Diabetic alert dogs are service dogs trained to alert diabetics of an oncoming hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) event.
A dog’s heightened sense of smell allows them to recognize certain smells in their handler’s body chemistry which indicate changes in their blood sugar levels.
While people who have diabetes shouldn’t use a diabetic alert dog to replace regular blood sugar level testing, these service dogs can be a valuable addition, particularly for those who don’t exhibit warning symptoms.
To get a diabetic alert dog, contact a reputable organization that specializes in training these service dogs. Individuals seeking an alert dog should have a diabetes diagnosis, experience frequent episodes of low blood sugar without warning, be compliant with medications and testing, and be willing to commit to caring for a service dog full-time.
Let’s look at how diabetic alert dogs are trained, how handlers interact with the dogs during blood sugar events, the benefits and challenges of owning this type of service dog, and what you should consider before applying for a diabetic service dog.
Training Service Dogs
You’ll find service dog-training programs all over the country, as well as organizations that train diabetic alert dogs. They train a dog to recognize the difference between certain scents, such as the scent that a person produces when their blood sugar is too high or too low.
There are two different levels of service dogs for people with diabetes. A diabetic alert dog is trained to notice changes in someone’s blood chemistry.
The dog will then alert you or your caregivers to take action around 15 to 30 minutes before symptoms set in. Meanwhile, a medical response dog is trained to respond to signs of low blood sugar levels when symptoms have already set in.
Most often Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, or mixed sporting dog breeds are trained to perform the duties of a diabetic alert dog.
Diabetic alert dogs are trained to respond in different ways to an owner whose blood sugar is too high or too low. They may jump on you, nudge you with their nose, sit and stare at you, or they may hold a particular toy in their mouth as a signal.
Diabetic alert dogs may also alert other family members if you need assistance, bring you medication, or even bring a cell phone so you can call for medical assistance. Some diabetic alert dogs can even dial 911 using a special device.
While the cost of a diabetic service dog can be expensive, some non-profit agencies can provide diabetic alert dogs at a lower cost (and maybe even for free), but these agencies tend to have long waiting lists.
Can I Take My Diabetic Alert Dog Into Public Spaces?
A diabetic alert dog is considered a service dog under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), so you are allowed by law to bring your diabetic alert dog into your workplace, school, stores and restaurants, as well as any other public place where pets would not normally be permitted.
Can I Train My Family Dog to Be a Diabetic Alert Dog?
Your family dog can undergo training to become a diabetic alert dog if they have the right temperament. The Diabetic Alert Dogs of America does have several requirements however, to train a personal pet to become a diabetic alert dog.
Is There Any Certification or Badge for a Diabetic Alert Dog?
When receiving a diabetic alert dog via The Diabetic Alert Dogs of America, your dog will have a service vest, a service identification card, a training dog collar, and a public service certificate.
You will also receive a standard dog leash, a training and information manual, their veterinarian records, dog food, and some motivational treats.
The Benefits of Having A Service Dog
Just like with any dog, service dogs come with a lot of responsibilities but can be incredibly rewarding – and of course, they may also save your life with their amazing capabilities.
According to Diabetes Care, 61% owners of a diabetic alert dog reported that they worry less about hypoglycemia now that they have a diabetic alert dog, and 75% said having a service dog has improved their quality of life.
Placing a diabetic alert dog with an owner can be expensive and time-consuming, but for many people it can change their lives for the better.
The Challenges of Having A Service Dog
Just like with any relationship, it’s vital to form a good connection with your diabetic alert dog so they can perform at their very best. And like any dog, a diabetic alert dog needs to feel loved and cared for to have a good quality of life themselves.
Diabetic alert dogs require feeding, exercising, bathing, and regular visits to the vet just like any other dog. Having a diabetic alert dog can also be costly too, especially if you’re unable to receive a service dog from insurance coverage, making you responsible for significant costs in getting the dog.
Things to Consider Before Applying For A Service Dog
Not everybody who has diabetes will need a diabetic alert dog, but those with hypoglycemia unawareness, those who experience frequently low blood sugar levels, those who manage their blood sugar using an insulin pump or injections, children who need to test their blood regularly in the evening, and even college students who are living away from the family home and need additional support may benefit for a diabetic alert dog.
If this does not apply to you, and you don’t frequently experience episodes of hypoglycemia or need help controlling your blood sugar with oral medications, then a diabetic alert dog could be an expensive responsibility that you don’t really need.
Some insurance companies may pay for the costs associated with looking after a diabetic alert dog. However, owners of diabetic alert dogs may also need health insurance for the dog, as well as the usual food and veterinary expenses that come with caring for a dog.
A diabetic alert dog is a worthy investment, however, and for those who could really use them, they’re much trusted and beloved companions.
We’ve already mentioned that a good connection between you and your diabetic service dog is key, and while this will develop over time, an initial connection before adopting a service dog goes a long way.
Adoption organizations for service dogs value individuality and finding the right dog for the right patient. You may be looking for certain characteristics in your diabetic alert dog, and even if you would like to train a dog you already have, the truth is they may not be cut out for the job.
Owning a diabetic alert dog comes with all the responsibilities of caring for a non-working dog, but with higher stakes. They require the utmost care to make sure they can do their jobs properly – keeping you safe. They also need continuous training to perform at their best.
Always make sure to do your research before adopting a diabetic alert dog, and make sure to seek out reputable organizations that are known for matching people with well-trained dogs.
To make sure you’re getting the highest quality service dog, contact trainers, former service dog recipients, and the Better Business Bureau for information on the organization you’re adopting from. If you’re unsure if a diabetic alert dog would be helpful, consult your physician to see if a service dog is the best option for you.