questions and answers

Where did the idea of a dog helping a person having a seizure begin?

The idea that dogs may be able to respond to a seizure or warn someone before a seizure has become more popular in recent years. The idea started when people with epilepsy reported a change in their pet dog’s behavior when they were having a seizure. People shared that their dog would bark or find someone to help when a seizure happened. Some people even described changes in their dog’s behavior that would happen before a seizure started.

Is there a difference between service dogs and seizure dogs?

Seizure dogs that are specifically trained to help someone who is having a seizure are a type of service dog. Other words to describe these animals include:

  • Seizure alert dogs
  • Seizure response dogs
  • Seizure assistance dogs
  • Seizure dogs

Over time, two types of specially trained service dogs have been most commonly described.

Seizure Response Dog

This type of dog is trained to perform specific behaviors during or after a seizure. This might include barking to alert family members when someone is having a seizure or activating a call system. Other dogs may learn to lie next to the person having a seizure to comfort or protect them.

Seizure Alert Dog

This type of dog may demonstrate specific behaviors before a seizure. These behaviors may imply that a seizure alert dog can anticipate a person’s seizures. While it is true that some dogs seem to be able to sense their owner’s seizures before they start, this is rare and more research is needed to understand and verify what is happening.

Is there evidence to support a trained seizure dog can help?

At this time, there is no strong scientific evidence about the ability of a dog to predict or respond to seizures. However, similar to service dogs trained for people with other disabilities, it is possible to train a dog to respond to many different types of events. There is some scientific evidence that dogs can sense the emotions of the people they live with.

It is possible to train a dog to respond to almost anything. However, larger well planned studies need to be done for there to be scientific evidence to support this ability or observation. Unfortunately, that level of information about seizure dogs is not available at this time.

A small recent study suggested that dogs can be trained to recognize a scent that may occur with a seizure.

  • We look forward to chemical analyses that will identify the nature of these odors and to robust randomized, controlled trials demonstrating that dogs can be trained to use this ability in a way that improves the quality of life of people with epilepsy.
  • This study does not change or impact how we think about the science of seizure dogs.
  • It is an interesting study, however, and will hopefully spur more research!
  • We know dogs have incredible sensory abilities. More research may help show how those sensing skills can reliably benefit people with different medical conditions, including epilepsy.

Even if a dog cannot predict a seizure, they can provide valuable companionship, support, and emotional benefit. This can be a major benefit to people who have epilepsy or another chronic illness.

Read Personal Stories

Can my pet be trained as a seizure dog?

Most dogs do not have the natural ability or temperament to be a service dog or a seizure dog. There are some anecdotal reports that family pets may learn to respond or alert to seizures before or after they occur. However, there have been no strong scientific studies done that look at EEG (electroencephalogram) changes and the accuracy of a dog’s responses. Many different breeds of dogs can be trained as service dogs, but not all.

 

man in pool with service dog
 

Should I ask my doctor or nurse about seizure dogs?

Yes. It is always a good idea to speak with your doctor or nurse when you have questions about anything related to your seizures and your safety - including seizure dogs! Your medical team can share their thoughts about how a seizure dog may or may not be able to help with your type of seizures.

Are seizure dogs allowed in public places?

U.S. government agencies, businesses and nonprofit groups that serve the public must allow service animals to accompany their partners. Exceptions may include when a public area needs to be kept sterile for safety or medical reasons. Staff in public places can ask what service your dog provides. You do not have to provide any written documentation.

Service dogs and their partners should be treated the same way anyone else in a public setting is treated - with respect, courtesy and kindness. Service dog owners have a responsibility to the public as well. If you have a service dog, it is your responsibility to make sure they are under control and house broken. State laws will vary and you should be familiar with the laws in your state.

 

small service dog with badge
 
Authored By: 
Elaine Kiriakopoulos MD, MSc
Authored Date: 
04/2019
Reviewed By: 
Andres M. Kanner MD
Elaine Wirrell MD
on: 
Wednesday, April 10, 2019