How Do Dogs Save People From Seizures?

by Simon Foden Google
Alert dogs are trained to bark on detecting the onset of a seizure.

Alert dogs are trained to bark on detecting the onset of a seizure.

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Dogs have many incredible abilities and help humans in a number of ways. Abilities such as guarding and hunting, were encouraged by humans during the domestication process. But the humble dog never stopped coming up with ways to impress us. A more recent development in the canine arsenal is the ability to detect seizures.

Early Warning System

The scientific community has yet to figure out exactly how some dogs are able to tell a person is about to suffer a seizure. The most likely reasons include the dog detecting a subtle change in the person’s chemical makeup, which leads to a change in the person's scent profile, or the dog detecting a subtle change in the person’s behavior. Some dogs, whether specially trained or not, will become agitated when they detect the onset of a seizure. One domestic pooch with no training was so good at anticipating the onset of seizures in his 3-year-old pal that he was able to position himself to act as a cushion when she fell over.

Seizure Alert Dog

When a dog is properly trained as a seizure alert dog, his ability to anticipate the onset of a seizure can enable sufferers to prepare and take precautions, such as moving to a safe place, taking medication or calling for help. Not all dogs can be trained to alert someone of an impending seizure. The dog must have an innate instinct for alerting behavior, such as butting, barking or pawing. It takes a trainer to train a seizure alert dog and the overall cost can be more than $20,000. Fewer than 20 organizations train seizure dogs in the United States. Some charitable organizations will donate seizure alert dogs to patients. The reliability of seizure alert dogs has not been proven conclusively and some trainers therefore decline to describe their dogs as "alert" dogs and instead call them seizure "response" dogs.

Preventing Injury

Some seizure alert dogs are more “paws on.” As well as warning their owners of an impending episode, they can be trained to position themselves between the seizure victim and hard surfaces, to break the fall and prevent injury. Charlie, the Great Dane who helps his 3-year-old friend Brianna, has learned to position himself by her side and acts as a buffer between her and any hard surfaces.

Assisting with Recovery

The degree to which a seizure alert dog is trained varies according to the needs of the owner. Some need simply to bark when they detect a seizure coming, while others assist in other ways. Seizure alert assistance dogs can be trained to put a seizure victim into the recovery position by rolling them onto their left side, to fetch medicine and to alert other people to the fact that their owner has had a seizure. As well as these practical benefits, seizure alert dogs provide comfort and familiarity to a person as they recover from a seizure.

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