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Need a Service Animal for Diabetes? Learn All About How a Diabetes Service Dog Can Improve Your Life

11 mins read
When you have diabetes, it’s not always easy to tell when a dangerous drop in blood sugar is coming. Learn how a diabetes service dog can help.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

If you have diabetes - or know someone who does – you know how challenging it can be to predict a sudden drop or spike in blood glucose levels. Millions of people in the United States living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes cope with the daily challenge of managing blood sugar. But did you know that there are specially trained service dogs that can help with this condition?

Diabetes service dogs, also known as diabetes alert dogs or diabetic assistance dogs, are trained to help individuals with diabetes manage their blood glucose levels. Specifically, a diabetes alert dog is a service animal that has received training to detect the onset of a dangerous drop or spike in blood glucose and alert its owner. For individuals with diabetes, having a service dog can significantly improve their quality of life and peace of mind. 

Service dogs can help diabetic individuals in other ways, too. If you live with a condition like anxiety or depression, your mental health could significantly benefit from the presence of a psychiatric service dog or emotional support animal. Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are trained to help with mental health conditions such as anxiety, phobias, or depression. In some circumstances – and with the proper training – your assistance animal may be able to serve as both a diabetes service dog and a psychiatric service animal.  

Could you benefit from the help of a service dog? Learn more!

At a Glance:

  • What Is a Psychiatric Service Dog? 
    Like any other service animal, psychiatric service dogs are specially trained to help individuals with the essential tasks of daily life. In addition to providing emotional support, they help their owners with tasks they cannot do for themselves. Psychiatric service dogs can be trained to help people with specific mental illnesses, such as PTSD or schizophrenia.
  • Do I Qualify for a Service Dog? 
    To qualify for a service dog, your disability should fall under the ADA definition of “disability.” This definition includes both physical and psychiatric disabilities. 
  • What Can Service Dogs Do for Diabetes? 
    Diabetic assistance dogs have been trained to smell the compounds released by the body when they have excessively low or high blood sugar. They can alert their owner when their blood sugar spikes or drops to a dangerous level. They can also be trained to retrieve medications or other objects, provide support with walking, and call for help in an emergency. Additionally, psychiatric service dogs can assist diabetic individuals with their mental health needs.
  • How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?
    To qualify for a psychiatric service dog (PSD), you’ll need to speak with a licensed mental health professional who can assess your symptoms and determine your eligibility. They can issue an official letter detailing your need for a psychiatric service dog. 
  • Take The Next Step: Get A Psychiatric Service Dog Letter
    If you think you’re a good candidate for a psychiatric service dog, the next step is to consult with a mental health practitioner who can provide an official PSD letter.

What Is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

A psychiatric service dog, or PSD, is trained to help people with mental or emotional illnesses. These mental illnesses include severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic stress, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more. Psychiatric service dogs help their owners by performing tasks that can ease the effects of some of these mental health concerns. For instance, a PSD might have the training to turn on the lights for the owner or do room searches.

Psychiatric service dogs are similar to diabetes service dogs in that they both help their owners cope with specific conditions. A diabetes assistance dog has special training to help an owner with diabetes, while a psychiatric service dog has the training to help with the symptoms of mental illness. 

As mentioned above, some diabetic individuals may not require the support of a diabetic alert dog (for example, if they use a continuous glucose monitor or have other home health assistance). However, they may still benefit from the emotional support a psychiatric service dog provides. 

What Can Service Dogs Do for Diabetes?

There are several reasons someone might choose to get a diabetic alert dog or a psychiatric service dog. By providing both emotional support and practical assistance, these service animals can significantly improve their owner’s quality of life. Here are some benefits of owning a service dog if you have diabetes.

Peace of mind

One of the main benefits of having a service dog is improved peace of mind. People with a service dog spend less time worrying about their blood sugar levels because they can rely on their service dog for assistance. Diabetes alert dogs must complete service dog training programs and learn to detect high and low blood sugar levels. They help their owners maintain a safe blood sugar level by alerting them when their blood glucose reaches an unsafe range.

Avoid dangerous blood sugar levels

In addition to providing peace of mind, diabetes alert dogs provide crucial assistance by helping their owners avoid dangerous blood sugar levels that can lead to episodes of passing out, blurred vision, or confused thinking. A diabetes service dog can alert you before your blood glucose reaches dangerous levels. High blood sugar or hyperglycemia can also cause damage to the nerves in your body, which could lead to unsafe and low blood pressure.

