Researchers found that canines can detect a chemical associated with hypoglycemic episodes.

By Gillie Houston
Updated May 24, 2017
© Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive

Man's best friend is good for many things: games of fetch, couch cuddles, and now potentially preventing dangerous health hazards for diabetes patients. Researchers at the University of Cambridge recently found that dogs' heightened senses of smell could be utilized to detect a chemical that is released during hypoglycemic episodes.

These episodes occur when a type 1 diabetes patients' blood sugar levels drops to dangerously low levels, but scientists suggest that canines can be taught to help prevent these threatening health conditions. According to UPI, hypoglycemic episodes can occur with very little warning and bring about fatigue, disorientation, and shakiness—and at their worst, seizures. While type 1 diabetes patients test themselves multiple times a day to monitor their blood sugar levels due to their bodies' inability to produce insulin, hypoglycemia can occur swiftly and unexpectedly.

The study, which was published in the journal Diabetes Care, suggests that our furry friends could help manage these outbreaks. When a hypoglycemic episode occurs, a person exhales higher levels of a certain chemical. Having heard reports of dogs seemingly sensing drops in blood sugar, the scientists at the University of Cambridge tested to see if dogs could detect the change in their owners' breath. Claire Pesterfield, a pediatric diabetes specialist nurse who had experienced this phenomenon herelf with her dog, Magic, aided in the study. "Magic is incredible—he's not just a wonderful companion, but he's my 'nose' to warn me if I'm a risk of hypo," she says, adding that low blood sugar is a constant daily threat to her.

Following Pesterfield's lead, the researchers studied eight other women with type 1 diabetes, between the ages of 41 and 51, for the output of chemicals in their breath during changes in blood sugar levels. At the conclusion of the testing period, researchers claimed that while humans can't detect this chemical, dogs have the ability to do just that.

Dr. Mark Evans, a consultant physician at the University of Cambridge's Addenbrooke Hospital says that "humans aren't sensitive to the presence of isoprene, but dogs with their incredible sense of smell, find it easy to identify and can be trained to alert their owners about dangerously low blood sugar levels." So, the next time you're teaching your pooch some new tricks, it might be smart to ask him to sit, roll over and smell.