The Ins and Outs of Getting a Seizure Alert Dog
Specially trained service dogs are tools that people with epilepsy can use to live a safer, more independent life. Service dogs can also increase self-confidence because of the increased feeling of safety. All of this can help with overall quality of life.
What is a seizure alert dog?
An epilepsy service dog, also called a "seizure alert dog" or "seizure dog," is trained to respond to an epileptic seizure. Some seizure dogs respond to someone who is having a seizure. Others are trained to sense that a seizure is about to happen.1
Before getting your service dog, ask the organization whether the dog has been trained in predicting seizures as well as seizure alert and response behaviors. Some dogs seem to have an innate ability to know about an impending seizure. This is thought to be because of a scent the body gives off. It is not known how the dog can sense this.2
How do service dogs work in alerting people to seizures?
For dogs that are trained in sensing a forthcoming seizure, they may alert their human by:2
- Licking them
- Pawing them
- Circling or pacing
- Acting restlessly
- Making close eye contact
- Nose-tapping them
Dogs that have been trained in assisting their humans and helping them when a seizure occurs may:1,2
- Bark or alert other family members when their human has a seizure
- Lie next to their seizing human to prevent injury
- Learn to put themselves between their human and the floor to break the fall when the seizure starts
- Be trained to activate an alarm or device that calls for help
- Fetch a telephone or medicine
Seizure dogs do not replace what your doctor advises for nighttime monitoring or supervision.
Requirements to get a seizure alert dog
Requirements can vary, depending on the organization from which you get your dog. People usually have to be diagnosed with epilepsy and have at least 1 seizure a month to qualify. Those with petit-mal seizures only typically do not qualify. Talk to your doctor about your needs and if you might qualify.3
Along with the above qualifications, those wanting a seizure alert dog may have to provide proof of:3
- Being physically and mentally able to be part of the training process
- Being able to independently command and handle the dog
- Having a stable home environment
- Being able to handle the emotional, physical, and financial needs of the dog
- Trying to improve their quality of life and being more independent with their service dog
- No other dog in the home
Depending on the organization, they may want trainers nearby or licensed representatives near where you live.
Costs of a seizure alert dog
Seizure support dogs are expensive and usually not covered by health insurance. The cost can range from $15,000 to $30,000 or even more. The price can vary depending on breed and the kind of training.4
Some service dog training companies will offer these dogs for free or at greatly reduced costs. These tend to have long waitlists.
Where to get a seizure alert dog
There are various organizations in the United States that train seizure alert dogs. If you are interested in getting a dog, talk with your doctor about any organizations they might recommend and any paperwork that you might need.
Some organizations to check out include:
- Paws With A Cause
- Canine Partners for Life
- Little Angels Service Dogs
- Atlas Assistance Dogs
- America’s Vet Dogs
- Can Do Canines
Legal issues of service dogs
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a "service animal" is a dog that is trained to do work or tasks to help a person with a disability. The tasks need to be directly related to the disability. In general, seizure dogs should be allowed to go everywhere you go in public. A briefing from the U.S. Department of Justice has more information about the legal issues of service dogs.5
If you are interested in looking into a seizure alert dog, talk with your doctor. They may be able to provide you with leads to affordable or free dogs in your area, or help with paperwork to get the process started. They can also provide you with more information about what the dog can and cannot do, and how they may benefit your specific needs.
Do you have a caregiver that helps you manage your epilepsy?