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Global survey urges people to help explore if dogs are helping save lives of people with epilepsy

5/09/2016

An international survey has been launched by psychologists at Queen’s University Belfast to explore whether dogs, who are family pets, can predict the onset of epileptic seizures in their owners.

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

As well as examining whether dogs have the ability to predict epileptic seizures, and if so how they might do this, the survey also focuses on the general physical and psychological impact seizures have on people with epilepsy.

This study is set to continue for the next four months and anyone with epilepsy who has not already contributed is invited to participate by clicking on http://go.qub.ac.uk/epilepsydogsurvey

The anonymised questionnaire has been supported by international and national epilepsy charities and organisations across the world, and, to date, people with epilepsy from Australia, South Africa, USA, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, the UK and Ireland have responded.

Speaking about those responses received to date, 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.”

Adding that the responses to the questionnaire have already highlighted the very serious physical, emotional and psychological burden of epileptic seizures; Neil, said: “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.”

Further information on the School of Psychology at Queen’s is available online at www.qub.ac.uk/schools/psy/

*Photo credit: Arthur Allison, Pacemaker Photography

Ends.

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office. Tel: +44 (0)28 90 97 3091 or email lisa.mcelroy@qub.ac.uk

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