Presentation Abstract

Session: General Poster Session 2
Abstract Number: 406-P
Title: Can Diabetes Alert Dogs Truly Detect Hypoglycemia?
Abstract: Our group previously documented the positive impact of a diabetes alert dog (DAD) on a diabetes patient’s quality of life. To our knowledge, no randomized controlled studies were published regarding the ability of DADs to detect hypoglycemia. Our current work aimed to test DADs in 2 controlled trials.
Four service dogs from the Indiana Canine Assistance Network previously trained in both basic and advanced obedience and mobility assistance were placed in a hypoglycemia alert training program. The training introduced the dogs to perspiration and breath samples from patients with type 1 diabetes, followed by positive reinforcement for successful recognition (alert) of hypoglycemic (low) samples. For the purposes of the current 2 studies, samples were placed in separate cups on a randomization device (Lazy Suzan wheel). One cup contained the low sample, 3 contained normoglycemic samples from the same patient, and 3 contained gauze without samples. In both studies, 4 separate wheels, containing samples from 4 separate patients were used and dogs (study 1 n=2, study 2 n=4) replicated the search 2 times/wheel. The placement of the samples was based on a pre-specified randomization scheme.
Sensitivity (proportion of correct alerts) and specificity (proportion of sniffs without alert on normoglycemic samples) were calculated after pooling data across all trials in both studies (2 dogs participated in both studies). Overall, the best dog performed at 71% (percent) sensitivity / 90% specificity. The dog with the poorest performance was 22% sensitivity / 75% specificity. This variability in dog performance reflects differences in training level and other individual animal characteristics.
Our results demonstrate that DADs are able to identify chemical compounds specific to hypoglycemia and therefore be trained to alert to its presence. We are continuing studies to elucidate best practices for training DADs and ultimately to identify the chemical signature that the dogs are detecting.

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