We’ve all heard the stories about dogs saving people’s lives, but is this really true?  Well, yes, it is! Seizure detecting dogs can sense seizures up to 45 minutes before they happen and provide life-saving support! This reaction time is giving patients the freedom to live fuller, happier lives with the help of their canine companions!

For a long time, there has been anecdotal evidence that dogs can detect seizures in humans far before the actual symptoms of a seizure set in. In fact, there are organizations who have been training seizure response dogs to do just that for a while now.

It wasn’t until recently that scientists were able to confirm that yes, indeed, dogs are able to use their remarkable sense of smell to detect seizures before they happen. But what makes that even more remarkable, is that we don’t quite understand what they are smelling just yet!

Let’s explore what we know, and how we can all learn to appreciate our best friends a little more.

Knowing Us Better Than We Know Ourselves

Domesticated dogs have been around for a long while — about 20,000 to 40,000 years. 1 So, suffice to say, generations of breeding have made them acutely attuned to humans.

And it’s these human-centered adaptations that allow us to find ways to communicate with them and train them so well. Combined with their more ancient senses like smell, they are capable of being highly attuned to us. Perhaps more so than our closest (human) loved ones.

Service alert dogs for seizures, diabetes, PTSD, anxiety, and depression allow their handlers to lead higher qualities of life. And in some cases, perform life-saving tasks.

People who experience seizures may black out, become distracted or confused, lose control of their movements, and experience injuries from falls as a result of them. But that’s where the dogs come in!

Seizure response dogs can sense that their handler will have a seizure up to 45 minutes before it occurs. This allows owners to reach a safe place, take medication, or seek out help ahead of time! During and after a seizure, trained dogs can also provide comfort to handlers. Even learning to bring them medications or a cellphone so they have what they need on hand.

Let’s begin by diving into the science of what we know is happening here with this great piece from Science Insider!

Science Insider is a great place to learn about breakthroughs in science! They explain things in ways that are entertaining and easy to understand. If you enjoy getting lost in the wonders of modern science, this is the place for you.

If you’re interested in learning more about Medical Mutts (a US-based company) and Handi’Chien (Based in France), jump over and check out their websites. Medical Mutts helps train dogs for a wide range of service needs. They can be a great starting point for you or a loved one if you are interested in seeing if a service dog is right for you.

The Deep Impact of a Service Dog

It’s remarkable to learn about the lives these service dogs are changing. Seizure dog owners report having less anxiety, more positive morale and confidence, and increased feelings of independence and safety. 3

In one study, 100% of participants reported a higher quality of life with a seizure response dog (82% major, 18% moderate). 4

To give you a better sense of what life with a seizure dog looks like and the kind of remarkable things they are capable of, we have a great piece to share with you from Eukanuba Europe. It takes a look at the life of Christine and her dog Maybe and is an incredibly moving piece about the freedom these dogs can give back to their owners.

Thousands of Years Working Together

Whether or not you are a dog person, it’s incredible to see what thousands of years of working together has done for the bond between humans and dogs. There are few other animals that mean so much to so many people. In studying the ways we interact with them we not only appreciate this bond more but are able to unlock deeper understandings of ourselves.

In the case of seizures, studying what the dogs are sensing could help us better understand and prevent them from happening. Using their instincts could help us unlock knowledge of our own.

What more is there to learn from how we’ve learned to interact with animals? How can we come to appreciate the fascinating things that are happening in the space between our world and theirs?

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  1. Daley, Jason. “New Study Has a Bone to Pick With Dog Domestication Findings.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 19 July 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/study-suggests-dogs-were-domesticated-once-40000-years-ago-180964101/. Accessed 15 May 2019.
  2. Science Insider. “How Dogs Sniff Out Seizures.” YouTube, Science Insider, 3 Apr. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWMeyk7A3l8. Accessed 14 May 2019.
  3. Medical Mutts. “Seizure Alert Dogs.” Medical Mutts, www.medicalmutts.org/seizure-alert-dogs. Accessed 15 May 2019.
  4. Kirton, A, et al. “Seizure Response Dogs: Evaluation of a Formal Training Program.” Epilepsy & Behavior : E&B, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18595778. Accessed 15 May 2019.
  5. EukanubaEurope. “Dogs That Detect Epileptic Seizures – Part 2 | Extraordinary Dogs.” YouTube, EukanubaEurope, 21 May 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_Pt9Cjj9JQ. Accessed 14 May 2019.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

CEO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at Ever Widening Circles. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV