Studies Show You Can’t Trust Diabetic Alert Dogs to Detect Blood Sugar Levels

a heart monitor graph illustrationI have Type 1 diabetes and have never trusted dog-training companies that claim that dogs can help detect low and high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. A story called The Hope and Hype of Diabetic Alert Dogs that aired yesterday on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program tells me I was right to have my doubts.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that can be difficult to manage. We use handheld glucometers or other technologies throughout the day and night to check the amount of sugar in our bloodstream. Low blood sugars can lead to poor judgment, loss of consciousness, even death; over time, high blood sugar levels can cause kidney disease and sight loss. I was diagnosed at age 7, before home blood sugar monitoring was available. Type 1 diabetes is what caused my blindness.

The story mentions a lawsuit where a group of more than a dozen people with diabetes, each of whom had spent $15,000 for a so-called diabetic alert dog sued a trainer for fraud and won a judgment for $800,000. It also reported that Virginia’s attorney general sued a service dog vendor after customer complaints about its dogs, which were marketed as “backed by science” and “100 percent effective.” The piece referred to research on diabetic alert dogs in a 2017 study done by psychologist Linda Gonder-Frederick at University of Virginia. From the story:

Before the study, their owners believed the dogs would prove more accurate than their glucose monitor devices. That didn’t happen.
“Overall, they really were not that reliable or accurate,” she says.

Another Oregon researcher did a study of diabetic alert dogs in 2016 and found only 12% of the dogs’ alerts happened during actual low blood sugar events, and the dogs also had false positives.

The NPR Story comes right out and says it: diabetic alert dogs can’t reliably detect blood sugar changes from diabetes. More than a million Americans have Type 1 diabetes, and many of us with Type 1 wish desperately that dogs could help. I am grateful to NPR for setting this straight, and leave you with this very important warning for parents from the story:

Her research also contradicted what some believe — or hope — is true: That the dogs can be a good safety net for those who worry about blood sugar dropping as they sleep. Some parents have turned to the dogs to safeguard their children during the night.
“The accuracy just plummeted during the night. Dogs have to sleep too. Obviously, a dog cannot work 24/7,” Gonder-Frederick says.


 

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  1. Kevin Shuster Says:

    Referencing studies from 2014 (!!), I think there has been a revolutionary change in DAD training during this time, and the results from our Universities (such as Philadelphia, PA) Should be considered if you are trying to answer the question can the dogs do it? The answer is Yes they can, just like search dogs, or police dogs
    The writer, however elegant of pen, came to an inaccurate conclusion, due to old data and apparently lacking in the first-hand experience.


  2. Kevin Shuster DDS Says:

    A study referred to that included 14 dogs (over what time) should be compared to the University in Phillidelphia, USA. And other American Universities internationally that demonstrate surprising effectiveness; in detecting: drugs, cash, electronics, produce, Urine for prostate cancer, breath for lung cancer. So here are the Caveats.

    The owner-trainer is bound to his duty to learn to be at least an intermediate dog handler and be trained herself by a local expert, and someone from these American Universities as a distant trainer to oversee progress.

    With a proper puppy pick, I’d be willing to bet one of my colleagues could have the SD alerting about 75%-95% accuracy in thier first year, conservatively. Recent studies on hundreds of dogs over hundreds of hours, including FMRI studies on live dogs, demonstrating startling accuracy; in detecting a wide range of environmental and biological cues. Remember they are scanning several “different senses than ours. It appears to me that the dogs are alerting, better than the handlers are listening. Dogs don’t speak english, but they never stop talking.

    I hope that helped someone, best of luck.


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