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April 12, 2021

Diabetic Service Alert Dogs: Everything You Need To Know

If you’re living with Type 1 or insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetes, you might be able to get some help from a furry friend! Here, you’ll find all the information you need about diabetic alert dogs.

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Home / Living with Diabetes / Diabetic Service Alert Dogs: Everything You Need To Know

For Atlanta resident Dominique Trappio, Bowie isn’t just her pet puppy – he plays an important role in her treatment for Type 1 diabetes. Bowie is in training to become a diabetic alert dog (DAD). 

DADs like Bowie are service dogs that can help alert people with diabetes when their blood sugar is spiking or crashing. They’re trained to pick up on subtle changes in a person’s scent associated with changes in blood glucose levels, and to give their owners a heads-up when they notice these distinctive smells. 

Wondering if a diabetic alert dog could help you manage your Type 1 or insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetes? If so, keep reading for US MED’s guide to diabetic alert dogs. 

Is A Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD) Right For Me? 

First of all, let’s get the bad news out of the way: a DAD can’t replace your glucose meter. Instead, these dogs are meant to serve as a second line of defense against blood sugar highs and lows. If you don’t experience warning symptoms along with changes in your blood glucose level, diabetic alert dogs can supplement your blood testing regimen. 

Along with the costs associated with a DAD (more on that later), you’ll also need to be willing to put time into training your dog and keeping its skills sharp. That means participating in part of its initial training, along with follow-up training sessions. Of course, you’ll have to be ready for the time commitment that comes with owning any dog, too – that is, taking time to feed it, bathe it, make sure it gets exercise, and so on. 

Diabetes alert dogs aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution to diabetes symptoms. If you don’t regularly suffer from hypoglycemia or you can generally keep your blood sugar under control with oral meds, the benefits of having an alert dog might not be worth it. However, if you’re dealing with hypoglycemia unawareness, depend on an insulin pump/injections, or often have low blood sugar levels, a DAD could definitely help. 

What Does a Service Dog Do For People With Diabetes? 

Though their exact behavior will vary based on the service dog training organization they come from, DADs are trained to notice changes in blood glucose in people with diabetes. Once they notice a change, they can notify their owner by holding a specific toy in their mouth, nudging them with their nose, jumping on them, or staring at them. 

A diabetes alert dog can also help by: 

  • Alerting nearby people. 
  • Retrieving medications or a cell phone in emergency situations. 
  • Offering emotional support. 

The latter response is more important than it might sound. Managing diabetes can be stressful, and the CDC has stated that people with diabetes are two to three times more likely to experience depression than people without this disease. 

How Much Does It Cost To Get A Diabetic Alert Dog? 

The costs associated with a DAD will vary based on a number of factors, including the organization it was trained by. However, you can generally expect these costs to run anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000. 

On the other hand, there’s a chance your insurance company will cover the costs of these dogs – that said, you’ll still have to have health insurance for your DAD and pay for things like food and veterinary care. Some non-profit organizations grant DADs to people with diabetes for free, as well. 

What Breed of Dogs Can Become Diabetic Alert Dogs? 

Retriever-Diabetes-Alert-Dog

Dogs from a few different breeds can be ideal candidates to help people with diabetes. These breeds include: 

  • Poodles 
  • Golden retrievers 
  • Labrador retrievers 
  • German shepherds 
  • Mixed sporting dog breeds 

If you have a dog that you think might be able to function as a DAD, you can submit it for testing to see if its temperament and sense of smell are up to the job. Age plays a role, as well – most diabetes alert dogs are between the ages of one and two when they’re placed with their owners. 

How Are DADs Trained? 

Though each dog training program is different, training for DADs normally deals with scent discrimination. Interestingly enough, these dogs don’t smell blood sugar directly – instead, they detect compounds originating in the liver that are associated with blood sugar changes. 

The prominent DAD training organization Dogs4Diabetics uses breath samples from people with high blood sugar and low blood sugar in its training process. The dogs trained by Dogs4Diabetics can detect blood sugar changes in people after they’ve been trained for about six months. 

How Do I Get A Diabetic Alert Dog? 

If you’ve taken the time to think about it and decided a DAD is right for you, you should start by working with a qualified organization to help you find one. Assistance Dogs International can help you find reputable service dog organizations in your local area. 

Once you’ve found an organization, they’ll work with you on getting a diabetes alert dog. You can expect to wait between six months and one year until your service dog is ready to move in permanently. 

Learn More About Diabetes 

If you’re looking for additional information about how to live a fulfilling life while keeping your diabetes in check, US MED can help. Check out the “Living With Diabetes” section of our website for blogs, recipes, and more! 

Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist

Medical Review by Shirley DeLeon, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

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