A few days ago, we published a post that explained the unique, cost effective health care benefits of using dogs in hospitals. The dogs that we mentioned literally sniff out recent bacterial infections in hospital patients. Such a measure goes a long way in securing entire wards from infection by stopping a patient 0 from spreading the bug. On a related note, dogs are even being used as life saving medical aides by many people at home. Specifically, dogs may even have the olfactory power to alert both owner and others in the vicinity to an impending epileptic seizure.
Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in our country, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. This is an issue that affects 2.2 million Americans, not to mention about 65 million people worldwide. For the people that suffer from the condition, day to day life can be intimidating, as patients can be unaware of seizure about to occur. This can be debilitating, such as when the seizures are prevalent in some patients throughout the day. It can be difficult to anticipate the consequences of a seizure, since a temporary loss of consciousness during a seizure might cause a person to sustain trauma during a fall.
Thankfully, there are dogs like Mindy, a big white sheepdog that belongs to 9 year old author, Evan Moss. Evan Moss has epilepsy, which prompted him to write a book about how the disorder affects him. Evan claims that right before he is about to experience a seizure, Mindy barks frantically and alerts the child’s parents. The parents are then able to administer an anticonvulsant to Evan, before their son begins to exhibit symptoms of a seizure. Many owners of seizure-alert dogs believe from their own experience that the dogs sense seizures before they occur. Do the dogs simply pick up on highly subtle visual clues (training for these dogs can lead to a $10k-$13k price tag), or are they able to smell tiny changes in neurochemistry prior to their owners’ seizures?
A 1998 study from the University of Florida does not answer this question conclusively. Out of 29 epileptic subjects (all dog owners), only 9 of the subjects’ dogs had a reaction to their owners’ seizures. However, 3 of those 9 dogs began having this reaction directly before the onset of the seizures. The study acknowledges that it is unknown currently why these dogs were able to react ahead of time. Are these dogs actually sensing changes in the brain? Researchers believe that those 3 owners may simply be more effective communicators, signaling more-than-subtle visual cues prior to their episodes.
Regardless of how these dogs are able to sense their owners’ seizures, it is indisputable that they add a level of comfort and safety to their owners. At the very least, dogs trained for this type of service are able to alert others around their owner of potential danger. If they are able to alert their owner ahead of time, then the owner is able to use those precious extra seconds to steady him or herself, have a seat, and retrieve the proper medicine. This issue further underlines the potential applications for man’s best friend, beyond just being a best friend that is.