Monday, March 24, 2008

Dogs Sniff Out Hypoglycemia

Already known for their capability of leading the blind, alerting the deaf, and helping the physically disabled with daily tasks, dogs may also prove helpful in maintaining the blood sugar levels of diabetics.

This suggestion comes from researchers at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who are looking for evidence to verify whether dogs can reliably detect dangerous blood sugar level drops in diabetics.

"Anecdotal reports suggest that some dogs can perform early warning of hypoglycemia by using their sense of smell to 'sniff out' if their owner's blood sugar levels are dropping," Live Science quoted lead researcher and psychology professor Deborah Wells as saying.

Diabetics have to test their blood glucose levels on a regular basis to avoid the peaks and valleys that can result in organ failure.

Some organizations in the US train dogs to detect low glucose levels. Mark Ruefenacht, the founder of Dogs for Diabetics in Concord, California, says that dogs that successfully complete training can detect low glucose levels with 90 per cent accuracy.

However, it is still unclear what the canines notice when a person experiences a blood sugar low is still a mystery, Ruefenacht admits.

"We just haven't come up with the right answers. Every time we think we have the answer, we find that we don't," he said.

Larry Myers, a veterinarian and professor at Auburn University in Alabama, says that scientists are still investigating whether dogs can truly detect low blood sugar levels. He, however, agrees that it is a possibility worth exploring.

The expert, who has trained dogs to detect everything from drugs to agricultural pests for 25 years, points out that dogs olfactory ability are not universally sensitive to all chemicals.

"Do hypoglycemic individuals, in fact, emit an odor that is characteristic? I don't know, and I don't think anybody does know right now," he said.

Myers suggests that a possibility other than scent may perhaps be an ability in dogs to notice extremely subtle physiological changes in their human companion, which the canines are believed to use for seizure detection.

"It turns out what the dogs are really sensitive to is subtle changes in behavior of the individuals just prior to seizing. It's more of a fact that dogs are very, very, very observant of human behaviour," Myers said.

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