Dogs predicting seizures are not new, but they are remarkable. According to an Animal Planet article, the science of predicting seizures is yet another reason dogs are truly man's best friend.
Whether seizures are caused by epilepsy or other neurological conditions, involuntary seizures can cause significantly less damage if the individual knows in advance that a seizure is imminent. This allows time to move to a safe area without sharp objects that could cause secondary injuries from falls associated with a seizure. Assistance dogs include seizure alert dogs (to sense and warn of upcoming seizures) and seizure response dogs (to provide assistance during and after a seizure). According to the Animal Planet article, many medical professionals believe there are dogs with the ability to predict seizures, but are wary of relying on them 100 percent.
Owners of seizure alert dogs report that their canine companions typically begin warning them of impending seizures anywhere from 30 seconds to 45 minutes prior to an episode. Each dog has its own style of alerting, including pawing, barking, circling and making close eye contact. Seizure response dogs have even been known to lie down next to or on top of the person having a seizure, providing their owners comfort and preventing unintentional injury.
How do they do it?
Because they are sensitive to subtle physical and biological cues most humans don't notice, dogs are ideal companions to alert an individual of impending seizure activity. One popular theory is that a dog's superior sense of smell helps to predict an imminent seizure. Others believe that dogs are more sensitive to body language than humans, so they can pick up on tiny changes in behavior and movement that occur prior to seizures.
According to the Canine Assistants websites, they train seizure response dogs as follows:
"Following general training, seizure response dogs are trained to perform one of the following behaviors, depending on the recipient's need: remain next to the person during the course of a seizure, summon help in a controlled environment, or retrieve a phone prior to the seizure when indicated by the recipient. Certain dogs may even develop the ability to predict and react in advance to an oncoming seizure once they are placed with their recipient."
The bottom line?
If you or someone you know is susceptible to seizure activity, research the possibility of an assistance dog to help provide benefits far beyond companionship. It may mean the difference between life and death.