Introduction to epilepsy service dogs

  • May 7, 2021
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Epilepsy service dog looking at camera in classroom

Dogs are often called man's best friend - and if you have epilepsy they can be even more helpful! 

Epilepsy service dogs are specially trained canines that respond in certain ways when you have a seizure. They can be taught to do things which will keep you safe or alert people around you.

Here is everything you need to know about seizure service dogs.

What is an epilepsy service dog?

An epilepsy service dog is an animal which is trained for around two years to respond when its owner has a seizure. After two years of training it will then do a few more weeks of instruction with you so it can learn to recognize the kinds of seizures you have.

How do service dogs alert seizures?

These support dogs can be trained to perform many different tasks including:

  • Barking and alerting other people that you are having a seizure
  • Pressing alert buttons or pedals
  • Lying or sitting near you in a way that might prevent you from injuring yourself

Many people with epilepsy have reported that their dogs seem to know in advance that they’re going to have a seizure. A recent study of epilepsy service dogs suggests that the animals can detect a specific smell that is given off when their owners are having a seizure. More research is needed, but this might mean that dogs can be trained to give advance warning and mean you can get to a safe place.  

Where to get a service dog for seizures

If you have epilepsy, you might be able to get a seizure service dog. If you are interested, the first thing to do is to speak to your treatment team to find out if they think it would be suitable for you. They will then be able to introduce you to service dog training centres near where you live.

How to get a service dog for epilepsy

Not everybody is able to get a service dog for epilepsy. There are often long waiting lists to get these kinds of canines, and each animal costs several thousand dollars to train. There are other requirements too:

  • You will need to have frequent seizures (usually at least once a month)
  • They are mainly for people with seizures that cannot be treated with medication
  • Your seizures need to be ‘visible’ to the dog (such as tonic clonic seizures)
  • You have to be above a certain age (usually at least 12 years old)
  • You need to be able to look after the dog, such as feeding it and taking it for walks
  • You are not normally allowed another dog in the home

How much does a service dog for seizures cost?

If you wish to directly purchase an epilepsy service dog, you can expect to pay between $15,000 and $30,000 because of how much time it takes to train the animals. Sometimes people choose to set up a fundraising drive to help cover the cost of buying a service dog - you may be able to get support from your local community or philanthropists to pay for the animal.

If you are not in a position to spend that much money on a seizure service dog, the good news is that there are several non-profits which provide the animals for free (or a small fee). There will usually be waiting lists for these animals. Good places to start your search include:

Like any kind of dog there are many costs involved in looking after the animal including vet bills, insurance, food, injections, toys and so on. These costs can add up to several thousand dollars per year.

5 common seizure dog breeds

Many kinds of dog can be trained to provide epilepsy support. However, the following 5 seizure dog breeds are especially common:

  1. German shepherds: Strong, brave and intelligent, these loyal dogs can be trained to perform many different tasks to help owners with epilepsy. 
  2. Collies: Widely regarded as one of the most intelligent dog breeds, border collies are very motivated and energetic, and can be trained to perform a wide variety of tasks if they notice you having a seizure.  
  3. Labradors: A very popular service animal, labradors are great with kids and have a very good temperament. They’re also easy to train and respond well if you’re having a seizure. 
  4. Golden retrievers: As affectionate animals that are easy to train and love to serve, golden retrievers are excellent seizure service dogs. 
  5. Newfoundland: Big but smart, newfoundlands are affectionate and strong animals - great qualities for an epilepsy support breed.

A faithful friend

For certain people, an epilepsy service dog can be hugely beneficial. Not only do they help you when you are having seizures, but they can be a big emotional support too. If you’d like to learn more about your options, try talking to your doctor about getting an animal at your next appointment. 

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