Diabetic Service Dogs

There are many tools to use when dealing with diabetes, and the Diabetic Service Dog...

13 August 2018



There are many tools to use when dealing with diabetes, and the Diabetic Service Dog is one very important tool to add to the toolbox. Diabetic Service Dogs are trained to help people with life-threatening health conditions by assisting them and above all saving their lives on a daily basis.


Diabetes is known as a long-term condition that causes a worrying increase in blood sugar levels. The reasons may be: Inadequate insulin production, body’s cells impossibility to correctly respond to insulin, or both. Many factors influence blood sugar levels. Too much—or not enough—insulin, food or exercise, as well as stress or illness, can easily affect the balance. Sometimes, blood sugar even runs dangerously high or low for no apparent reason, causing serious health consequences. Blood sugar that runs too high over an extended period of time can damage vision, kidney and the nervous system. This means, that diabetic people must try to keep blood sugar as close to the “normal” range as possible. As a side effect of diabetes treatment some diabetics can experience episodes of hypoglycemia- a status of low blood sugar that may result in confusion, clumsiness, fainting or coma and, worst case scenario, even death. The lower one’s blood sugar goes, the less able he or she is to take the steps needed to raise it to a safe level. That’s where the Diabetic Service Dog can help and make a difference in the life of people with diabetes.

How Diabetic Service Dogs help

Dogs have a naturally heightened sense of smell that makes them excellent hunters. With this amazing sense of smell the Diabetic Service Dogs are trained to detect minute changes in blood sugar levels. Diabetic Service dogs are able to warn the person affected by diabetes whenever blood sugar levels fall or rise outside the normal range. Additionally, they are able to get help and fetch any vital medical supplies. This doesn’t mean that a Diabetic Service Dog is replacement for checking blood sugar levels. However, it is a safeguard for those who experience episodes with low or high blood sugar without having any warning symptoms.

Diabetes service dogs are trained to:

  • Pick up and carry objects such as medications
  • Bring cordless phones
  • Test breath for low blood sugar
  • Alerting other family members if an owner needs assistance
  • Help a person get up after having fallen
  • In some instances, dial 911 with a special device, if assistance is needed.

When episodes of high or low blood sugar occur and the owner needs to be warned, the Diabetic Service Dogs are trained to react in different ways. The dogs alert their diabetic partners or their partners’ caregivers so they can take active measures to regain normal blood sugar levels. They are trained to provide a special signal to alert their owner or  caregivers to check blood sugar and treat hypoglycemia, if needed.

The different signals include:

  • Holding a particular toy in their mouth as a signal
  • Jumping on the owner
  • Sitting and staring at the owner
  • Touching the owner with the its nose

Security, safety & comfort

Diabetic Service Dogs are most effective when they are able to spend as much time as possible with their diabetic partner. They are trained to be helpmates at home and in public settings. With the help of a continuously on-duty partner, people affected by diabetes can feel more in control and more confidence. A dog, however, won’t replace a glucose monitor, but it provides another layer of security as well as friendly and watchful company. Additionally, a dog provides emotional help for people with diabetes as our four-legged friends are well known for bringing affection, comfort and happiness to their owners. Many people are able to connect with dogs and it is actually proven that the love that dogs provide often has a therapeutic effect on them. Service Dogs are generally very calm and well-behaved, so that they do not upset the people around them.

service dog

“The best part for me is that when she helps me, it’s non-judgmental.” – Dogs4Diabetic

Age matters

Puppies may be able to learn the basics of scent-based alerting, but becoming a service dog takes months of full-time training, socialization, and exposure to a variety of situations. Good behavior is not enough to own the status of Diabitic Service Dog. A Diabetic Service Dog’s training is a whole lot more than just “walking well on a leash”, good manners, and performing standard tasks successfully. A pet can be well-mannered and walk well on a leash but a service dog must behave impeccable and is trained to be “invisible”. A Diabetic Service Dog does not loose leash-walk while on duty and it is able to provide lifesaving assistance. A service dog should not be younger than 18 months as this kind of service and assistance requires a mature dog and specific standards.

Dog breeds trained to be Diabetic Service Dogs can include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Mixed sporting dog breeds
  • Poodles

Do you have any experience with Diabetic Service Dogs? Please share your story in the comment field below!

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  1. Eve

    I’m curious about your statement that “A Diabetic Service Dog does not loose leash-walk while on duty”. Can you please describe for me how a diabetic service dog typically moves with its owner?
    Thank you

    • Laura

      Hi Eve,
      Thanks for your comment. A diabetic service dog is always near to the owner and smells when the sugar increases or decreases.
      At the para-agility worldcup, a woman competed with her service dog. Just before the finish line the dog stopped and refused to jump the last obstacle. He stood next to her until she got the insulin injected. This is the proof of a dog which is always around his or her owner – imagine: even in the plane the is allowed to have a dedicated seat!
      A diabetic dog is always on duty! He runs around, have fun, but always stays close to his or her owner.
      I hope this was helpful,

      • Eve

        Oh, I get it. Your point was that the dog is working 24/7, whether he’s on leash or off. I was thinking about the ON LEASH subject and missing your ON DUTY point.
        You said the dog “does not loose leash-walk” and I thought you were saying that he would walk with a taut leash- such as a guide dog would.
        My curiosity is personal since so many people think loose leash walking is standard/required but my preference is a short, taut leash. My dog is smallish so especially in a congested area I appreciate a taut leash which lets me know exactly where my dog is.
        Thanks for the clarification.

        • Laura

          Hi Eve,

          Thanks for your reply.
          I think you hit the nail on the head! When it comes to safety, keeping your small dog on a taut leash is a good precaution to take.
          Thanks for sharing your experience with Tractive,