Medical Alert Dogs

Providing Peace of Mind …

SDV currently trains service dogs for Type 1 Diabetes, Addison’s disease, and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome only.

Diabetic alert dogs, through scent training, detect and alert for low blood sugar for clients with Type 1 Diabetes and hypoglycemic unawareness. Hypoglycemic unawareness is when the individual cannot tell their blood sugar is dropping. You and I might get a headache or become crabby, but a Type 1 diabetic feels no change at all until it’s too late. By alerting when blood sugar is dropping, our dogs can prevent an extreme low from happening and permit a person to manage their blood sugar in a timely manner. Diabetic alert dogs can prevent a person from attempting to function with reduced mental capacity, prevent dangerous lows that can lead to comas and even death. Diabetic alert dogs also provide a sense of security for those living on their own who cannot recognize when their sugar is dropping. A well-trained dog is more reliable than currently available technology for “brittle” diabetics. SDV is also developing training protocols that refine and streamline the training of diabetic alert dogs.

Addison’s disease is an uncommon disorder that occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough of certain hormones. In Addison’s disease, your adrenal glands, located just above your kidneys, produce too little cortisol and, often, too little aldosterone. Addison’s disease occurs in all age groups and both sexes, and can be life-threatening. Treatment involves taking hormones to replace those that are missing. Sometimes the signs and symptoms of Addison’s disease may appear suddenly. Acute adrenal failure (addisonian crisis) can lead to life-threatening shock. Our dogs are trained to detect the odor of dropping cortisol levels in order to prevent addisonian crisis.

Mast cells are a normal part of our immune system. They live in the bone marrow, flow through our blood stream and are located in every organ and connective tissue of the body. When mast cells detect stress, injury, toxins or infection, they release specific chemicals (mediators) which trigger an immune response. Think of them as sentries or guards.

When mast cells perform properly, they help us. When mast cells are agitated or over-reactive, the immune system goes haywire and starts to attack the body, triggering auto-inflammatory processes.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) is the inappropriate release of mast cell mediators including: histamine, interleukins, prostaglandins, cytokines, chemokines, and heparin in response to stressors. A person with MCAS is at risk for anaphylaxis. Our dogs are trained to alert when there is an inappropriate release mast cell mediators.

One must be at least 18 years of age to apply for a medical alert dog.

Caroline and Figgy

Caroline training with her diabetic alert dog, Annie

My name is Caroline and I am a brittle Type 1 Diabetic. This means I am unaware of dangerously low and high blood sugars, which I experience daily. I was hiking on vacation and experienced a low blood sugar [episode], and by the time I realized my blood sugar had dropped I was dangerously close to passing out. This is when I knew something had to change. I contacted Service Dogs of Virginia and was amazed to learn that dogs could be trained to alert me to these dangerous changes in my blood sugar.

This is when Annie came into my life. Annie, the wondrous working dog, is trained to smell the changes in my blood sugar. We have been working very well together. My blood sugars are under control and I am now able to participate in activities I enjoy that I had been previously unable to do for fear of losing consciousness. Annie has not just changed my life, she has saved my life. — Caroline training with her diabetic alert dog, Annie

To view a Public Service Announcement about our Diabetic Alert dog program, starring another of our Type 1 Diabetic clients, Jamie, and her dog Opus, click HERE. This commercial aired in the greater Charlottesville area in late 2011.