Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Diabetic Alert Dogs Help People Reclaim Their Independence

By Langley Cornwell

What do trained service dogs do when they’re a bit too fun loving to be a guide dog for the blind? Some go back to school to become diabetic alert dogs.

Hypoglycemic unawareness is common among type 1 diabetics; many people with diabetes don’t realize they are experiencing a rapid drop in blood sugar until it’s too late. Unchecked, this severe drop in blood sugar can result in confusion, dizziness, sharp stomach pains or even blackouts and seizures. These unfortunate responses can make a diabetic feel confined, restricted and unable to enjoy a ‘regular’ lifestyle. A specially trained service dog empowers insulin-dependent diabetics to reclaim their independence and triumph over the disease.

Dogs for Diabetics

Dogs4Diabetics (D4D) is a non-profit organization committed to offering medical alert dogs to diabetics. These dogs are trained to identify the subtle scent shifts in body chemistry that accompany the onset of low blood glucose in their insulin-dependent human companions.

Former scientist and part-time guide-dog trainer Mark Ruefenacht started D4D in October 2004, reports Healthline.com. A diabetic himself, Ruefenacht forgot to check his blood sugar one evening and fell asleep. During the night—as he was experiencing a low blood sugar induced seizure—he was awakened by one of the puppies he was training. Sick and confused, it took Ruefenacht a few minutes to get his bearings. The dog instinctively knew something was wrong and insistently badgered Ruefenacht until he got up and ate some sugary food.

This episode prompted the scientist to consider the possibilities of dogs learning to detect the scent of chemical imbalances in diabetics. After five years of testing and experimentation, Ruefenacht was able to isolate what he believes is the smell common to the low blood sugar that a type 1 diabetic emits; a smell so subtle that it’s undetectable by humans. As a result of his findings, Ruefenacht founded Dogs4Diabetics.

How do they do it?

Established in the State of California, D4D receives their dogs from various organizations including Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, CA and Canine Companions for Independence in Santa Rosa, CA. The beauty of this arrangement is that when dogs come to D4D they’ve already been trained as assistance dogs. Professional dog training and socialization generally starts at eight weeks old for assistance dogs, so these dogs are well skilled.

Once a dog enters the Dogs4Diabetics program, Ruefenacht and his volunteers put them through months of scent-detection training. When the dog completes the D4D program he is trained and certified as a hypoglycemia medical alert dog.

In addition to dog training, D4D—an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International—qualifies people with diabetes for the placement of one of their service dogs. Then they train the diabetic (with whom the dog was placed) in the best ways to interact with the dog, how to understand and use the dog’s skills and how to care for the dog.

Their involvement doesn’t stop there. Dogs4Diabetics has excellent follow-up services to ensure that both the dogs and the diabetics are doing fine.    

To learn more, read amazing success stories and/or get involved, visit the Dogs4Diabetics’ website.

Photo by Cobalt123

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. That is pretty interesting. I didn't know how the dogs could tell that the blood sugar was falling. That was pretty smart of that guy to figure all that out. It is such a wonderful thing for diabetics.Thanks for this info.

  2. This is so nice and I love it. Thank you for sharing this one.

  3. Such an amazing thing they do. Saves lives that's for sure. Good post :)


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