6 min read


Can Dogs Sense Bipolar Disorder?



6 min read


Can Dogs Sense Bipolar Disorder?


From extreme highs to the lowest of lows, the medical condition known as bipolar is a mental disorder afflicting many people in the world today. It’s a roller-coaster ride of mania and depression, where life is often difficult to navigate. 

Help is at hand with soft padded paws and a companionable attitude ready to step up. Our nurturing dogs are becoming assistance woofers for people with bipolar and other mental health issues. Dogs are likely to sense a person in emotional distress, as they are emotive creatures capable of understanding human feelings. The question is, can a dog sense bipolar disorder? Do you think it's possible they can?


Signs a Dog Could Sense Bipolar Disorder

Once again, mankind’s unique creation is on hand to help. Their commanding senses have given them the edge on humans and we’ve been quick to recognize their wonderful work ethic and put them in the service of people with bipolar and other mental disorders.

The Mighty shared a magical story of a young woman named Kelly who was diagnosed with bipolar but struggled, until she met an adorable rescue mutt named Henry. Their introduction was via family and it was evident from the start the two were going to hit it off. Whenever this fluffy, little pup would see his future owner, he would wag his tail and bestow kisses.

Eventually, Henry came to live with Kelly and her husband and started life as her emotional support dog. Having a wee pup in her life gave her focus and a reason to get out of bed. Henry’s unconditional love changed things for Kelly and although there are dark days, they are made so much easier because of this intuitive little dog. Did Henry sense his pet mom's mental state or was it just kismet? 

Service dogs can be trained to help people with bipolar and other mental issues. They can sense chemical changes in the body that can preclude a panic attack or manic state. A dog's response is to lean against their companion or place their head in the person's lap. If things get worse, they are trained to bring a mobile phone to their handler, or dial 911.

Just the simple petting of a dog can lift a mood, as these gregarious doggies have the X-factor when it comes to making humans feel good. If a dog is by your side through a manic episode, that can precipitate hallucinations, delusions and even seizures, as the impact of their loyal presence will help you stay in the here and now. 

A woofer trained to help people with bipolar will alert them if they have forgotten to take their medication and let their companion know if a manic or depressive event is about to begin. A dog might nudge the person, whine, bark, or play-bow to get their attention. Bipolar can make a person drowsy, so their vigilant pup will show them if there’s someone at the door or a smoke alarm has gone off.

A psychiatric service dog can also help their handler to stay mobile when medication causes them to feel dizzy or unbalanced. Walks in the park are a great stress reliever - and a chance for a support dog to get outdoors. If they are at a cafe or walking around the stores, a service pup is required to behave at all times.They'll guard their handler by keeping them close.

Dogs seem to instinctively know when a human is in trouble. Is it a sixth sense or do they have an innate ability to tune into our emotions? They will rescue people without a thought for their own safety and hold the torch of hope when their handler has bipolar.

Body Language

Signs a dog might sense bipolar include things like:<br/>

  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Guarding
  • Wag Tail
  • Pacing
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

More signs a dog can sense bipolar include:<br/>

  • Comforting Their Person
  • Laying Close By
  • Encouraging Their Owner To Go Out
  • Sensing Chemical Changes In The Body

History of Emotional Support Dogs


The history of mental disorders goes back a long way, with recognition in Egypt of depression around 1550BC. Hospitals for the mentally impaired were places of abuse, as the ignorance of mankind saw people with dementia, learning disabilities, and a range of mental issues locked away. 

The 1800’s saw the invention of psychiatry followed by the regulation of institutions referred to as The Mad House. The word "depression" emerged in the late 1800’s as people of science explored possible cures. The 1900’s breathed new life into old thinking with Sigmund Freud’s school of psychotherapy. There were advances in medication until 1838 when shock treatment was introduced. The twentieth century was an era of discovery as scientists learned more about the human brain and conjured up medications to suit individual mental disorders.

According to Very Well Mind, it was in the 1950’ when the term "bipolar" was first mentioned and by 1980 “manic depression,” was changed to bipolar.

Looking back, its clear people with psychiatric problems were the outcasts of society. Today in a 21st-century landscape, there is some empathy and a willingness to help.

When wolves and early man made an honor pact, who would have known their doggy-descendants would one day become psychiatric service dogs helping people with bipolar.

In the 1880’s civil war, therapy dogs were enlisted to help soldiers with morale, and again in World War ll. In 1975 Canine Companions For Independence was formed, followed by Therapy Dogs International in 1976, after a nurse saw the positive effects a Golden Retriever had on patients at the hospital where she worked. 

Science Behind Dogs Sensing Bipolar Disorder


Dogs are getting great press for their support of people with mental disorders and according to Psychiatry, can reduce anxiety and loneliness while promoting safety and self-esteem.

Hanging out with a dog is good for your mental health as it releases the love hormone named oxytocin, making you feel calm, with the added bonus of decreasing your blood pressure and heart rate. It’s a stress buster and helps tone down aggressive tendencies.

Science Mag reveals our woofers also possess this loved-up hormone and get a buzz when they gaze into the eyes of their owners. A study at the Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan found the oxytocin level in the mutts rose 130 percent throughout the eye-gazing experiment.

Imagine the benefits this interplay has on a person in the throes of a manic bipolar episode. A dog could bring their handler back from a frightening event.

Dogs understand emotions, which are why they make such wonderful service dogs for people with bipolar. Hallucinations, paranoia, and self-harming can be kept in check by a trained dog the person cares about.

A study featured on Clinical Psychiatry News verified that dogs have a positive impact on people suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar.

Training Psychiatric Service Dogs


Emotional support dogs often have no training, but instead, a natural empathy that helps their owners deal with bipolar.

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to support people through the emotional turmoil of mental illness. These woofers offer 24/7 care and do everything from waking their handlers up to calling for emergency help. Their tasks are varied and challenging.

It can take up to 1-2 years to create a certified Psychiatric Service Dog that performs duties in the home and keeps their companion safe in public. Some clever canines are able to use a K9 pre-programmed phone if they sense their handler needs more help than they can provide.

There are preferred psychiatric dog breeds according to Service Dog Society. The top guns for this job are Poodles, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers

Learning to sit, heel, come, wait and stay are the essential training basics and once these are achieved, a PSD (Psychiatric Service Dog ) moves onto the next phase. At this point, the dog is usually matched with their new handler and their specific needs are taken into account. PSD dogs are taught to impede a panic attack - to help their handler through an emotional episode and check rooms to show them everything is okay. The real and imagined can be a terrifying experience for a person with this mental illness.

Bipolar can take a person to the heights of euphoria and then to the depths of depression, so a PSD pooch has to know how to help their handler through these turbulent mood swings.

The American Kennel Club tells us service dogs are completely handler-orientated and must be oblivious to distractions when they are out with their companion. They are highly trained canines as opposed to therapy dogs, such as an “Emotional Support Dog,” that can be the family pup. These pooches need to have a calm, friendly disposition and be at ease in all situations, in the home and out in the world.

Having a Psychiatric Service Dog allows a person with bipolar to feel safe and live a reasonably independent life. Their pup is with them at all times, offering a great deal of comfort and support.

The Mighty shares an inspiring story of a person with Bipolar and how her dog, Maverick, helped the sun to shine again. Mavericks’ pet-mom explains the suffocating effects of anxiety made easier by the presence of her white dog. Maverick has no service dog training but instinctively seems to know when his companion is experiencing the manic effects of bipolar.

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Written by a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 04/10/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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