By, Lisa Foster-McNulty, MSN, RN, CDE
They say that a dog is man’s best friend, and certainly a PWD (person with diabetes) who shares their life with a DAD (diabetes alert dog) would agree. Many people love dogs and heartwarming dog stories. Recently some researchers investigated whether dogs or CGMs (continuous glucose monitors) do a better job of detecting hypoglycemia, and the results may surprise you!
While there has been much reporting of the ability of a well-trained DAD to identify hypoglycemia, there hasn’t actually been much research to determine if dogs can do a better job than other tools such as a CGM. A pediatric endocrinology fellow at Portland’s Oregon Health & Science University, Dr. Evan Los, compared diabetes alert dogs against CGMs to determine which was more effective at detecting hypoglycemia. He determined that CGMs were more accurate at detecting hypoglycemia than the dogs, according to a Medscape Multispecialty report.
In the study, eight people with Type 1 Diabetes who owned a diabetes alert dog were asked to use three methods of detecting lows. These methods were 1) their own self-detected symptoms, 2) their DAD, and 3) a CGM. They were asked to record which of the three methods was first to discover the hypoglycemia. The analysis showed that about 70% of the time, the CGM was first to pick up the low BG. Dogs were first 19% of the time. One disadvantage of a DAD was that they barked for lows more often than warranted, which led to some false alarms.
We shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the dogs, though. This was a very small study, so it was too small of a sample size to draw any real conclusions. Dr. Los acknowledged that since there isn’t just one standard for training DADs, we may not be getting the full picture of the effectiveness of the dogs as a group. This study really tells us that we don’t know enough about diabetes alert dogs to prove whether or not they are effective. Dr. Los commented that DADs detected lows and provide companionship, and other studies have concluded that service dogs can enhance the health and quality of life for people with chronic health conditions. This study shows us that dogs are one relatively new option for detecting hypoglycemia, and there are also other options. We all know that there are pros and cons to the various therapies we have for managing diabetes, and we like having choices. We can still love the dogs, but we just might want to love the CGMs too!