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Researchers Find Reason Dogs Detect Diabetes

By Leslie Smith, July 2016, Updated September 2021
Labrador Detection Dog - Diabetes

Reason number I’ve-lost-count that dogs are better than pretty much everything else: They’re sniffing out health disasters waiting to happen — and once again proving they are true lifesavers.

Studies out of Cambridge University and the University of Oxford have revealed new findings about a chemical called isoprene. It seems levels of isoprene rise when blood sugar levels fall, and its scent can be detected by dogs on human breath. Which is excellent news for Type 1 diabetics and for parents of children with diabetes.

Diabetics are particularly susceptible to experiencing life-threateningly low levels of blood sugar while they sleep. But Diabetic Alert Dogs, as they’re called, are trained to watch over diabetic kids during the night. If a dog detects the smell of isoprene, she’ll first try to wake the child. If there’s no response, the dog is trained to then go alert the parents.

According to a report in the Endocrinology Advisor, the new role for humans’ best friend is proving incredibly valuable: “Diabetic alert dog owners as a whole have expressed high satisfaction and confidence in their canine guardians.”

So now, in addition to lowering blood pressure and sniffing out certain types of cancer, preventing hypoglycemic episodes can be added to the list of dogs’ health-preserving abilities. Indeed, their noses remain a step ahead of science. Pretty amazing for a species who asks for so little from their human partners.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Leslie Smith is a writer and long-time volunteer with Berkeley Animal Care Services and BADRAP. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and two rescue dogs, Uno and Maybe.