Take action to get your blood glucose back on track

The assistance provided by a diabetes service dog allows you to regain control of your blood sugar before anything dangerous happens. You’ll have the opportunity to evaluate your situation and do what you can to bring your blood sugar back to a safe number. Alert dogs can help people with diabetes have a quick snack or take necessary medications before their blood sugar takes an unsafe dip or spikes to a dangerous level.

Greater independence 

With a diabetes alert dog at your side, diabetic individuals can enjoy greater independence, such as participating in sports or joining a health and fitness club. A person with diabetes should take precautions to ensure they’re safe when exercising, as this can impact blood sugar levels. With a diabetes alert dog, you can be notified of serious blood sugar changes while playing sports or exercising. You’ll be able to bring your diabetes service dog to places like gyms and sports clubs because of the protections offered to service dogs by the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Likewise, a psychiatric service dog can also support an individual’s desire for greater independence by accompanying them to various public places and activities. For example, the presence of a psychiatric service dog might allow someone with severe anxiety to attend activities like plays and concerts that they would otherwise find too overwhelming. 

Improved quality of life

Whether your service dog is trained to assist with diabetes complications or mental health issues (or both), you’ll experience an overall improvement in quality of life with an assistance animal. Because diabetic service dogs are medical response dogs, your dog can help you avoid severe hypoglycemia and other dangerous side effects of unsafe glucose levels. Diabetic service dogs help their owners live a life unhindered by excessive worry and stress. By sensing changes in your blood sugar, you can act proactively instead of reactively to manage your diabetes.

Psychiatric service dogs also improve their owners’ quality of life by allowing them to participate in a broader range of activities and providing essential practical and emotional support. By alleviating some of the symptoms of mental illness, psychiatric service dogs play a crucial role in helping their owner with daily activities. 

Do I Qualify for a Service Dog?

Here are three examples in which an individual would benefit from a service dog, specifically a diabetes alert dog or a psychiatric service dog. To make sure you qualify for a psychiatric service animal, you’ll need an appointment with a licensed mental health practitioner.

It’s also worth remembering that anyone with a service dog must commit to caring for their dog and ensuring it receives the proper training for its specific role.

Example #1: You have a diabetes type 1 or type 2 diagnosis

Many people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can benefit from the help of a diabetes alert dog. Diabetic service dogs are trained in a specific way to identify when a person’s blood glucose level has dropped or spiked. This training involves teaching the dog the difference between their owner’s sweat when they have normal blood glucose levels versus abnormal blood glucose levels. With this training, a diabetes service dog can detect abnormal blood sugar levels correctly. With the help of an alert dog, a person with diabetes will immediately know if their blood sugar is heading towards an unsafe range – without having to wait for dangerous physiological symptoms to occur.

Example #2: You regularly experience episodes of low blood sugar

If you regularly have episodes of low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), you are probably a strong candidate for a diabetes alert dog. In most cases, diabetic hypoglycemia is a side effect of insulin therapy. Poor blood sugar control can also result from missing meals or exercising heavily. Signs of hypoglycemia typically involve a sense of shaking, sweating slightly, or feeling your heart thumping more quickly than usual. You may also feel nervous, anxious, irritable, or confused. Some people feel hungry or dizzy during a hypoglycemia episode.

Example #3: Your mental health would benefit from the presence of a trained assistance animal 

If you have a mental health condition, a service dog could greatly improve your quality of life. Many individuals struggle with the challenges of daily life when faced with a mental health issue like severe anxiety or depression. Phobias, bipolar disorder, and PTSD can also severely limit your ability to engage with work, school, and socializing. Service dogs assist individuals with these and other mental health problems by consistently providing invaluable emotional support and completing practical tasks.

Find out whether you qualify for a psychiatric service dog! Take the Quiz

What Is the Best Service Dog for Diabetes?

Many types of dogs can serve as diabetes alert dogs or psychiatric service dogs. Any breed can become a service animal, from chihuahuas to Great Danes. However, certain breeds have the ideal temperament and intelligence to respond well to training and display the necessary qualities for a service animal. Here are some of the most popular service dog breeds. 

Golden Retriever

  • Golden Retrievers are an excellent choice for alert dogs and diabetes care animals. They’re friendly and affectionate and will gladly accompany you anywhere you need to go. You won’t need to worry about a Golden Retriever being timid if you are running errands and need to bring them along.
  • A Golden Retriever is loyal and will stay by your side, happily following its owner everywhere. This is essential for diabetes service dogs and psychiatric service animals.
  • They are just the right size to comfortably live with you in your space. They’ll be able to complete tasks around your hhme, such as opening doors or pushing buttons.

