Dogs can forecast epileptic seizures, according to Belfast-based scientists – dpa international


DUBLIN – Man’s best friend can not only warn off burglars, herd farm animals or sniff out bombs and drugs, but can be predict epileptic seizures, according to Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).

The seizures “are associated with a specific smell which is detectable by pet dogs,” a university-led research team said.

Anecdotes about behaviourial changes in dogs suggested they were aware of impending seizures, but no scientific study had until now “investigated the veracity of these claims,” QUB said.

Published in the journal MDPI Animals, the findings could help develop a “reliable” and potentially life-saving early warning system” for the world’s 65 million people who live with epilepsy, of which around 30 per cent “cannot control their seizures by medication.”

With “no reliable and simple early warning” available, as things stand, people affected by such “unstable epilepsy” live in fear of injury or sudden death, as well as “the negative impact of social stigmatization.”

Peter Murphy, CEO of Epilepsy Ireland, said finding a reliable prediction method is “the holy grail for many people living with epilepsy.”

Neil Powell of QUB’s School of Biological Sciences said that the findings show “the extraordinary sense of smell of dogs” offers “a reliable source to detect an on-set seizure.”

Powell and team exposed 19 pet dogs “with no experience of epilepsy” to smells “characteristic of three seizure phases” derived from the sweat of epilepsy sufferers.

Depending on the breed, a dog’s sense of sense of smell has been put at anything from 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than what the human nose can manage.

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