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Publication - Dr Nicola Rooney

    How effective are trained dogs at alerting their owners to changes in blood glycaemic levels?

    Variations in performance of glycaemia alert dogs

    Citation

    Rooney, N, Guest, C, Swanson, L & Morant, S, 2019, ‘How effective are trained dogs at alerting their owners to changes in blood glycaemic levels?: Variations in performance of glycaemia alert dogs’. PLoS ONE, vol 14.

    Abstract

    Aims
    Domestic dogs are trained to a wide variety of roles including an increasing number of medical assistance tasks. Glycaemia alert dogs are reported to greatly improve the quality of life of owners living with Type 1 diabetes. Research into their value is currently sparse, on small numbers of dogs and provides conflicting results. In this study we assess the reliability of a large number of trained glycaemic alert dogs at responding to hypo and hyperglycaemic episodes, and explore factors associated with variations in their performance.

    Methods
    Routine owner records were used to assess the sensitivity and specificity of each of 27 dogs, trained by a single UK charity during almost 4000 out of range episodes. Sensitivity and positive predictive values are compared to demographic factors and instructors’ ratings of the dog, owner and partnership.

    Results
    Dogs varied in their performance, with sensitivity to out of range episodes averaging 70% (median, 25th percentile = 50, 75th percentile= 95). To hypoglycaemic episodes the median sensitivity was 83% (66, 94) and whilst to hyperglyaemic episodes it was 67% (17, 91). The median positive predictive value was 81% (68, 94%) i.e. on average 81% of alerts occurred when glucose levels were out of target range, whilst for four dogs PPV was 100%. Individual characteristics of the dog, the partnership and the household were significantly associated with performance (e.g. whether the dog was previously a pet, when it was trained, whether its partner was an adult or child).

    Conclusions
    The large sample shows that the individual performance of dogs is variable, but overall their sensitivity and specificity are better than previous studies suggest.
    Results suggest that optimal performance of glycaemic alert dogs depends not only on good initial and ongoing training, but also careful selection of dogs for the conditions in which they will be working.

    Full details in the University publications repository