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Tennessee family training pet as diabetic alert dog

September 7th, 2012 2:32 pm by Associated Press

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — Members of a Franklin family are hoping their pet dog can learn a new trick.

Teddy is part of a pilot program teaching pets to become alert dogs for diabetics. In this case, Teddy is learning to alert the family if 9-year-old Leo Mackey is about to have a hypoglycemic episode. That is a dangerous dip in blood sugar levels that can cause a seizure or coma.

Diabetic alert dogs are usually trained and then placed with a family, but Ann Walling at Borderland Farms in Franklin is working with families' existing pets.

Walling, who raised a child with diabetes, told The Tennessean an alert dog is not meant to replace other precautionary measures, such as glucose sensors.

"It's another tool in the arsenal," she said. "It gives you another measure of stress relief if you know you have got another tool with you helping you monitor this."

Walling normally teaches agility training, but she decided to try training diabetic alert dogs after reading an article about family pets that would respond to a person's low blood sugar episodes.

Most of the evidence so far as to the effectiveness of diabetic alert dogs has been anecdotal, and the American Diabetic Association has no official position on them.

A study published in 2008 in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that just over a third of the 212 participants said their dogs had a reaction to a dip in their blood glucose levels before they themselves realized they were hypoglycemic.

"Owners of poodles and Bichon Frises were just as likely to report behavioral reactions to their hypoglycemic episodes as the keepers of German shepherds and Labrador retrievers," the researchers wrote. "This is a positive finding in light of how difficult the selection and recruitment of dogs for training purposes can be."

Walling enrolled her first 7-week training class this summer and said she and the other trainers are still in the learning stage. But she said three of the four dogs that completed the training, including Teddy, have alerted at some point.

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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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