A service dog takes a seat.

What Are Medical Alert Dogs?

While it’s true that most Working Group dogs have retired to lives as companions, many dogs still carry out important work every day. Service dogs work like, well, dogs to help people with disabilities safely navigate the world and ensure people with certain conditions can always find help.

3 Types of Medical Alert Dogs

Medical alert dogs are a particular kind of service dog, trained to warn their owners about impending medical crises and/or respond to those crises. There are three primary types:

Many seizure alert dogs are also trained as seizure response dogs and vice versa, but this is not always the case. All types of service dogs are afforded specific rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act. They’re permitted to enter public spaces that don’t typically allow animals.

Diabetic Alert Dogs

Individuals with diabetes need to watch for both unusually high and unusually low blood sugar levels. Both situations release chemicals into the body that produce a distinct scent. Though they’re imperceptible to even the strongest human noses, certain dogs can detect them in an affected individual’s sweat or saliva. These dogs are trained to pick out those scents the same way police and military dogs pick out drugs or explosive materials. They can even detect subtle changes in blood sugar while their owner sleeps. In addition to waking sleeping owners, diabetic alert dogs perform certain specific behaviors to get their owners’ attention. These include barking, pawing, and even retrieving their owner’s blood glucose meter.

Seizure Alert & Seizure Response Dogs

Like diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs have a unique ability to pick up on scents from their owners. With training, they learn to respond to these scents with certain behaviors. A seizure alert dog might alert their owner to an oncoming seizure by barking, followed by leaving the room to find assistance or to fetch an emergency alert device.

Seizure response dogs undergo special training to learn how to behave in the event of a seizure. In addition to activating emergency alert systems or finding extra help, seizure response dogs may remove their owners from potentially dangerous situations or even place themselves between their owner and the ground to prevent injuries.

Finding a Medical Alert Dog

Looking for a medical alert dog? Organizations including the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society may be able to put you in contact with the appropriate local groups. Other organizations that help pair patients with dogs include Assistance Dogs International and Service Dogs for America. Make sure to discuss your options with your primary care provider.