Are diabetes alert dogs helpful in detecting hypoglycemia?

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When people's blood sugar levels drop, the scent of their breath changes — a change detectable by dogs. However, a study presented at the American Diabetes Association annual meeting showed a mixed success rate of trained dogs alerting their human companions of their dropping blood sugar levels.

The study included eight Type 1 diabetes patients between the ages of 4 and 48. The researchers compared the reliability of trained service dogs with capillary blood glucose and continuous glucose monitoring.

Researchers found trained dogs delivered a timely alert — within 10 minutes before to 30 minutes after onset of hypoglycemia — in 36 percent of all hypoglycemia events; however, there was a significant occurrence of false positives. After incorporating inappropriate alerts, researchers established a positive predictive value of dog alert for hypoglycemia to be approximately 12 percent.

"During hypoglycemia, dog alerts occurred at a 3.2 times higher rate than during euglycemia, suggesting dogs can successfully detect and alert to hypoglycemia; however, most alerts occurred when the patient did not actually have hypoglycemia," study investigator Evan Los, MD, of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., told Endocrinology Advisor.

Study participants reported high levels of confidence and satisfaction with their alert animals, which could result in the overreliance on the poor performing diagnostic tool. However, Dr. Los told the Advisor that the study was not the final word on diabetes alert dogs, stating, "There may be other benefits not assessed by this study, such as having a positive partner in the daily management of a chronic disease."

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