Saved by a sniff

Diabetic alert dog trained to alert owner to blood sugar levels


Like most dogs, Jackson spends all day trotting behind his owner’s heels. Unlike other dogs, Jackson can save his owner’s life.

When Clay Nelms’ blood sugar levels drastically drop, his vision blurs and he becomes groggy. Jackson, an English Labrador, can smell the chemical change through Nelms’ skin long before he feels the effects.

Without Jackson by his side, Nelms, a diabetic, would have to test his sugar levels by pricking his skin and running a drop of his blood through a meter. By then the effects of low blood sugar, that also include hunger, thirst and feeling sick to his stomach, may have begun to set in.

“For someone who has just been diagnosed the dog is a huge benefit,” Nelms said. “For someone who doesn’t know the symptoms and what it feels like it’s helpful to have the dog pick up on it before you do.”

For diabetics, who can be diagnosed with the condition at any point in their life, learning the symptoms of high and low blood sugar can be difficult. Jackson, and diabetic alert dogs like him, are trained to sniff their owners and detect pheromones that are produced when blood sugar levels change.

Nelms said to train dogs to work with individuals they soak a piece of gauze in the owner’s saliva when their blood sugar is low. Typically once a dog learns to sniff out a low blood sugar reading, they can easily pick up on the high reading, which is easier to detect.

At the Elberta Farmers Co-Op where Nelms works, Jackson can be seen all day, every day, following behind and checking in with a quick sniff of Nelm’s hand.

Nelms said he enjoys taking Jackson to restaurants where he can help educate the public about dogs like Jackson.

“It’s my favorite thing in world to answer questions, especially from small children, they are my biggest question askers,” Nelm said. “That’s an educational moment and as a service dog handler that’s part of my job.”