QUB research: Dogs may be able to predict owners’ epileptic seizures

Researcher Neil Powell pictured with his dog Charco
Researcher Neil Powell pictured with his dog Charco

Dogs may be able to predict the onset of epileptic seizures, researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have suggested.

Queen’s psychologists are exploring whether there is any scientific basis to the idea that pet dogs can tell if their owners are about to have a seizure.

Early responses have already been collected that suggest there is some merit to the idea.

Researcher Neil Powell said: “So far our early responses have seen a number of people reporting that dogs appear to be warning them of imminent seizures.

“Some have described their dogs barking agitatedly, staring intensely, trembling or pacing restlessly.

“Other dogs apparently push their noses repeatedly against their owner’s leg, or paw them until they are acknowledged and the owner does something to ensure their own safety.

“There are also reports of dogs coming from a different room to warn their owners by resting their heads on their laps, or sitting directly in front of them, and again staring intensely.

“Interestingly, there are also descriptions of dogs running to find another adult to whom they will bark continuously at in an attempt to bring them to their owner.

“Less dramatic, but still very unusual, are claims that some dogs, whilst not predicting seizures, appear to respond to them by lying close during the seizure episodes and licking their owner’s hands and mouths.”

The research also looks at the overall impact seizures have on people with epilepsy.

Neil continued: “Many participants have reported broken bones, facial injuries and cuts, some of which have required hospitalisation. Others speak of their anxiety about leaving the house in case they have a seizure, and of embarrassment when they regain consciousness.

“Independence is often not possible for those with epilepsy, since many depend on others to accompany them to and from home. Even the simple act of a shower or bath can be fraught with risk. Therefore, this indicates how vital our research project is in providing potentially life-saving and life-enhancing support to people with epilepsy.”

The evidence is being collected as part of an international survey launched by the psychologists at Queen’s.

The research is directed at those with epilepsy who are either dog owners or not, and is being undertaken by Professor Peter Hepper, from the School of Psychology at Queen’s, and PhD student Neil Powell, from Cobh, Co Cork.