Can Dogs Sense Seizures?

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Introduction

Dogs are lovable, instinctive creatures that continue to surprise us with their profound abilities. Step back in time to the dark days for dogs as unenlightened folks spread the gospel that they were running on impulse and devoid of heart and soul. Guardians to these endearing pooches knew different and like the wave of change in the 60’s, this century has seen a change in attitude toward our dear, furry friends. 

Turn on the TV and you’ll see dogs working with local police, and you'll hear the amazing news that they are able to detect seizures. This must be a relief for those who have no way of knowing when a seizure may happen. Their dog does, and gets them ready for the onset.

Introduction of Can Dogs Sense Seizures?

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Signs a Dog can Detect Seizures

It’s the middle of the night and you’re awoken by your pooch licking your face. They gently raise their paw and prod you, the whole time wagging their tail. Their furrowed brow shows concern as this dog is trained to help their owner prepare for a seizure. While the event is in motion, your dog continues to lick your face, helping to clear your airways and then guide you through the aftermath, or "post-cycle" stage.

How does a dog know someone with epilepsy is going to have a seizure? This remarkable skill not only warns a person in advance, but offers a comforting paw throughout the episode.

According to Epilepsy, seizures are highly unpredictable and can last a few moments, with warning signs including numbness, headaches, different tastes and smells, plus feelings of detachment, memory loss, daydreaming, or spasmodic body movements.

These are the triggers that a “Seizure Alert Dog” might pick up on as they go on high alert to prepare their companion for a seizure. A dog is likely to jump up, whine, whimper, or play-bow just to get their companion's attention.

Meet a Golden Labrador named Poppy, featured on Woman's Day. Her pet-mom has epilepsy and Poppy knows to stare at her guardian around 15 minutes before an episode. Some seizure dogs are trained to dial 911 and with approximately three or so million people in the U.S. suffering from epileptic seizures, these dogs are considered a godsend.

Nova Net shares the story of Angel, a legendary Labrador who barks as a pre-warning that Hunter, a seven-year-old boy, is about to have a seizure. This gives his mom time to prepare her son.

Seizure alert dogs offer companionship and care to people whose lives are often limited by not knowing when seizures will occur. Dogs are tuned to human body cues and can detect subtle changes in their body chemistry. Sex hormones (estrogen) can play their part in inducing seizures, so a dog could sniff the hormonal variance as they do when detecting cancer.

Scientists have proven our Sherlock pooches are aware of facial expressions and can sense our emotion and mood. There are plenty of signs to let a bright-eyed pup know a seizure is imminent.

Body Language

Signs a dog can predict a seizure include:
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Jumping up
  • Whimpering
  • Paw raised
  • Licking
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

Other signs a dog can perceive a seizure are:
  • Pawing
  • Smelling changes in hormones
  • Body movements
  • Facial expressions
  • Changes in a persons mood

History of Dogs Detecting Seizures

History of Can Dogs Sense Seizures?

To understand the unique ability of a dog to sense seizures, we need to check out their wolf ancestors and see what talents they possess. For starters, wolves have an impeccable sense of smell that's over 100 times stronger than ours. This extraordinary skill allows them to perceive prey and other wolves in the distance - all while collecting data on their age and gender. This gives wolves the heads up on their environment and any animals within a 1.75-mile radius.

Seizures give off a ton of signals and dogs, with their sniffing gift from wolves, would be aware of variances in a person's hormones. You could say dogs have x-ray vision with their noses as they sniff for drugs, human remains, minerals, cancer, and missing people.

After living with us for thousands of years, they’ve learned a thing or two about the way we express our emotions and move our bodies. Dogs seem to love us and are interested in our physical and emotional well-being. Dr. doggies are training as cancer consultants and medical alert dogs. There are also stories of pups knowing their pet-moms were pregnant. They’ve been in the service of man since the day wolves got the nerve up to say hello to humans. Since then, they’ve hunted, herded, and helped police keep the cities safe.

