Service Dogs for Neuropathy

Feb 14,2024

The term “disability” is described by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity”. 

There still might be beliefs among the public, that a person must be diagnosed with a certain, very specific condition, whose symptoms are easy to recognize and classify, this is not always the case. Actually, often it is exactly the opposite. Health conditions may manifest differently, affecting various types of organs and limiting several abilities at the same time.

Neuropathy, often referred to as “Peripheral Neuropathy” is an example of such a type of condition. The term is generalized and used to describe diseases that affect the peripheral nerves and the symptoms of these conditions.

Today, we go deeper into the topic of what exactly Neuropathy is, whether it can be considered a “disability” or not, and how a trained service dog can help a person with this condition.

Neuropathy- Etymology & Definition

Let’s start with an explanation of the word’s etymology. The term “Neuropathy” consists of the following parts-the word “neuro”, which comes from Greek and means “nerve” and the suffix “-pathy”, which means “condition” and originates from the Greek word “pathos”. “Peripheral”, which is also used as a part of the term means “around” and in the context of this condition, it refers to a condition that is “outside” or “excluded” from the central nervous system. 

This condition encompasses various diseases that cause damage to the peripheral nervous system, whose role is to transfer signals from the brain and the spinal cord to all other body areas. 

A simple example of the crucial role of the peripheral nervous system in the functioning of our bodies refers to the sensory signals it sends to our muscles so that they contract. This enables us to move. The signals sent by the peripheral nervous system also manage the functions of our organs, including the heart, and different body functions such as our digestion and urination. How our immune system functions is also in direct relation to the peripheral nervous system. 

There may be different types of naturopathies, based on the cause. For instance, some types of neuropathy can be caused by an injury of the wrists due to prolonged use of a computer; others may be caused by diabetes, as high blood sugar can damage nerves.


Is Neuropathy a Disability?

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) neuropathy can be considered a disability in case it leads to severe limitations in motor function or if it causes serious impairments of the mental and behavioral skills of a person, which make them unable to work.


Inherited Condition

Neuropathy can be inherited and there is also a specific term that describes this condition- Hereditary Neuropathy with Pressure Palsies (HNPP). Some of the symptoms of this condition are weakness of the limb muscles and stiffness.


Diabetes is actually considered the most common cause of neuropathy, as it leads to the development of this condition in more than half of the individuals with diabetes.

Autoimmune Disorders

Some of the autoimmune disorders that can lead to neuropathy are:

Guillain-Barre syndrome, Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Sjogren's syndrome, Psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis, and Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).


The infections that can cause neuropathy can be both bacterial and viral and these may include: Hepatitis B and C, Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, HIV, diphtheria, leprosy, etc.


Both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors can put pressure on the nerves and lead to neuropathy. 

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder can lead to many complications in the long term, including neuropathy as well as even more serious conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.

Bone Marrow Disease

The bone marrow, which is a soft spongy tissue inside many bones, includes stem cells. When there are issues with these cells and their development, neuropathy can occur as a result.

Vitamin and Nutrient Deficiencies

Lack of vitamins and nutrients may sound like an issue that can be taken lightly, which is totally wrong. Deficiencies of certain vitamins, especially the vitamins of the B group and vitamin E can cause neuropathy.

Trauma and Medical Procedures

Different types of direct injuries to the nerves or side effects of medical procedures can lead to neuropathy. 

Medication and Toxins

Certain antibiotics, heavy metals, or chemotherapy treatment can be a cause of this condition.


Autonomic Symptoms

Among the autonomic symptoms of this condition are: Changes in blood pressure; Bowel issues; Too high or too-low levels of sweating, and Sexual dysfunction.

Motor Symptoms

Paralysis; Muscle fatigue; Involuntary muscle contractions; Muscle degeneration.

Sensory Symptoms

Sensory symptoms of neuropathy may include Numbness; Loss of balance; Tingling; and Pain.


In some cases, the symptoms may gradually diminish or completely go away, but in many cases, individuals with this condition can only prevent the condition from worsening and not completely recover from it. 

Also, it is important to note that treatment depends on the cause and must be focused on treating the cause and not only the symptom. For instance, since diabetes is the most common cause of neuropathy, keeping the blood sugar levels at normal levels will be a priority, and treating the symptoms a second priority.

Medication for the treatment of irregular heart rate, or seizures, as well as antidepressants and lidocaine injections, may be prescribed. If the condition is more severe, surgery may also be needed.

Having explained that, here comes the question “Is there a way for a service dog to help a person with neuropathy?”

Service Dogs for Neuropathy

Considering the variety of causes and symptoms of this condition, there are so many ways for a service dog to help! 

Medical Alert Tasks

A person with neuropathy caused by diabetes can really benefit from a Diabetic Alert Service Dog. 

Dogs, especially long-muzzled ones (these dogs have a larger number of olfactory receptors than short-muzzled dogs) with a friendly and calm temperament, can be trained to alert their owners to changes in their blood sugar levels. 

The training is based on scent training and the main purpose is for the dog to learn to differentiate between the normal scent of the owner and the scent when their blood sugar levels are too low/high. Then the dog is taught to exhibit specific behavior, such as giving a paw, licking, or nudging, as a type of response to these changes.

However, diabetes is not the only type of condition that a medical alert dog can help with! 

As mentioned above, changes in blood pressure can also occur as a symptom of neuropathy. In case, the too-high or too-low blood pressure can be treated, then a dog who responds to these changes can be of great help! 

The principle of the training is the same- it is based on scent training. However, each condition has its own specifics, that need to be considered during the training. For instance, scent samples from the creases behind the legs, the forehead, the ears, and the wrists are more suitable for Cardiac Alert Training than saliva samples. 

Mobility Tasks

Sensory and motor symptoms such as numbness, balance issues, and muscle weakness can be positively affected by a service dog. 

Moreover, a mobility service dog can not only help with these symptoms but also some of the causes! All the causes whose symptoms include fatigue or conditions leading to impaired mobility such as traumas, medical procedures, Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, etc. can be affected by a mobility service animal.

The mobility tasks that a service dog can perform are different and may include assisting a person to keep balance, pulling a wheelchair, providing support during dressing/undressing, helping an individual to go the stairs up/down, etc.

Environmental Tasks

As we have mentioned in other articles, environmental tasks is a generalized term, used to describe mobility tasks aimed at objects in the environment. 

For example, a dog can be trained to open and close doors, drawers, or cabinets, to hit the button of an elevator, to turn the lights on or off, to put the curtains up or down, etc.

An individual with neuropathy, who has limited mobility, sensory issues, and experiences muscle weakness or dizziness because of medication can benefit from those tasks.

Retrieve Tasks

These tasks can also be categorized as mobility type of task, but it is more specific and especially related to bringing items to a person with a health condition.

The most common retrieve tasks are bringing medication, a phone, or a dropped item back to the owner.

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks

There is no need to explain that if the condition is severe and a person dealing with it is in pain, regularly undergoes medical procedures, and is generally unable to live their life normally, this can drastically worsen the mental health of that person. 

Tasks such as Deep Pressure Therapy, tactile stimulation (i.e. nose-nudging, giving a kiss), helping the person find a safe place, finding an exit, alerting to anxiety episodes, and interrupting repetitive behaviors are common tasks for Psychiatric Service Dogs. These tasks can be helpful to people with various conditions including neuropathy.