The loving presence of an animal can make any day brighter, but for an epilepsy sufferer, the right service animal can be life-changing. Trained service animals, especially seizure-response dogs, can open up the world for their owners in a way that might not be possible any other way.
How Can a Seizure-Response Dog Help?
Seizure-response dogs, also called seizure-alert dogs, are professionally trained animals that have been given a special set of tools to help their owners deal with epileptic seizures. These dogs can help epilepsy patients be more independent by reducing the need for an ever-present human attendant, as well as by being a devoted, reassuring companion.
Trained-seizure response dogs have a very impressive set of skills:
- Seizure dogs can get help when a seizure happens. Seizure-response dogs are often trained to bark or get the attention of other people when their owners are having a seizure.
- Seizure dogs can prevent injury in the event of a seizure. Dogs are trained to lie close to the patient to help prevent injuries during the seizure. Some dogs are also trained to put themselves between the patient and the ground to help reduce the risk of injury from a fall.
- Seizure dogs can deliver high-tech help. Some dogs are trained to activate alarm devices to summon help when their owners are having a seizure. Others are trained to activate medical implants that help to manage seizures.
Want to see how a seizure-response dog can make a huge difference in an epilepsy patient’s life? Check out the video below:
What Can a Seizure-Predicting Dog Do?
Stories have long circulated about dogs who are somehow able to sense that their epilepsy-suffering owners are about to experience a seizure and to alert the owner of the oncoming seizure. While the stories are plentiful, the scientific explanation for these dogs’ astounding abilities has remained elusive. That doesn’t mean, however, that the stories aren’t true, and some researchers are enthusiastic about the promise that seizure-detecting dogs show.
In a 2003 study, researchers found that of 29 epilepsy study participants who owned dogs, nine of the dogs responded to seizures once they had begun, and three of the dogs seemed to be able to predict the onset of seizures before the seizure had actually started. Three doesn’t sound like a very big number, but the fact that more than ten percent of the dogs were able to predict seizures in advance is significant.
The study’s authors concluded that some dogs do, indeed, have the ability to predict seizures, and they encouraged further research to support the identification of seizure-predicting dogs and to help develop effective methods for training the dogs and their owners.
Service Animals as Companions
Aside from the amazing abilities of seizure-predicting and seizure-response dogs, service animals can help epilepsy patients in other ways, and the animal assistants don’t even have to be dogs. Research has shown that interaction with trained therapy animals can simply make patients feel better by easing depression, anxiety, and emotional stress, and by helping the patient to avoid the social isolation that sometimes comes along with epilepsy. Often a beloved family pet is as able to do the job as a professionally trained service animal is.
Choosing a Service Animal for Epilepsy
While the science behind the abilities of seizure-predicting dogs looks promising, researchers have not yet been able to determine exactly what makes some dogs able to detect the onset of a seizure in advance. Because of this uncertainty, there is no scientifically proven method for training a dog to be consistent in its seizure detection. There are, however, widely accepted methods for training seizure-response dogs.
If you’re considering buying a seizure dog from a trainer or enrolling your dog in a training program, the Epilepsy Foundation urges you to proceed with caution. Consider your decision carefully, and think about these guidelines as you decide:
- Be clear about what you want. If what you’re really looking for is a seizure-response animal, there are many training programs, some that are offered without charge, that will help you to train your animal to support you in the event of a seizure.
- Be wary of bold claims. Given the early state of the science of seizure detection, you should use caution if a trainer claims a high success rate for training seizure-predicting dogs or if the cost of the training program is high.
- Get the details. Find out precisely what the trainer is offering, including the wait time for an animal or the training program, the cost of the program, and any financial assistance that might be available.
- Make Use of Resources. There is online support that can help you find a service-animal training facility in your area.
The ideal service animal for you or loved one with epilepsy might be only a phone call away or, if you’re lucky, right beside you already.
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