Detection dogs spotted 83 per cent of more than 4,000 episodes of unacceptably high or low blood sugar during trial, and provided a quicker alert than other monitors in some cases.
Dogs trained to sniff out life-threatening blood sugar crashes in people with type 1 diabetes have been shown to effectively spot the condition, which can render patients unconscious, in the first large-scale trial of its type.
The University of Bristol research found medical detection dogs were able to spot 83 per cent of more than 4,000 episodes of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar), minimising the risk of harmful health complications.
“Our study provides the first large-scale evaluation of using medical detection dogs to detect hypoglycaemia,” said lead author Dr Nicola Rooney from the university’s Bristol Veterinary School.
Some patients with type 1 diabetes are now eligible for wearable blood sugar monitors which provide a constant reading of glucose levels, but while no system is perfect Dr Rooney said the dogs sometimes outperformed these devices.
Where blood sugar falls outside of an acceptable range, the medical detection dogs are trained to alert their owners through nuzzling or licking so they can take an insulin injection to reduce blood sugar or eat something to boost it.
Dr Claire Guest, chief executive and co-founder of MDD, said: “The findings are fantastic news for all those who are living with type 1 diabetes and other conditions.”
The charity was set up in 2008 and trains the animals in tandem with NHS trusts and families. It has trained dogs to support patients with seizures, nut allergies and other conditions.