Poodle 

  • Poodles are another great choice to become service dogs. They rank very highly in intelligence compared to many other breeds.
  • Because of their high intelligence level, poodles require a lot of mental stimulation and are very trainable. They are ideally suited to perform complex tasks and recognize potentially dangerous situations.
  • Poodles have low-allergen coats. They shed very little of their curly fur, making them a good choice for people with allergies.

Goldendoodle

  • A cross between a poodle and a Golden Retriever, Goldendoodles have grown in popularity in recent years both as pets and as service dogs.
  • Like Golden Retrievers, Goldendoodles are friendly and easy-going, making them excellent service dogs.
  • Like poodles, Goldendoodles have hypoallergenic coats. They don’t shed as much as most other dog breeds.
  • Goldendoodles are intelligent and respond well to training. They can quickly learn basic commands and how to alert people if their owner is in danger.

How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog for Diabetes?

Having diabetes can create a lot of stress in a person’s life. It can also exacerbate existing mental health challenges. Many individuals with diabetes feel that they would benefit from the presence of a psychiatric service animal. It’s worth noting that if you have a diabetes alert dog, you can also have a psychiatric service dog. Generally, people aren’t limited to one service dog. For example, if you have diabetes and severe anxiety, you may benefit from having a diabetes alert dog and a psychiatric service dog. Sometimes, the same dog can be trained to fulfill both roles.

You’ll need to complete a few required steps to get a psychiatric service dog letter from an online provider. First, complete a short assessment to give the provider an overview of your specific circumstances. Then, you’ll participate in a one-on-one consultation with a mental health professional to discuss your situation and mental health needs. Based on your consultation, the mental health professional will decide whether you would benefit from the presence of a psychiatric service dog. If so, they’ll issue you an official PSD letter that you can use for housing and travel purposes. However, you’ll need to ensure that your dog has completed the required training (with proper documentation) to become a psychiatric service animal. 

How Do I Make My Dog A Service Dog?

You may already have a dog that you would like to have as a psychiatric service dog. It may already be an emotional support animal but has not yet undergone the intensive training required of service animals. 

The training for a psychiatric service dog is lengthy, usually lasting between one and two years. In addition to training the dog to behave impeccably in public and not respond to specific environmental stimuli, the PSD will also need to learn how to help you with your unique mental health needs. This assistance can include completing specific tasks when prompted – such as opening a door or bringing you medication – or helping you without verbal prompting – such as guiding you home if you become confused or recognizing the signs of an oncoming panic attack. 

Although there is no legal requirement to register psychiatric service animals, if you want your PSD to be able to fly, live, and enter public places with you, you will need to get a psychiatric service animal letter.

Frequently Asked Questions

Finding the correct assistance animal for your needs can be confusing. Here are a few frequently asked questions and answers to help you learn more about PSDs and diabetes service dogs.

Can I get an emotional support animal instead? 

Anyone can have an emotional support animal. An ESA is simply an animal that provides its owner emotional support – no formal training is required, although good behavior is expected. If you want to live with your ESA in rented accommodation, you will need an official ESA letter confirming your legitimate mental health need. Unlike service dogs, ESAs are not automatically permitted in public places like restaurants, shopping centers, and libraries. 

How much does it cost to get a diabetic alert dog?

Prices for diabetic alert dogs vary depending on the training required and the organization providing the dog. Training a diabetes alert dog can be very expensive (often thousands of dollars), so some people decide to train their service dogs themselves.

Does insurance cover a diabetic alert dog?

Certain insurance companies may cover the cost of diabetes alert dogs – you will need to contact your provider directly. However, many insurance companies don’t cover the cost because they feel there isn’t enough scientific evidence on the usefulness of diabetic alert dogs. 

What is the best breed for a diabetic alert dog?

Many breeds can serve as diabetic alert dogs, including Golden Retrievers, Poodles, and Goldendoodles. Collies, Labrador Retrievers, and other types of retrievers are also popular choices. Most importantly, you should find a well-behaved dog trained specifically for your needs.

How do you qualify for a diabetic service dog?

You could benefit from having a diabetes service dog if you have been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Diabetic alert dogs are particularly beneficial for individuals who regularly experience unexpected episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.