We all know that dogs have exceptional sense of smell. But do their olfactory powers extend to sniffing out health problems? Well, it seems that dogs can detect the smell of a hypoglycemia attack coming, probably in the form of chemicals given off by body during the attack. Several of these amazing stories are featured in this video in the National Geographic.
According to the British Paul Jackson, who is suffering from type 2 diabetes, his collie Tinker would get agitated when he was about to have a hypoglycaemic attack.
“It was his behavior around me when I was having a hypoglycemic attack. The way he would lick my face, or cry gently while I was sitting down, or bark even. And then we noticed that this behaviour was happening while I was having a hypoglycemic attack so we just put two and two together.”
This is one of the stories that prompted the UK organization Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs to investigate and then make use of this astounding discovery.
One of the trainers at the cancer center, Kimberley Cox, also has diabetes. She trained a golden retriever named Rory by capturing her body odor during a hyploglycemic attack in a cotton wool and stored it in an air tight bottle. She then simulated the attack by opening the bottle in the presence of Rory. On this olfactory cue, Rory is trained to fetch an insulin kit which includes a blood sugar tester and insulin injections. For achieving his task, Rory gets a food treat as a reward.
These are not isolated incidents. Researchers from the Queen’s University in Belfast investigated 212 dog owners with type 1 diabetes. 138 of these canine lovers (65.1%) reported that their dogs showed some behavioral changes during hypoglycemic episodes. These behaviours are aimed to attract the attention of their owners and take the form of:
- vocalizing (61.5%)
- licking (49.2%)
- nuzzling (40.6%)
- jumping on top of them (30.4%)
- staring intently at their faces (41.3%)
- trembling (7.2%)
- running away (5.1%)
- hyperventilating (2.2%)
The study concludes
… 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.
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