Dogs are well known for the many ways that they help humans, and their latest trick is to alert diabetics that their blood sugar is low.
When people with Type 1 diabetes don't eat enough or accidentally take too much insulin, their blood sugar can drop — called a "hypo" — and they risk losing consciousness. They often don't notice warning signs such as going pale or shaking.
However specially trained dogs can detect a change in body odour when blood sugar drops and are being trained to nudge, lick or stare at people to alert them, potentially saving their lives.
Sharon Scott, the director of training at Paws for Diabetics, has helped train 21 dogs to aid diabetic Australians who have become hypo-unaware.
"They have lost the ability to recognise the body's symptoms that they are going low," she says. "Most of our clients have reported a remarkable change in their health management. They are not suffering from the effects of hypos because we are preventing them from occurring. They are getting confidence and independence."
Scott says they are open to using any breed, but whippets and poodles work best in the program.
"We place a suitable puppy with the client from the word go so they can create a good bond and relationship," she says.
But Steven James, an educator at the Australian Diabetes Council, says it's important people get their health sorted first.
"The notion of people just getting a dog is not the ideal," he says. "It should be the last resort. People should be working with their health team so they are not getting hypos."
Diabetes management is not the only condition dogs can assist with.
Researchers from Schillerhoehe Hospital in Germany found sniffer dogs are able to detect lung cancer.
"In the breath of patients with lung cancer, there are likely to be different chemicals to normal breath samples and the dogs' keen sense of smell can detect this difference at an early stage of the disease," study author Thorsten Walles said.
Dogs have also been used to help children with autism reduce feelings of anxiety and aggression.
Labradors can help people with dementia by prompting them to eat or take medication.