"Man’s best friend" is an understatement when it comes to what our canine companions mean to us. From companionship to helping those with disabilities, dogs are amazing creatures that you can’t help but love and respect. Dogs have been helping the blind, deaf and disabled for years. There are thousands of success stories where these amazing animals have saved their owners' lives by alerting them to danger or seeking help in a time of need. Now, diabetics can receive the same loving care from their own diabetic alert dog.

Living with type 1 diabetes can limit one’s freedom. Being in fear of a hypoglycemic episode can make it difficult to exercise or live alone. Having a type 1 diabetic child can make nights feel long and stressful when worrying about their blood sugars as they sleep. But thanks to a growing trend in the training of diabetic alert dogs, having a loving canine companion who can detect the onset of hypoglycemia in insulin-dependent diabetics is easier than ever before.

How they do it

Dogs' sense of smell is 10,000 times stronger than ours. They possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses — compared to our six million. When it comes to analyzing these scents, the part of the dog’s brain devoted to scent is 40 times greater than ours. Rapid changes in blood sugar levels cause chemical changes in the body, and create a unique scent expressed through a person’s breath and skin that the dog can identify.

These special dogs have been trained to respond to the scent given off by the owner undergoing a low blood sugar. Once catching the scent, the dog alerts the owner by sitting or other behavior. Training centers like Dogs 4 Diabetics say that in their experience the dogs can detect changes in blood sugar levels 15 to 30 minutes before they are seen on a glucose meter.

The method isn't foolproof — trainers say the dogs are correct about 90 percent of the time and that the owners should continue to regularly check their blood sugar.

The price of training

Raising these talented canines is no easy feat. In most cases it costs more than $20,000 to raise the dog from puppy to adult. Many organizations offer grants or fundraisers to help cover the cost of an animal for those in need. But that price may be small, considering the dog may save you or your loved one's life.

There are companies all across the nation who train and provide diabetic alert dogs. For more information and to see if you’re eligible check out one of the websites below.

Dogs 4 Diabetics

Canine Partners for Life

All Purpose Canines

To learn more on this topic:
Part 1: What Causes Hypoglycemia?
Part 2: What Are the Symptoms of Hypoglycemia?
Part 3: How to Treat Hypoglycemia Quickly and Effectively