SEP 07, 2021 5:00 AM PDT

Dogs Can Pick Up the 'Seizure Smell', Alert Their Owners

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Dogs offer so much more than companionship and unconditional love. New research shows that for patients with epilepsy, their beloved pooch may also save their lives.

Research by scientists at Queen’s University has revealed that individuals experiencing epileptic seizures emit a signature scent, which can be picked up by dogs and used to raise alarm bells that an attack is imminent. In the future, dogs may provide an early warning system for individuals who experience sporadic, unpredictable seizures, giving them a heads up to seek medical help or move to safety when an attack is near.

Although treatable by neurological medications, there is no reliable way to predict the onset of seizures for the 65 million people worldwide who live with epilepsy. Because of this, many live with the constant anxiety of getting injured during a seizure or having one in a public space. The focus of seizure warning mechanisms for patients has been squared on tech-based solutions, with limited success.

In search of simple, accessible alternatives, Neil Powell, lead researcher on the study said, “We hypothesized that, given the extraordinary sense of smell of dogs, a volatile organic compound exhaled by the dog’s epileptic owner may provide an early warning trigger mechanism to which make dogs react before the seizure.”

Powell and colleagues first collected sweat samples from patients with epilepsy taken before, during, and after a seizure. They then exposed these samples to a cohort of 19 pet dogs and analyzed their responses. 

The scientists said that the dogs with no prior training reacted to the odor associated with seizures by whining, barking, or making eye contact with their owners. The research paves the way for specialized training for dogs of patients with epilepsy to alert them that a seizure may be around the corner. A heads-up on seizures can markedly improve the quality of life and enhance the safety of patients living with epilepsy.
 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
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