Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dogs trained to detect seizures!


Peter DaSilva for The New York Times
Dogs like Kobi, a yellow Labrador, have participated in cancer detection studies.

Catching up on my weekend Web reading, I came across an interesting video from National Geographic, about dogs who sniff out cancer and health problems associated with diabetes.

One of the dogs featured, a collie named Tinker, began whining and barking when his owner, who has diabetes, experienced dangerous drops in blood sugar. Although Tinker wasn’t trained at first, his reactions to the hypoglycemic attacks led to further training as a qualified “hypo alert” dog. The video also features the work of the British research center, Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs.

The center has 17 rescue dogs at various stages of training that will be paired up with diabetic owners, including many children, reports Reuters.

Last year, researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast decided to investigate anecdotal reports from dog owners who said their pets warned them of hypoglycemic attacks. They surveyed 212 dog owners, all of whom had Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder that prevents the body from producing insulin. A regular concern with Type 1 is that blood sugar will drop precipitously low, causing a person to fall unconscious.

Among the dog owners, 138, or 65 percent, said their dog had shown a behavioral reaction to at least one of their hypoglycemic episodes. About a third of the animals had reacted to 11 or more events, with 31.9 percent of animals reacting to 11 or more events. The dogs got their owners’ attention by barking and whining, (61.5 percent), licking (49.2 percent), nuzzling (40.6 percent), jumping on top of them (30.4 percent), and/or staring intently at their faces (41.3 percent). A small percentage of the dogs reportedly tremble in fear at the time of a hypoglycemic attack.

To learn more, watch the three-minute video or read the transcript on the National Geographic Web site.

And for more on dogs detecting cancer read “Moist Nose Shows Promise in Tracking Down Cancer,” by my colleague Donald G. McNeil, Jr.

By Tara Parker-Pope


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