studied, overall accuracy was much higher than had been previously reported. For all out-of-range glycemic events, there was a median sensitivity of 70%. For hypoglycemia, the median sensitivity was an even higher 83%. In total, over 4,000 glycemic episodes were detected by the dogs during the 12 week period.
Curiously, one of the factors associated with a dog’s accuracy was the degree to which it had been bonded to its human partner.
“Our research shows a dog’s effectiveness is affected by the individual dog and its connection with its human partner. 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 organisations like Medical Detection Dogs. It’s also vital that research continues both to assess true efficacy and determine ways to optimise their performance.”
— Nicola Rooney, Faculty, School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol
The results of the study have been published in PLOS One.