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Dogs may not be responding to epileptic seizures: study

Monday, January 22, 2007

There are anecdotal reports of dogs helping to predict their owners' epileptic seizures, but the animals may actually be responding to psychological conditions, researchers say.

Seizures can be caused by epilepsy or emotional problems, and each condition is treated differently.

"People with psychogenic seizures need psychiatric evaluation and appropriate treatment, not a specially trained dog for epileptic seizures," said study author Dr. Gregory Krauss of John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md.

In 2004, researchers at the University of Calgary reported that as many as 15 per cent of dogs may have a natural ability to forecast seizures before they happen, based on their study of 62 dogs living in families with children with epilepsy.

Scientists don't know what the dogs pick up on, although some speculate it's subtle changes in behaviour. The warning method varies from barking to physically holding a person down to sitting and staring.

Dogs can help

Krauss's study monitored seven people with seizure response dogs. The participants were monitored with EEGs to track seizures and electrical activity in the brain. Abnormal electrical activity causes epileptic seizures.

For four of the people, there was no abnormal electrical activity during seizures, and they were diagnosed with psychological seizures. Another person who did not have an EEG test was also diagnosed with seizures brought on by a psychological condition, the team reported in Tuesday's issue of the journal Neurology.

Seizure response dogs may help some people with epileptic seizures by staying with them while they are unconscious and providing companionship, Krauss said.

"This study demonstrates the importance of establishing an accurate diagnosis of epilepsy before obtaining a seizure response dog."

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