Life-saving pets: Dogs that alert before seizures
Before 10-year-old Spencer Wyatt got his dog, Lucia, his mom had to get up every 30 minutes to check on him and keep a video camera running in her bedroom to monitor him for seizures. Spencer has epilepsy and is particularly prone to nocturnal seizures, which strike without warning while he sleeps. Today the family is much more relaxed thanks to Lucia, a specially trained seizure response dog who goes everywhere with Spencer. Lucia is just one of many service dogs who functions as an "alarm system" -- as the Epilepsy Foundation puts it -- for adults and children living with epilepsy. There isn't a lot of research yet into dogs and seizure disorder, but recently the journal Seizure published a review study showing that 9 of 29 people with epilepsy who owned dogs (or approximately 30 percent) reported that their dogs had alerted them to the onset of seizures.
There are actually two kinds of service dogs for seizure disorders: "Seizure response" dogs like Lucia alert others to their owners' seizures, while "seizure alert" or "seizure predicting" dogs are more specially trained to be on the alert for signs of an impending seizure. And of course, having a devoted dog by their side 24/7 helps those with seizure disorders feel safer and more secure.
Takeaway tip: If you already have a dog, it's possible to work with a trainer to teach your dog how to respond to a seizure, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, which offers information on seizure dogs. For a seizure alert dog, contact a qualified nonprofit organization such as Canine Assistants, the organization that trained Lucia, or 4 Paws for Ability.