man touching noses with diabetic alert dog over green background

9 Things to Know Before Getting a Diabetic Alert Dog

A Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD) can be a lifeline for someone whose diabetes is not easily controlled through insulin or diet and exercise. People who use Diabetic Alert Dogs typically have type 1 diabetes and can experience unexpected and dangerous blood sugar dips (hypoglycemia) and spikes (hyperglycemia). But getting a DAD is a decision that should not be taken lightly. There are many things to consider, including cost, care, and your personal health needs. Here are a few more things to consider before getting a Diabetic Alert Dog.

  1. How it works. Whenever a person’s blood sugar dips or spikes, it emits a very distinct scent that is undetectable to humans. These dogs are trained as puppies to detect these scents and alert their handler before the situation becomes a problem, allowing them time to eat or take insulin.
  2. Matching. A handler will be matched with their DAD based on age, temperament, food motivations, size, and the handler’s needs, lifestyle, and personality.
  3. Cost. This might be the biggest determining factor for most people. These dogs go through months and months of training and can be very expensive, easily costing anywhere between $8,500 – $20,000. While expensive, some programs do offer financial assistance and payment plans. For example, the Diabetic Alerts Dogs of America believe “finances should not get in the way of your obtaining a Diabetic Alert Dog and ensuring your well-being.”infographic 9 things to know before you get a diabetic alert dog
  4. Training. DADs are trained from birth to detect the certain smells emitted when a person’s blood sugar drops or spikes, similar to the way some dogs are trained to detect narcotics or explosives. This training can take anywhere from 4-9 months. If the DAD senses a handler’s blood sugar dropping or spiking, the DAD will alert the handler, usually by bumping the handler’s hand with the snout. When you first meet your DAD, a Certified Service Dog Trainer will stay with you for a minimum of two days to observe your daily routine and help you and the DAD learn how to work together.
  5. Public spaces. Diabetic Alert Dogs are considered service animals and can enter any public space. The dog and its handler are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. To avoid any conflicts, always keep the DAD’s appropriate service dog vest, leash, and certificate of service or service dog identification card with you when taking your DAD into a public space.
  6. Application. Apply for a DAD through the Diabetic Alert Dogs of America here. Please note that most agencies do have long wait lists, and you could be waiting over a year for a DAD depending on your needs and the availability of dogs. The typical time limit for placing someone with a DAD is about 6 months for the Diabetic Alert Dogs of America, but timelines vary between agencies.
  7. Beware of scams. Sadly, there are some people in the world who will take advantage of your desire to own a DAD. Do your research and make sure the DAD agency you use is certified and legitimate before giving them a deposit.
  8. Equipment. Diabetic Alert Dogs come with equipment, including service vest, service dog identification card, public service certificate, training dog collar, standard flat buckle dog collar, dog leads, motivational treats, sample dog food, informational manual, and veterinarian records.
  9. Not a family pet. Although it may be tempting to use a family pet as a DAD, it’s generally not recommended as DADs are trained from the time they are puppies to sense changes in blood sugar. More importantly, DADs should not be treated as pets. They are working 24/7. Your Certified Service Dog Trainer will work with you to determine what behavior is appropriate with a service dog.

Getting a Diabetic Alert Dog is a big decision that can greatly impact the life of someone with poorly controlled diabetes. Even though you may be in a hurry to get the DAD and begin working together, it’s important that you do your research first so you can get the DAD that’s right for you.