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Dogs Detect Diabetes

resize.phpHave you ever noticed a dog nagging somebody?  Or maybe your dog nags you?  I don’t mean begging for treats or wanting you to throw his ball for him.  I mean a dog that keeps sniffing a place on your body, or who seems to act like there’s something wrong with you.

Well, there have been stories for years about dogs who, somehow, are able to alert their owners to impending seizures.  Some dogs have been able to detect cancer.  And now dogs in Britain are being trained to warn their diabetic owners when their blood sugar levels are about to take a dangerous dip.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Queen’s University, Belfast, found that 65% of 212 people with insulin-dependent diabetes reported their pets reacting to a hypoglycemic episode by whining, barking, licking or some other display.

According to a story this week:

At the Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs research center in Aylesbury, southern England, animal trainers are taking advantage of this information by utilizing the dog’s skills to assist their owners.

So far, the charity has 17 rescue dogs at various levels of training that will be partnered with diabetic owners, including many children.

“Dogs have been trained to detect certain odors down to parts per trillion, so we are talking tiny, tiny amounts. Their world is really very different to ours,” Chief Executive Claire Guest told Reuters TV.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr John Hunt founded the center five years ago. His desire was to examine the strange stories reported about dogs showing a nagging curiosity to parts of their owner’s body that later proved to be cancerous.

Around the time Dr. Hunt was looking into the bizarre cases, researchers at nearby Amersham Hospital were finding the first real evidence that dogs could identify bladder cancer by detecting chemicals found in urine.

They began looking into diabetes after the case of Paul Jackson, who told Guest and her team that his dog Tinker alerts him when his sugar levels get too low and he is in danger of collapsing.

“It’s generally licking my face, panting beside me. It depends how far I have gone before he realizes,” Jackson said.

Tinker has now been trained by the Aylesbury center and is a fully qualified Diabetic Hypo-Alert dog. He even has a red jacket to announce himself as a working assistance animal.

The center will continue working to perfect dogs’ ability in noting signs of cancer. Guest admits that while it would be favorable to have a disease screening dog in every doctor’s office, it is not very practical.

However, she does hope that the research leads to inventions such as an electric nose that can mimic that of a dog.

“At the moment electronic noses are not as advanced as the dogs’, they are about 15 years behind. But the work that we are doing and what we are finding out will help scientists advance quickly so that they can use electronic noses to do the same thing,” she said.

I doubt that an electronic nose will ever be as sensitive or as committed to an owner as a dog.  It’s amazing that dogs are able to detect the smallest changes in the way we smell and our other biological changes when we experience illness or stress.  Who knows what signals they pick up on that we are just now beginning to decipher?

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June 22, 2009 - Posted by | dogs, Pets | , , ,

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