Dogs have always been described as a man’s best friend. They’re loyal, lovable, and easy trainable. Most of us are familiar with police sniffer dogs and guide dogs – but what about Celiac disease service dogs? Dogs can help with a range of diseases and illnesses, from mild to severe. From asthma to diabetes, cerebral palsy to autism – their versatility and talent are astounding. How do they do it?
“Dogs are able to help people with many different chronic diseases – sniffing out physiological changes before a human or specialized technology can even detect them, sensing changes in a heart’s regular rhythm, reminding a patient to take prescribed medications, summoning help when needed or fetching equipment or needed therapies for their owners.” – Chronic Disease Coalition
But how does this relate to celiac disease? Well, Celiac disease service dogs are becoming increasingly more popular. We already know that a dog’s sense of smell is incredibly powerful. But did you know that their noses are so powerful that they can sniff out gluten?! That’s right, a trained allergen dog can search their surroundings for the smell of gluten. Humans have a mere six million receptors in their noses but dogs put us to shame with a phenomenal 300 million receptors! No wonder their sense of smell is so much better than ours.
The Gluten Detective
More frequently known as gluten detection dogs (but I prefer gluten detective), these dogs are growing massively in popularity. Mainly because diagnosis is so much easier to achieve now – so the millions around the world that were suffering in silence have a way forward. It’s estimated that 1% of the world’s population has celiac disease. That isn’t including gluten-intolerant individuals like myself. 1 in every 100 people live with celiac disease – it’s a staggering statistic.
Read more about: Does Peanut Butter Contain Gluten?
Why Would You Need One?
There’s a number of reasons you may feel as though you need a celiac service dog. One of the main reasons being peace of mind. Navigating gluten-free life can be daunting, especially in the first few months of diagnosis. It took me months before I was brave enough to eat out at a restaurant for the first time. My stomach was already unsettled before even leaving the house! It can be really nerve-wracking, and Celiac service dogs can give you the time and space to adjust to your new lifestyle.
Depending on the severity of your intolerance, your symptoms may be extremely severe and debilitating. Even a crumb of gluten may be enough to set you off. If that’s the case, you can easily become hospitalized due to symptoms, or incur organ damage. A gluten detection dog can take away the added stress of any potential hospital bills and you’ll be more likely to avoid any pain from our much-hated enemy – gluten.
Certified service dogs are allowed to go anywhere with you – shopping, restaurants, schools, theaters, public transport – you name it!
Depending on how they’re trained, different commands indicate whether an item contains gluten. For example, a dog will sit if no gluten is detected and give its owner a pay when there is gluten present. They really are extremely intelligent animals.
How Much Will It Cost?
Here’s the biggest reason you may not be able to get a Celiac disease service dog – the price. They are a considerable amount of money, so depending on the severity of the disease, you would need to decide whether it was the right decision for you. They cost around $10,000 – $20,000 depending on the training and program. Some healthcare may be used to help cover the cost of the animal, so it’s definitely worth checking with yours.
This may seem expensive, but it takes time and effort to train the dogs and will give many individuals a chance to gain some freedom and independence back into their life. Most of which they may have been lacking because of Celiac disease.
Financing is also available, with credit cards being accepted – so it doesn’t all need to be paid off at once!
If you’re unable to afford a gluten detection dog, you can always train the dog yourself. Patience is what you’ll need if you choose this method – as it can take up to a year! But if time is something you have, this could be the option for you. Find out more about how to train your dog to sniff out gluten here.
How Accurate Are They?
You may be asking yourself – but what if they were wrong? How accurate are the signals they give? Well, they aren’t perfect, but they are named as the best resource available to avoid being glutened. Like humans, dogs can get sick or have off days. So, of course, 100% accuracy isn’t assured. Don’t let that dissuade you though because they are the most accurate form of scent detection – 1/3 of a dog’s brain is dedicated to smell alone!
How Are They Trained?
Celiac disease service dogs are usually taught reward-based techniques. As mentioned earlier, it takes time and love. Before “graduating” from their program, dogs have to pass a series of tests such as detecting gluten in public, room searches, and checking individual items. It is certainly intense!
Are Service Dogs For Celiac Disease The Right Choice For You?
This is a question only you can answer. It’s best to weigh up the pros and cons that I’ve had a look at in this article and decide if it’s worth it based on your needs and the severity of your intolerance. They may be expensive but they can make a massive positive impact on your life and make daily living much easier.
I don’t have one myself but I’m not a big traveler and I don’t eat out often. Although I’m very sensitive to gluten, I’m not celiac and can manage my condition quite easily myself. Everyone’s needs are different and it’s important to remember that. If you have a Celiac service dog, I would love to know how it has changed your life.