Dogs can be trained to detect hypoglycemia by the smell of their owner’s sweat alone, according to new research.
Diabetes alert dogs have long been known for their ability to detect hypoglycemia in owners with type 1 diabetes, but this study found that they can do so through the smell of sweat alone.
The researchers tested six dogs: two Labradors, a retriever, a Siberian husky, a spaniel and an Alsatian. All of the dogs had been trained to sniff out hypoglycemia in their owners.
Sweat samples were taken from patients during a hypo and at times of steady blood glucose levels. The samples were placed in glass vials, and the glass vials were then placed in steel cans. The dogs identified the hypo samples by sitting in front of the correct steel cans, or knocking them over.
The researchers were surprised by the accuracy of the alert dogs. They were able to spot hypo samples 87.5 per cent of the time.
“Our results suggest that properly-trained dogs can successfully recognise and raise the alert about a hypo using smell alone,” the researchers wrote.
The study shows that trained dogs are even better at detecting glucose levels than previously thought. Until now, it was thought that diabetic alert dogs (DADs) detected glucose at least in part using behavioural clues from their owners. It is clear from these results, however, that diabetic alert dogs can detect hypoglycemia using only their sense of smell.
“The results reported here take canine glucose sensing to a new level of sophistication […] we have clearly been able to demonstrate that DADs sense [hypoglycemia] accurately due to smell alone. Once DADs are placed with their owner/patient, it is also likely DADs will cue to certain behavioural clues exhibited by the patient and these cues would also likely serve to help the DAD properly alert the owner of impending [hypogylcemia].”
Last week, a charity in Milton Keynes that trains dogs to help people with long-term health conditions – including diabetes – won the 2015 Quality in Care in Diabetes, People’s Award.
The findings are published in Diabetes Therapy.

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