Navigating Epilepsy: The Road Ahead

Seizure Dogs

Maked superhero dog on lookoutThere has been a lot of research to show that pets and animals can cause a positive impact on the lives of their owners. There are also a number of health care facilities that allow therapy animals on grounds to work with their clients. Recently I was speaking with a family of a child with epilepsy who had a seizure dog. This family found that the dog was not only a great addition to their family but also a valuable intervention for their child with epilepsy. This lead me to research what exactly constitutes a seizure dog designation. The following entry is a collection of information that I was able to put together from various sources.
Here is how the epilepsy foundation website define a seizure dog and it’s role:
The term “seizure dog” covers a variety of activities associated with a service dog’s response to an epileptic seizure. Some dogs have been trained to bark or otherwise alert families when a child has a seizure while playing outside or in another room. Some dogs learn to lie next to someone having a seizure to prevent injury. Others are said to be able to activate alarm systems. Dogs that are trained to respond in various ways when someone has a seizure are no different from service dogs for other disabilities. Public interest in seizure assistance dogs has fueled demand for dogs with these skills. Some people with epilepsy have found that trained seizure dogs help them with securing speedy assistance when a seizure occurs or alerting others for help. Dogs can be trained as service animals for people with seizures and the law protects a person’s right to use the animal in any public place.
The organization Paws 4 Ability provided the following information from their website:
Seizure alerting behavior is a naturally occurring behavior in some dogs. It is thought that perhaps 20% of dogs placed with a person who has seizures may naturally alert.
One way to explain how this works is to discuss housebreaking. When you bring a new puppy home, you can’t say to the puppy, “When you have to go outside, run in a circle three times so I will know you need to go.” What we do is to watch the puppy closely, after a period of time the person will learn to “read” the dog’s nonverbal behavior, indicating the need to go outside. For instance, the owner begins to notice that every time the puppy runs in circles, they then proceed to “Go potty.”
Eventually, the owner will let the puppy outside immediately after observing this behavior and no further accidents occur in the home. This is the same principle as understanding how dogs alert to seizures. If the dog is able to make the connection between the chemical changes he senses and the occurrence of seizures, he may begin to act in a certain way when these changes begin.
For example, they may come and stare at the owner, or they may begin barking and/or even nipping at their owners. Eventually people who seize realize that every time their dog barks madly and nips at them they will have a seizure and they will begin to prepare themselves for the seizure before it actually starts.

The one thing scientists have been able to come to an agreement on is that the dog smells a chemical body change on the person just prior to and during a seizure. While many believe it is not possible to train seizure alert here at 4 Paws we can and do! We have developed a program at 4 Paws to work with children who have very frequent, obvious seizures. We have seen some great success with this training and have noticed that more dogs begin to alert the seizures with the training than without.
So no matter what the exact definition and role of the animal in the home it is clear, based on the reviews of many happy families and patients, seizure dogs are a welcome addition to the family! Some would even argue that any pet would be a positive influence. So as the “dog days of summer” are upon us it may be time to think about the addition of a furry friend into your family….

But of course before adopting any animal please be sure to do extensive research and also determine if you and your family are ready to commit to caring for another living creature!

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