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Diabetic Detecting Dog

on August 13, 2009
Posted in Fun

Seth Waite is only 6 years old but was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was 4 years old.

His parents, Patience and J.R. Waite, have had to constantly monitor their son in order to protect him. However, their job may just have gotten a bit easier with the introduction of Rex.

Rex is a black Labrador Retriever that is being specially trained to pick up Seth’s scents and behaviorisms that could mean trouble with his diabetes.

When Rex was only 6 weeks old, the Waite family picked him from the airport in June and together the four of them travelled to Pawsibilities Unleashed in Frankfort, Kentucky. Here, the family embarked on 9 days of practical scent training in order to learn how better to teach Rex the subtle signals of Seth’s approaching diabetic attacks. The Waite’s training will, hopefully, lead to Rex being able to warn both Seth and his parents if Seth’s blood glucose levels drop dangerously low.

Seth’s mother, Patience, explained that “It was instant bonding” when her son and Rex met at the airport for the first time.

Although Rex’s training is still at the beginning stages, he is learning quite quickly! Seth’s parents send Rex to search through the house looking for Seth as well as sniffing him when his blood sugar is low. They even use cotton balls that have Seth’s saliva on them which they freeze and then use later on for games of hide and go seek with Rex and Seth.

So far the training seems to be working. Rex is now able to pick up on a few subtle signs and then attempts to alert Seth by bumping his hand with his head when he detects that Seth’s blood sugar is too low. If Seth’s blood sugar is too high, Rex waves his paw as high in the air as he can in order to alert Seth.

During outings to parks and malls, Rex wears a blue vest that says “Please don’t pet me – I’m working”.

“The training will be ongoing, with constant reinforcement from us,” said J.R.

Besides the training, Rex is learning all about Seth’s individual mannerisms through constant play. The Waite’s are hoping that Rex will soon adopt “the attitude that Seth is his baby and he’s going to take care of him,” J.R. explained.

Although Rex currently sleeps in a kennel besides Seth’s bed, he will eventually be allowed onto the bed to sleep with Seth. This way, he will be in a better position to sniff out changes in Seth’s blood glucose levels that may occur overnight. If they do change, Rex is being trained to not only wake Seth up, but to also run into Patience and J.R.’s room and wake them up too.

Seth is a deep sleeper and will sleep through any changes in his blood glucose levels. This could be potentially fatal as he could either slip into a coma or have a seizure. Seth also has an implanted insulin pump, however, his tiny 6 year old body, doesn’t always respond to the pump like it should.

In the meantime, the Waite’s have set an alarm clock to go off every 2 hours in order to check on Seth.

“You can never really relax,” Patience said.

The Waite’s purchased Rex from Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. Owners of Wildrose Kennels, Mike and Cathy Stewart have been breeding and training British Labradors since 1972. Earlier this year, they set up a nonprofit foundation to help train dogs to work with diabetic children and adults.

Mike Stewart explained that these are very smart dogs, that are not only competent enough to learn how to make intelligent decisions but they are also capable of learning to think things through before they react.

“I’ve seen dogs do things that stun people,” Mike said.

The great thing about Labrador Retrievers is that they love to please their people and respond best with lavish praise and attention.

Some of these dogs, even one’s that have not been specifically trained, have been able to sniff out an epilepsy attack before it begins or have been known to continuously sniff at a cancerous mole.

“A dog’s sense of smell is 100 times stronger than a human’s, and it’s not terribly difficult (for the right breed) to learn to identify different types of scents,” Stewart said. “Then you reward them that this is what you wanted.”

In 2008, a study was conducted at Queen’s University Belfast in Ireland, of 212 diabetics and their dogs. The results revealed that the dogs were reacting to a change in their owner’s body odor, sweat or their breath. Other dogs in the study were noted as reacting to visual clues like their owner becoming disoriented or irritable.

Photo Credit: glassblower

Read also: Peculiar Pet Accidents

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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