You may have heard of diabetic assistance dogs, also known as diabetic alert dogs. These animals could be a valuable part of your diabetes care plan. But how do you know whether such a dog would be right for you?

What diabetic assistance dogs can do

Diabetic alert dogs are trained to alert their handlers to changes in blood sugar levels. How they do this—and how they know about a handler's blood sugar—can differ. Some training facilities say they work with scent training to train dogs to smell when a person is experiencing low blood sugar. But dogs can also be trained to pick up on other signs that you may not notice, such as shakiness or dizziness.

Often, people have a difficult time realizing their blood sugar is dropping quickly until serious symptoms occur. A diabetic assistance dog can help you notice a drop in blood sugar before it becomes a threat. Consistent intervention before blood sugar changes become dangerous can also improve your overall well-being and diabetes self-management.

Diabetic alert dogs alert to changes in blood sugar levels.

Diabetic assistance dogs can also perform other tasks that are useful. Apart from recognizing low blood sugar from symptoms or your breath, these dogs can also alert other people if you become unresponsive, bring objects to you (including phones to call for emergency assistance) and act as supports if you have fallen and need to get up or if you become dizzy.

Is a diabetic assistance dog right for you?

Determining whether to pursue a diabetic assistance dog for yourself requires a lot of thought. There are many factors to consider when deciding whether a dog would be a suitable part of a diabetes care plan.

To begin with, the ideal candidate for a dog is usually a person with type 1 diabetes and hypoglycemia unawareness. Dogs are sometimes trained for people with type 2 diabetes, but this is relatively rare, and insurance is unlikely to cover it. Furthermore, a dog is usually a strategy to try when other options, such as diabetes self-management education and diabetes medications, have all been tried and still leave gaps in your diabetes care.

Discuss the possibility of a diabetic assistance dog with your entire diabetes healthcare team. It's also important to remember that it can take a long time to get a dog, so it's vital to practice good self-management in the meantime.

For more on dogs and diabetes:

Can Dogs Sniff Out Diabetes?
Restoring Freedom — Diabetic Alert Dogs
A Dog, a Blue Collar, and a Vial of Insulin: DMF Fundraiser