A Nose for Danger
Not all heroes wear capes. Diabetes Alerts Dogs can make the difference between life and death for a person suffering from high blood sugar. However, the training for these essential animals can be outside of a family’s budget. Bayer Animal Health Sweden supports the dogs and the important work being done at the Swedish Service and Signal Dog Association (SoS) to protect vulnerable diabetes sufferers.
For Sofia Sundström, it was a typical Friday night. After feeding her family supper, she cleaned the kitchen, put the kids to bed, and settled down for the night with a good book. It was no big surprise when her two-year-old son, Liam, woke in the middle of the night needing a diaper change. However, that soggy diaper would impact the course of the Sundström family’s life.
After disposing of the soiled cloth, Sofia gave her son a glass of water and once again he was immediately wet. Like any other 21st Century mom, a quick look on Google told her that diabetes was the possible cause. Sofia and her husband Johan decided to take Liam to the health center and thought they would hear that there was no danger and their baby was healthy.
Unfortunately, the doctor walked in to the room and said the three words that no mother wants to hear: Type I Diabetes.
“I couldn’t comprehend that my baby boy would never recover,” Sundström says. “I felt powerless. For the next two weeks we stayed in the hospital growing more confused and frustrated as we tried to learn about insulin doses and glucose levels and immune systems.”
Fighting a Hidden Enemy
According to the World Health Organization, more than 422 million people worldwide are diagnosed with diabetes. Less than 5 percent of these cases are diagnosed as Type I Diabetes. By the time Type I Diabetes is diagnosed, the body’s immune system has completely overwhelmed and destroyed the cells responsible for producing insulin. Without insulin, the sugar that cells need to produce energy gets stuck in the bloodstream and causes high blood sugar readings. The lack of insulin causes cells to starve and can lead to sudden death if left undiagnosed. The exact cause is unknown and there is currently no cure or known prevention.
“Liam’s diagnosis was a scary time for our family, but today we have learned to live with diabetes,” Sundstöm says. “There is always extra worry and extra planning that is required, but that is what our life looks like now. What hurts the most is seeing how Liam is affected. His mood and energy vary with how his blood glucose values are. Like any mother, I wish I could take his diagnosis for him so he could enjoy being a little boy.”
During the past five years, Liam has learned to take care of his self and acknowledges that he cannot always eat or play like other children. His freedom is limited by the fact that his parents or a trained adult must always be in the vicinity to measure his blood glucose and to provide insulin.
Coming to the Rescue
Mojo, the family’s yellow Labrador retriever, could make all the difference for Liam and his future independence. Not only is Mojo a faithful companion and best friend, he is being trained as a diabetes alert dog to act as a safety net for Liam.
With an extraordinary sense of smell, diabetes alert dogs have the ability to sniff out high or low blood sugar. These dogs are uniquely trained to smell the chemical changes that occur when blood glucose levels change in the human body. The dog then signals its owner to test their blood sugar and treat for hypoglycemia if necessary. This is especially important at night.
“With Mojo by his side, Liam can sleep without the fear of his sugars going too low and slipping in to a coma,” Sundström says. “I am confident that Liam’s independence and freedom is greater when Mojo is around and keeps a watchful eye on him. I feel safer if I have to be gone for a while or if Liam needs to be somewhere and Mojo goes with him.”
Every Superhero Needs a Sidekick
Mojo is currently training for this important role with the Swedish Service and Signal Dog Association (SOS). Training a dog to act as a diabetes alert dog takes a huge investment of money and time; between 12 and 18 months of daily training and practice. In addition to learning about alerting people to health changes, these dogs need to learn to be calm and relaxed in all environments as assistance dogs can enter places such as shops and movie theaters. This also includes going in to outdoor places where Mojo can be exposed to fleas, ticks, that potentially also can transmit vector borne diseases.
In order to support these canine heroes, Bayer Animal Health supports the work of SOS through the sale of long term flea and tick collars. For every collar sold in Sweden, a portion of the proceeds goes to fund the training of these dogs which can cost more than €6000. Between modern pumps and the rising cost of insulin, eliminating the financial burden of a trained diabetes alert dog can be a relief to diabetics and their families.
The long term flea and tick collars can also benefit the dogs in training. The collar prevents flea infestation and repels ticks before they have the chance to attach themselves to the dog which cuts down on biting, scratching and other irritations that can impact the focus of the service dogs.
“For the past five years, the health of our family has been at the forefront of our everyday thoughts,” Sundström says. “That includes the health and well-being of Mojo.”
“These collars are extremely easy to use and keep the fleas and ticks under control,” explains Sanna Sofia Odegaard, Brand Manager at Bayer Nordic. “This enables Mojo and his family to focus on their real job: keeping Liam safe.”
Since Liam’s diagnosis and the beginning of Mojo’s training, Sundström has become an active volunteer at the local kennel club as an instructor and is working to train herself in parallel with Mojo’s training. She hopes to use her experiences and knowledge to help other families going through a diabetes diagnosis. In the meantime, Liam and Mojo are a dynamic duo that are overcoming the struggles of a life with diabetes and looking forward to a safe and happy future.