Science Questions

How do dogs detect human seizures before they occur?

Sun, 27th Jul 2008

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Question

David Cherry asked:

How do dogs detect human seizures before they occur?

Answer

Kat -  This is a really interesting one because there’s anecdotal evidence that dogs can detect when someone’s going to have an epileptic fit.  There’s also a lot of evidence that actually they don’t.  In some cases where people are having seizures that aren’t genuine epilepsy but are brought on by psychological states, there’s some worry that dogs behaving in a certain way might actually cause them to have a seizure when they wouldn’t normally.

There are some dogs that are being trained to look after people with epilepsy once they’ve had a fit.  For example, by bringing them a blanket or getting help anmd making an alert.  If there is any truth in how dogs may detect fits before they happen maybe they’re picking up something in the changes in their owner’s behaviour.  There’s really very little really solid evidence about it.  It may be more the partnership.  If you have a dog for a long time they get to know what you’re like and what you do.

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David Cherry asked the Naked Scientists: Our local paper recently featured a story about a dog that was able to detect a child's grand mal seizures before they happened. I would like to know how dogs are able to do that. Dave Cherry Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA What do you think? David Cherry , Sun, 13th Jul 2008

The dog could be detecting changes the composition or quantity of scent produced by the person in the very early stages of a seizure. RD, Tue, 15th Jul 2008

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