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Tag: sense

Scientists say they have figured out how diabetic alert dogs detect hypoglycemia

Specially trained dogs have been alerting diabetics to decreases in their blood sugar levels for years now — but only now do scientists have a pretty good clue of how dogs are able to do it.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge say what the dogs are able to sniff out is a common chemical called isoprene, which is found on our breath.

Isoprene increases significantly — and sometimes almost doubles — during hypoglycemia.

Medical detection dogs wake up or alert their owners whenever their blood sugar level drops to the point of hypoglycemia, a condition that can cause shakiness, loss of consciousness, and, if untreated, death.

Using mass spectrometry, the scientists studied the breath of eight women with type 1 diabetes, noting changes in the chemical signatures of their exhalations when their blood sugar levels were lowered to the point of hypoglycemia.

The increased in isoprene is too subtle for humans to smell, but with the ability to detect odors at concentrations of around one part per trillion, dogs are able to sense it.

The scientists aren’t sure why isoprene increases as blood sugar levels drop, but they suspect it might be a byproduct of cholesterol.

Their findings were published in the July issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

The research could lead the way to developing medical sensors that replicate some of what diabetic alert dogs do, providing diabetics with an alternative to frequent blood testing, said lead researcher, Mark Evans.

“It’s our vision that a new breath test could at least partly – but ideally completely – replace the current finger-prick test, which is inconvenient and painful for patients, and relatively expensive to administer.”

Dogs anticipate bad weather, and more

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows — at least not if you have a dog.

Two-thirds of American pet owners say their pets have a sixth sense about bad weather, according to a recent poll by the Associated Press and Petside.com.

Seventy-two percent of dog owners said they’ve gotten weather warnings from their pets, compared with 66 percent of cat owners.

And bad weather, many believe, is not all their pets are able to sense.

More than 40 percent of pet owners say their animals can sense the arrival of bad news, according to the poll conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications.

“A sixth sense is something we can’t explain but we tend to trust. It’s a matter of belief and faith,” psychologist Stephanie LaFarge, the senior director of counseling services for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the Associated Press.

Some scientists believe animals sense bad weather because of changes in barometric pressure, and that they can sense seizures, low blood sugar or other medical problems through changes in their owner’s hormone levels.

How some pets know when earthquakes are coming, or that bad news is on the horizon, remain more mysterious.

The ASPCA’s LaFarge says she has personally experienced the latter.

“I have been awakened in the middle of the night by a dog,” she said. “Very shortly after that, I received some very, very shocking bad news. I was awake when the phone rang. I couldn’t explain why I was awake except the dog was next to me nudging me. How did the dog know my father died at midnight?”

Reflections on our time Down East

The coast of Maine is one of those places that, even once you leave it, stays with you.

It has been two days since Ace and I departed — to venture up to the northeasternmost part of the state, like John Steinbeck did 50 years ago — but our trip up the coast of Maine, onto Mount Desert Island and around Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park has got to be one of the highlights of our four-plus months on the road so far.

So forgive us as we, well, reflect.

The mountains, the lakes, the ponds, the crashing surf, the mossy forests, the sunrises and sunsets, the dog park, the rocks, the cliffs, the quaint towns and scenic winding roads — thinking back on it all makes me heave a big sigh, and try to figure out a way to get back.

It’s a place, at once, so vastly civilized and vastly uncivilized, offering nature in its rawest forms, or, if you prefer, a horse drawn carriage ride to enjoy the traditional tea and popovers.

I didn’t pop for that, but I did have some magnificent blueberry pancakes — an “order of blues,” as they say — at Jordan’s Restaurant, and a memorable Greek pizza at Tamarind, the restaurant owned by the couple that provided Ace and me with a room, multiple tours and the run of their property for two days.

Ron and Karen Greenberg were the consumate hosts, and Ace mostly got along with their animals.

There were Spike and Two Spikes, both named for the white streaks on their otherwise black foreheads, a thoroughbred named Mona and a white pony named Goblin (left), who was probably my favorite — probably because he reminded me so much of a dog.

That may be because Karen has trained the 34-year-old pony using something called the Pirelli method, which is based on understanding the psychology, personality and nature of horses. Its practitioners say it leads to a “deep, seamless and mutually beneficial human-horse relationship.”

I’m no expert on it, but my guess is — given that the key is trying to understand why a being behaves as it does — it’s a good philosophy to practice with dogs as well, not to mention other animals, like humans. Understanding and emotionally connecting, I’d think, are much more useful than berating, punishing and criticizing — as any good horse trainer, school teacher, parent,or dog owner can tell you.

And it’s a good practice when it comes to places, too. Learning its history, geography, geology, dipping your toe in its surf, sitting on its rocks, hiking its trails, cleaning its dirt out from underneath your fingernails all lead to better appreciating a place.

Ron and Karen, who have lived there for 30 years, were perfect examples of that. In our travels, it has been heartwarming to come across people who truly love where they live, to the extent that they want to show if off, whether it be Albuquerque or Acadia.

Almost like proud parents, they address the highlights, pull out photos, show off the trophies — and in the process, they pass that emotional connection they have on to you.

It’s almost as if what they’ve seen over decades, or a lifetime, in a place, starts being reflected in you.

Even if you only get to spend a day or two there.

It’s the best kind of contagiousness.

And on Mount Desert Island, I caught it.

(To see a synopsis of where we’ve been so far, click here.)

(To follow “Travels with Ace” in its entirety, click here.)

Video: Dog senses quake long before humans

It’s no secret that animals seem to sense earthquakes before they hit, but here’s some video proof.

A 6.5 magnitude earthquake that caused millions of dollars of property damage in Humboldt County, California, Saturday was sensed by a Labrador named Sophie well before humans started reacting, according to this video, from surveillance cameras in the offices of the Times-Standard in Eureka.

Sophie bolts from the room several seconds before the room starts visibly shaking and workers can be seen fleeing.

Yet more proof that dogs have more sense than humans — or at least humans who work for newspapers.