Diabetes Detection Dogs: Their Rigorous Training Can Save Lives
What makes dogs perfect for sniffing out symptoms of human diseases, such as hypoglycemia in diabetics, is their 125 to 300 million scent glands.
Humans have 5 million scent glands – which is amazing enough – but a dog’s nose is 1,000 to 100,000 times more scent-sensitive than ours. That is why canines are trained to detect human disease via their sense of smell, and we are not.
It is thought that all diseases are associated with a specific scent related to chemical changes occurring in a person’s body. These smells are detectable through an individual’s sweat and breath. With some illnesses, dogs learn to recognize the appearance of symptoms, but dogs trained to work with illnesses such as diabetes are taught to respond to a symptom's scent.
Rigorous Training Needed
Not only must a diabetes-detection dog learn to identify the hypoglycemic smell, it must also be taught to discern the hypoglycemic scent from other competing, attractive smells. This is done using training exercises and games where the dog trainees receive positive rewards for correct identification.
Once a dog masters "scent discrimination training,” it must still learn to detect hypoglycemia on a diabetic person in his or her home setting. This is trickier than it sounds because people with diabetes carry with them a residual scent from previous hypoglycemic episodes. This "dead" scent lingers in a person’s clothing and in their home. The dogs must learn to distinguish the lingering "dead” odor from the “live” smell of a current hypoglycemic episode.
Furthermore, the dogs must learn to identify a live hypoglycemic scent in various environments such as at school, in the car, or at a place of employment. Though thoroughly trained, once a dog gives its owner an alert, the owner must check the dog’s accuracy by testing his or her blood sugar level for confirmation.
Kudos and a Caution
The immense value of a diabetic hypoglycemia alert dog is the canine’s capacity to detect glucose level changes very early on, giving its owner plenty of time to test and treat him or herself. This can prevent calls to paramedics and hospital admissions. Because assistance dogs can accompany their owners anywhere, they also provide diabetics an increased sense of confidence and independence.
A caution comes from reputable medical detection dog trainers such as Dogs4Diabetics. There are companies selling detection dogs that have not received adequate training, and therefore put the health of their owners at risk. Never assume that a canine being sold as a fully qualified medical detection dog deserves to be called one. Buying from a reputable trainer, or consulting with them before acquiring a detection dog, is a wise bet.
Source: Medical News Today