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Animal Warning System

When the 16th –century poet John Heywood (and not St Bernard, as is often believed) said “Love me, Love my dog,” he almost certainly wasn’t thinking about diabetes. Yet a new study from Britain suggests that people with diabetes may want to adopt his proverb.

Hypoglycemia or low blood glucose is a common complication of insulin treatment and some other diabetes treatments. Since it can be dangerous, it is important for the person experiencing it to recognize the symptoms and counteract them by consuming some carbohydrates. But some people do not sense the early signs of oncoming hypoglycemia and in addition hypoglycemia may occur while a person is asleep, which also bars detection.

Consequently researchers have tried to develop hypoglycemia alarms. These tend to involve glucose sensors or ways to detect changes in skin conductance, but so far they have proven reliable. The authors of the new study say that many of these approaches in fact “have been barking up the wrong tree”.

The researchers therefore cite three pretty amazing stories involving dogs that apparently have become hypersensitive to their owners hypoglycemia. In each case, the animal behaves noticeably differently when its owners starts to become hypoglycemic –even before the owner is aware of what’s happening. One pet hides under a chair until her owner consumes carbohydrate. Another Susie by name nudges her owner awake during nightmare episodes she even prevents her owner from leaving home until the owner has corrected the situation. And a golden retriever named Natt barks and scratches the door when his owner becomes hypoglycemic.

The scientist cite other research showing that over one third of dogs seem to alter their behaviors when their owners have hypoglycemia, but they point out that these specific animals “take canine glucose sensing to a new level of sophistication”. They can only speculate on reasons for the dogs remarkable sensitivity; they conjecture that pets may be able to smell changes caused by sweating (a common symptom of hypoglycemia), that they may sensitive to their owners muscle tremors, and that they may notice that their owners are no responding to them in their usual manner.

Whatever it is, it’s almost enough to make you want to run down your local pet shop.
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