The role of dogs in detecting seizures

I have been asked about this a couple of times at networking events, and that is the role of dogs, or the correctly termed  Seizure-Alert Dogs. It has evolved over the past  15-20 years, and the aim is for dogs to alert people with epilepsy of an oncoming seizure minutes or hours before they occur. This is where it seems the experts disagree to the effectiveness of their intended use.

It seems  the detection of an oncoming seizure is still a bit of a mystery as to how a dog can detect this and why. Some trainers and experts believe that they can detect subtle changes in a person’s behavior or scent before a seizure occurs. A 1998 study by Delziel, Uthman and colleagues at the university of Florida, that involved 29 dog owners who had epilepsy, of these nine reported that their dogs responded to a seizure and remained close to their human companion. This was done by the dog either standing or lying next the person during or immediately after the seizure. Of these dogs, three were reported to alert their human companion to an impending seizure.

Although this was a small study, this suggested that dogs can alert such behavior regardless of breed,age or gender. This study suggested that a dog is likely to alert a person if they have a certain type of seizure, and auras. However, Dr Gregory Krauss at the John Hopkins school of medicine suggests that many patients actually have Psychogenic Non-epileptic seizures (PNES) or events resembling a seizure, these aren’t caused by the characteristic electrical discharges that is associated with epilepsy. Therefore the Neurologist has incorrectly diagnosed the patient as having epilepsy.

A study by Adam Kirton in Calgary of families of children with epilepsy. who had seizure response dogs. Forty per cent of families reported that their dogs developed an ability to respond to a seizure. The families reported that about 20%  of their dogs showed alerted behavior prior to the children’s seizures.

The training of Seizure Alert dogs for people with seizure disorders, especially the training of dogs that are able to sense and alert to a person’s oncoming seizures, is still a new and evolving field.It is a challenging area where more research must be done to answer the questions about how and why some dogs have this ability, and determine a method to easily identify these dogs.