The dog, man’s best friend in the fight against epilepsy?

The dog, man's best friend in the fight against epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a very common neurological disease affecting fifty million people worldwide, according to the WHO. It is associated with attacks with convulsions, which are very disabling for those who suffer from them. A Dutch study, published in the journal Neurology, shows that dogs can alleviate these seizures.

Researchers affiliated with Erasmus University in Rotterdam were interested in the medical benefits of dogs in the treatment of epileptic seizures because this neurological disease still has many mysteries.

Dogs can anticipate seizures

Although epilepsy has been recognized since ancient times, treatment options remain unsatisfied for a large number of patients. “Despite the development of numerous anticonvulsant medications over the past fifteen years, nearly 30% of people with epilepsy suffer from persistent seizures. The unpredictable nature of these seizures is often the most disabling aspect of epilepsy“, explains Valérie van Hezik-Wester, co-signatory of the study, in a press release.

The prediction of epileptic seizures is a crucial issue for the scientific community. However, it turns out that dogs can be trained to anticipate and manage them. “The tasks these dogs perform and their presence may reduce anxiety related to seizures, which could also reduce seizures caused by stress, which is the main trigger for epileptic seizures“, underlines Valérie van Hezik-Wester.

Epileptic seizures decreasing

For the purposes of their study, the researchers followed, for three years, around twenty people suffering from epilepsy. The latter responded poorly to anticonvulsant treatments and were at high risk of seizure-related injuries. The scientists observed them in their daily lives before randomly assigning them an alert dog.

In addition, study participants were asked to note the frequency and type of epileptic seizures they suffered from in a diary, and to respond to a follow-up questionnaire every three months. They were asked to assess factors such as the severity of their attacks, their quality of life and their general well-being.

The research team found that people with epilepsy had, on average, 31% fewer seizures when they began sharing their lives with an alert dog. Seven participants even saw their seizures halved or even completely disappeared. At the start of the study, volunteers had 115 seizures over a 28-day period. This number increased to 73 with the help of the dogs.

For Valérie van Hezik-Wester, these encouraging results show that “assistance dogs can help people with epilepsy.” However, this is not a miracle solution. Some patients stopped participating in the study after researchers gave them an alert dog. More research is therefore needed to better understand how man’s best friend can help the medical community fight epilepsy.