With the advent of service dogs for the blind and deaf, the inspiration was there for people to see if dogs could be in partnership with people suffering medical conditions. Some say woofers have a sixth sense that enables them to predict the onset of a seizure, as you can't train a pooch to do this.

That’s the word from the creator of "Canine Seizure Assist Society of North Carolina", founded in 1996. According to The Charlotte Observer,  Sharon Hermansen trains dogs to help people with seizure disorders. She includes scent training and says all the dogs she’s coached have been able to alert their companions before a seizure occurs. This is not down to her training but something a dog is able to do naturally.


The Science of Dogs Sensing Seizures

Science of Can Dogs Sense Seizures?

Our fun, fancy, and fashionable mutts have science on their side with studies proving they have emotions and can detect illness.

Humans have become their closest kin and research has shown they prefer our company more than time spent with their own kind. They are Judge Judy when it comes to recognizing a faker and have a sense of justice similar to ours. We’ve been with them for a while now, and it shows. They are genetically intertwined and have a few tricks behind their collar, including that sense of smell.

For years, dogs have been predicting seizures, but now Mew Science has put a label on it. Research headed by a neurologist at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Canada agrees that dogs can detect seizures. Sixty dogs were involved, with 15% of them warning a child they were about to have a seizure. Other neurologists think a dog is grabbing the scent from the changes in a person's body.

Dogs can be trained to identify a scent and that’s how sniffer-dogs can know the difference between cocaine, marijuana, or amphetamine drugs. They are being trained to detect various kinds of cancer and can detect low blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Sniffer pups are detecting mineral ore, termites and black market DVD’s. The olfactory system in a pooch is super-dynamic and is capable of sniffing another planet. Why would we think for one second they are not picking up the scent of a seizure!

Training Seizure Alert Dogs

Training of Can Dogs Sense Seizures?

Canine Partners for Life tells us their dogs go through two years of obedience and service training before being assessed for their role in helping people who have seizures.

These days, pooches are selected for their natural ability to sense when a seizure will happen. Other duties involve staying with a person during the event to avoid injury and getting help if needed. These hero dogs are trained to turn lights on and off, open doors, get medication, plus dial emergency numbers if required. Training is performed with positive reinforcement, using clicker- or treat-based programs. Labradors appear to be the dog of choice, possibly for their family-friendly attitude and willingness to learn.

You really have to take your hat off to dogs that support people with seizures, as they can be really scary. Throughout an episode, the dogs keep a cool head and always give their best. They go above and beyond the call of duty as service dogs, showing a dignity not always seen in humans.

The American Kennel Club acknowledges this canine caregiver and points out there are two types of seizure dogs. The response seizure pup does not necessarily predict the oncoming of a seizure, although they are trained in the necessary tasks. A seizure alert woofer performs the miracle of sounding the alarm by pawing, barking, or licking a person. The two can be also combined, to create a fostering friend that predicts and looks after a person who has epilepsy.

Most service dogs are allowed in public places but are expected to adhere to the International Association of Assistant Dog Partners ( IAADP). The certification offers the minimum training standard for public access and ensuring all service dogs are welcome in stores, hotels, restaurants, air travel, and public transport. The criterion is strict and a dog must be at a high level of training to pass.

It is possible to train a dog to meet your needs if a strong bond is already in place. Basic obedience is a must, plus enrolling in a local “Canine Good Citizen Class” will ensure they have doggy etiquette in public places.

A relaxed temperament is ideal so your pooch stays calm through an actual seizure. It's essential to form a super-close connection, enabling them to get in tune with you and your medical issues. A dog trainer could be of help and is likely to work with a method called associative learning, so a pooch equates a seizure with something nice. A trainer will work with your woofer when they start signaling a seizure by barking or pawing. They can teach the dog to be consistent with how they show you it’s time to find a safe place to be.

How to React When Your Dog Predicts a Seizure:

  • Find a comfortable bed or chair.
  • Keep your dog close.
  • Pet your dog to keep them relaxed.
  • Play soothing music.
  • Praise them for helping you.
  • Share your story - it will help others.