2017: Can Dogs Predict Epileptic Seizures

03 July 2017
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Can dogs predict epileptic seizures?


Neil Powell, School of Psychology, Queens University Belfast. Supervised by Prof Peter Hepper.


€2,500 for one year, part supporting the study which will run until 2020.


The aim of the study is to examine whether untrained family pet dogs are able to predict epileptic seizures and to identify the trigger mechanisms used.


  • To assess reported claims, using a purpose designed questionnaire survey, that some family dogs display warning behaviours prior to impending epileptic seizures in their owners. 
  • To capture video evidence of such behaviours in dogs using a combination of voluntary home video recordings and 10 controlled single case study video recordings, conducted at Queen's University Belfast.
  • To identify the trigger bio-markers to which the dogs might be responding in the pre-seizure period.

Project Summary:

The lack of a warning prior to the onset of a seizure significantly increases the risk of physical harm and in general contributes to the psychological problems faced by individuals who experience this. Some warning that might alert the individual to the onset of a seizure, even a short notification period, may provide the individual with the opportunity to avoid accidents and may also considerably increase the individual's sense of control over their lives, conferring benefits to psychological well-being.

One possible alerting mechanism is by untrained dogs. A number of studies have reported that untrained dogs 'alert' (alter their behaviour) to their owners prior to the onset of an epileptic seizure (Dalziel Uthman McGorray and Reep 2003; Kirton, Wirrel, Zhang and Hamiwka, 2004; Kirton Winter and Wirrell and Snead 2008; Di Vito et al. 2010). Whilst some studies have demonstrated that dogs can be trained to 'alert' to seizures identifying whether untrained dogs can do this may advance our ability to understand the 'cues' used by dogs (there may be many), understand why some/all dogs can do this, develop methods for individuals to shape their own animal's behaviour and to help in the prediction of seizure onset. 

The research project is designed to increase our understanding of how a dog may alert to the onset of a seizure in its owner and use this to provide the individual with epilepsy with a means to identify the onset of a seizure and take appropriate action to control the situation. Elucidation of the cues used by dogs to the onset of a seizure, will lead to a greater understanding of canine alerting behaviour and so enable individuals to shape the behaviour of their dogs in a cost effective manner to reliably alert to seizure onset. Properly trained seizure alert dogs would provide individuals with greater control over their lives and improve their physical and psychological well-being and potentially reduce the risk of physical harm and death. Further beneficial consequences would be an improvement in mental health and well-being, reduced feelings of anxiety and depression; increased opportunities for engaging in normal activities and thus a reduction of stigma and increasing social inclusion which can contribute to positive changes in public attitude; the possibility of improved management and treatment options.


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