By Linda Cole
We use a dog’s nose to find lost people, hidden explosives, termites, drugs and other contraband. Now we can add sniffing out life threatening allergens to the list. People with food allergies spend hours reading labels and questioning a waitress about what’s in a particular dish. For those with a peanut allergy, even a minute amount of peanuts can cause a severe, life threatening reaction. One solution to help those who suffer from peanut allergies is Allergy Alert Service Dogs – canines trained to search for and find hidden allergens in food or on everyday objects.
One of the more common food allergies is peanuts. In children, peanut allergies tripled from 1997 to 2008. A severe allergic reaction to peanuts is responsible for an estimated 100 to 150 deaths every year. Millions of kids and adults have to be vigilant about making sure they don’t come into contact with peanuts in any form, in their food or on everyday objects. They have to constantly stay on alert to what’s in food. Even if there are no peanuts in the food, traces of peanuts could have been introduced without anyone knowing about it.
Allergy Alert Dogs, also called Food Detector Dogs, are now being used to help people find even the smallest traces of allergens in food. A dog’s nose is so precise it can pick up the slightest smell of peanuts on someone’s hands, on their breath or on their clothes. And for some people, just the smell can cause them to have a reaction. It’s hard for many of us to imagine how one little peanut could cause so much trouble. And that lack of understanding is part of the problem allergy sufferers have to deal with.
For some children and adults with a peanut allergy, their allergic reaction is so severe that just a small amount of peanut dust on a library book, countertop, chair, utensil, in food, or on groceries can cause a life threatening reaction. Life for these kids and their parents can be tiresome when they have to constantly be on the lookout for something they can’t see or detect themselves. Potluck meals with family or friends are out. No birthday parties or trips on airplanes or trains. They have to be extremely careful who and what they touch because the use of peanuts is so widespread. Now, dogs that are specifically trained to sniff out peanut odors can make life a little easier and safer.
Allergy Alert Dogs are able to detect peanuts in food, whether raw or cooked. They can tell if peanut oil was used in a recipe or if there’s any form of peanuts in butter. They can even smell peanut dust that settled on snacks or food that don’t contain peanuts but were exposed to the dust which can also contaminate the outside of the package. Any dog can be trained to detect peanuts, but the most common ones used are German Shepherds, Poodles, Golden Retrievers, Labs and some mixed breed dogs.
Peanut allergies aren’t the only conditions dogs are being trained to detect. They can also help kids with diabetes by detecting when the child’s blood sugar level is too high or too low. Dogs have also been trained to sniff out other food allergens like soy, dairy products, wheat and tree nuts. It takes about 6 months to train an Allergy Alert Dog. Once trained, they are right about 95 percent of the time. Dogs are also being used to help detect seizures before they occur, but it’s believed they can see subtle changes in a person’s body language more than by smelling an odor. They can detect when a seizure is about to happen anywhere from several minutes up to an hour. This gives the person time to stop a car, get out of a swimming pool or stop whatever they’re doing and get to a safe place before the seizure begins.
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