Animals That Can Detect Hypoglycemia

NewsGuard 100/100 Score

Hypoglycemia is a condition where the blood level of glucose drops to below normal.

Image Credit: Proxima Studio /

Hypoglycemic events

Among most individuals with type 1 diabetes, the response of the hormone glucagon to low blood sugar is impaired. When these individuals use insulin to lower blood sugar levels, the absence of a normal glucagon response means the will prevent the blood sugar levels from being corrected, thus raising the risk of hypoglycemia.

The extent of hypoglycemia may be worsened by an overdose of anti-diabetes medication, vigorous exercise which depletes the body of sugar, excess alcohol intake, or missed meals and/or snacks. Most diabetic patients have become accustomed to recognizing the symptoms of low blood sugar which typically include tremors, sweating, palpitations, anxiety, and restlessness. Some diabetics, however, do not experience any symptoms of hypoglycemia at all, called hypoglycemia unawareness.

Dogs to detect hypoglycemia

Some experts suggest that animals such as dogs can help detect hypoglycemia in patients. Researchers say that owing to their acute sense of smell, dogs may be able to detect changes in the composition of their owner’s sweat that occur when they are becoming hypoglycemic. Another theory is that visual cues such as the owner looking disorientated or trembling may alert the dog.

Previous research has shown that dogs owned by individuals with diabetes exhibit behavioral changes in response to their owner’s blood sugar falling to below normal levels. Examples of these behaviors include nudging and licking their owner, especially around the mouth, and whining, barking, or howling.

How dogs can sniff out diabetes

In March 2008, a consumer magazine published by the American Diabetes Association called Diabetes Forecast featured an article about medical assistance dogs that were trained to recognize hypoglycemic episodes and alert their owner. The dogs were trained at a center in California which places such dogs with people who have type 1 diabetes. The dogs are then trained to sense when a dangerous fall in the individual's blood glucose levels is about to occur, allowing the owner to work together with the dog to prevent a hypoglycemic episode altogether.

It is not yet clear exactly how these dogs are able to sense the changes in their owners before an episode of hypoglycemia occurs; however, researchers believe that the dogs react to scents that are created when chemical changes occur in the body as a result of a glucose imbalance.

Currently, in the United States, only a few centers exist for training assistance dogs to help diabetics. The training is time-consuming and costly, meaning only a minimal number of dogs are available to be paired with an owner.

At one such center called “Dogs4Diabetes,” dogs are trained to become diabetic alert dogs and have been trained to sense and respond to identifiable changes in the blood chemistry that take place when their owner’s blood glucose level suddenly drops. This alerts the owner that they need to treat their hypoglycemia before they start to become symptomatic.

In order to train the dog, the animal is presented with various scents, one of which is the scent obtained from a diabetic person while they were experiencing a hypoglycemic episode. The dog is then taught to find and pick out the hypoglycemic scent. As the dog learns to recognize that scent, it is trained to respond to its owner in certain ways, such as sitting and staring at the person, jumping on them, or touching them with their nose.

Dogs such as labrador retrievers have more than 200 million sensors that can detect individual elements in parts per trillion. This compares with the parts per million smell capability that can be detected by current technology.

A rapid fall in blood glucose levels produces unique chemical elements that the dog can identify in a person’s breath or skin. Evidence suggests that these changes in a diabetic’s chemistry derived from sweat or breath occur 15 to 30 minutes before there is a measurable change in the blood sugar level that can be detected by a glucose monitor. The dog can therefore be trained to respond to the changes in sweat and breath and alert their owner before they experience any symptoms of hypoglycemia.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 28, 2022

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Robertson, Sally. (2022, November 28). Animals That Can Detect Hypoglycemia. News-Medical. Retrieved on May 22, 2024 from

  • MLA

    Robertson, Sally. "Animals That Can Detect Hypoglycemia". News-Medical. 22 May 2024. <>.

  • Chicago

    Robertson, Sally. "Animals That Can Detect Hypoglycemia". News-Medical. (accessed May 22, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Robertson, Sally. 2022. Animals That Can Detect Hypoglycemia. News-Medical, viewed 22 May 2024,


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.

You might also like...
High price of popular diabetes drugs deprives low-income people of effective treatment