Family dog warns of child’s epileptic seizure

An Irish family has said their pet dog is helping to protect their three-year-old daughter by warning them when she is about to have an epileptic seizure.

BBC News – Pet dog Charlie ‘can predict toddler’s epileptic fit’.

The Lynch family, from County Clare, believe their Great Dane, Charlie, can sense changes in their child up to 20 minutes before she has a fit.

Brianna Lynch has epilepsy since birth.

Her family said Charlie will alert them by walking in circles around Brianna. He also gently pins her against a wall to stop her from falling during a fit.

The dog shows a very noticeable response about 20 minutes before an episode. Does he know and how does he know? It’s not clear but there is some data that shows some dogs can pick up subtle cues of seizures, low blood sugar and cancer. These are debatable because testing has not been thorough. There is a plausible mechanism for the blood sugar levels.

Dr Guest said it had been established that dogs could detect human odour changes in cancer and diabetes patients but said it was not yet clear how some dogs could predict epileptic fits.

Again, only SOME dogs. This is what makes it even more difficult to study. It is a very interesting story but it’s not clear that he does this every time or if he misses some or gives false alarms. Regardless, he really is part of the family and is protective. Amazing that we have animals that behave like this. Remarkable.

Your thoughts on this story? Extra info is welcome. References requested.
guard dog

Tip: CJ @SpaceBoy5000 on Twitter

  8 comments for “Family dog warns of child’s epileptic seizure

  1. Richard
    October 15, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    One of my friends has epilepsy, and their yappy little miniature poodle seems to be able to warn when Bill is going to have a tonic-clonic seisure. She will get next to him and make a distinctive whining noise (similar to her “I need to go outside” whine but different)

  2. Gereon
    October 15, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    Some cases of epileptic seizures involve higher levels of ammoniac in the blood, which can be picked up by a dog pretty early. A friend of mine was able to train a dog to use a butler’s bell to alert the neighbours, when his owner was about to have a seizure

  3. Chris Howard
    October 15, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    Yep, I have tonic-clonic and apparently my three boxers are very attentive a few minutes before an episode.

    It’s difficult to measure because I’ve only had two seizures in the last four years so there isn’t a good representation, much less a baseline.

    If it is true, my guess would be subtle changes in body chemistry that dogs with good olfactory (working/hunting breeds) can pick up on?

    Tyrone, the cat, could care less one way or the other. ;-)

  4. Chris Howard
    October 15, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Ummm and if that isn’t the cutest picture ever, you have no heart. ;-)

  5. Blargh
    October 15, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    Subtle behavioural cues (e.g. body language, tics) are also an option. Dogs (and some of our other most domesticated animals) are really good at picking those up (Clever Hans effect, etc).

  6. Cathy
    October 15, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    I have heard of medical care dogs being given to people with epilepsy to help with their care. Cannot provide any evidence though, sorry.

  7. eddi
    October 16, 2013 at 5:09 AM

    Even if the big lug’s not 100% on detecting, he’s still better than not knowing in advance all the time. And a false alarm hurts nothing. This is one of those cases where “I have no idea how” is an honest and adequate answer. Someday some new sensor or test will show what Charlie and the other dogs are sensing and everyone will go “of course, that’s simple”.

    And that picture belongs in the Squee section of Cheezeburger.com.

  8. October 20, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    In 2010, The Telegraph reported a similar story about a seizure-sniffing dog in Sheffield. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7898865/Dogs-predict-epileptic-seizures-and-warn-owners.html)

    There were also some studies a few years ago about an enzyme in dog saliva that can help lessen or stop seizures in some epileptics before they begin. What happens is the dog can somehow sense or tell that the person is about to have a seizure, long before the individual starts to recognize an aura, and then tries to lick the person’s face. The lick both warns the person, and an enzyme in the canine saliva triggers some kind of hormonal reaction in the person that can help curb the seizure.

    I really wish I could find some links on the dog-licking study, but my tentative google search just keeps turning up material on canine epilepsy, not canines helping with human epilepsy.

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