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Many people have claimed that dogs can be trained to detect hypoglycemia.

For example:

For example, we have discovered that dogs have the ability to smell chemical changes in our bodies when someone's blood sugar starts to get low. We can make the most of this amazing ability with special training designed to forewarn the onset of hypoglycemia crisis. With a simple but telling nudge, a trained dog alerts their person to a low blood sugar attack that they did not know was coming. A quick test, a little sugar, and everyone can go on with their day, no crisis, no emergency, just the wonderful feeling of security and independence.

Is there any evidence of this?

  • Closely related question regarding cancer – Oddthinking May 5 '15 at 12:42
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    Seeing how humans can easily smell a significant hypoglycemia and dogs have an olfactory sense that is a few thousand times better, why shouldn't that be possible? – Damon May 5 '15 at 14:24
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    @Damon humans can smell hypoglycemia? – Himarm May 5 '15 at 14:27
  • Yup, the famous ketoacidotic smell. Depending on your individual olfactory sense, it may be that you only smell it when someone is in coma already, or a long time before that. But dogs have much better sense, so... seems entirely plausible for them to smell it early. – Damon May 5 '15 at 14:39
  • @Damon, I can tell you that someone on a low-carb diet may have the infamous "keto breath", way before they get comatose; that dog would become very nervous around such a person! (the more you know) – sleblanc May 5 '15 at 17:06
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It is difficult to prove that it is impossible to train dogs to detect hypoglycemia. All that can be done to disprove this claim is to show systematic efforts to train dogs have failed, and that no-one has been able to demonstrate that it is possible.

In 2013, such an attempt was tried:

Note: This was just a letter, and probably did not pass a full peer-review.

They took three dogs that had already been trained by an organisation, and whose owners and trainers believed were capable of detecting hypoglycemic skin swabs.

Trained dogs were largely unable to identify skin swabs obtained from hypoglycemic T1D subjects. [...] To our knowledge, this is the first controlled study to address whether dogs can detect a hypoglycemic scent, though there are anecdotal and case reports suggesting that dogs can respond to hypoglycemia (2–4). Our results addressed only whether there is a detectable hypoglycemia scent on the skin. In future studies, it may be helpful to include behavioral elements, such as studies in the presence of human companions. It might also be helpful to obtain swabs from the usual human companions of the dogs. We found that trained dogs were unable to correctly identify skin swabs obtained during hypoglycemia in subjects with T1D. Further studies are needed to address the role of other factors that the animals might use, such as behavioral cues.

Given the lack of evidence, so far, it seems that trained dogs are not to be trusted. This provisional position might change if people can find other cues that trigger the dogs, or other ways of training dogs.

Given that blood glucose meters, while arguably not as cute as a dog, are fairly cheap and fairly accurate, it seems dog trainers will have a large hurdle to train dogs to be sufficiently sensitive and specific to warrant their use.

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    @Himarm: This blog article monitors one such site that provided dogs for the experiment, and noted that their claims did not change in the face of evidence. Would I be verging into cynicism if I wondered aloud if claims about dogs are covered by the FDA? – Oddthinking May 5 '15 at 13:13
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    heres some earlier research, suggesting that dogs do have the ability to detect, but that the way in which they detect hypoglycemia is still unknown. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19040375 – Himarm May 5 '15 at 13:27
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    Re @Himarm, that's exactly what I was going to suggest. The question says 'detect', you are answering 'smell'. Obviously dogs are mostly know for their sense of smell, but maybe there are other subtle triggers that they notice? – Benjol May 5 '15 at 13:29
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    For future reference: clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02126605 – Benjol May 5 '15 at 13:33
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    @Benjol i believe i found some results from that study, integrateddiabetes.com/… "18 DAD owners, all of whom obtained a DAD from the same training organization in Virginia, participated in the study. Individual DADs varied greatly in accuracy. Overall, low BG (<90 mg/dl) was caught by DADs 66% of the time and high BG (>200 mg/dl) was caught 52% of the time. Half of DADs caught highs and lows more than 65% of the time." – Himarm May 5 '15 at 13:41
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Is it possible to train dogs to detect hypoglycemia?

Two studies suggest that dogs can detect hypoglycemia. The mechanism whereby they detect this state is unknown - the example linking scent, for instance, may be a baseless supposition for marketing purposes.

In the 2008 paper Canine responses to hypoglycemia in patients with type 1 diabetes the conclusion states, "The findings suggest that behavioral reactions to hypoglycemic episodes in pet owners with type 1 diabetes commonly occur in untrained dogs. Further research is now needed to elucidate the mechanism(s) that dogs use to perform this feat."

Note that the training component of your question was not evaluated in this study, but a later 2013 paper Investigation into the value of trained glycaemia alert dogs to clients with type I diabetes concluded that "Based on owner-reported data we have shown, for the first time, that trained detection dogs perform above chance level." Further it showed that "dogs alerted their owners, with significant, though variable, accuracy at times of low and high blood sugar"

It does appear possible to train dogs to detect hypoglycemia conditions.

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    "above chance level" is nice, but not much :/ – Mooing Duck May 5 '15 at 18:18

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