Dogs sniff out diabetes danger

Best friend indeed. AFP

Man’s best friend already has been shown capable of sniffing out certain cancer cells, and dogs have long been put to work in the hunt for illegal drugs and explosives.

Their new frontline role in diabetes care follows recent evidence suggesting a dog’s hypersensitive nose can detect tiny changes that occur when a person is about to have a hypoglycaemic attack.

A survey by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast found 65 per cent of 212 people with insulin-dependent diabetes reported that when they had a hypoglycaemic episode their pets had reacted by whining, barking or licking.

At the Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs research centre in Aylesbury, southern England, animal trainers are putting that finding into practice and honing dogs’ innate skills. The charity has 17 rescue dogs at various stages of training that will be paired up with diabetic owners, many of them children.

“Dogs have been trained to detect certain odours 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.

The centre was started five years ago by orthopaedic surgeon Dr John Hunt, who wanted to investigate curious anecdotes about dogs pestering their owners repeatedly on parts of their body that were later found to be cancerous. At around the same time, the first hard evidence was being gathered by researchers down the road at Amersham Hospital that dogs could identify bladder cancer from chemicals in urine.

The move into diabetes followed the case of Paul Jackson, who told Guest about his dog Tinker who warns him when his sugar levels get too low and he is in danger of collapsing. “It’s generally licking my face, panting beside me,” Jackson said.

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