Seizure Dogs For Children: Benefits And Challenges

Posted on: 9 December 2016

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes seizures and can be debilitating for those individuals who suffer from it. It is especially heartbreaking when the person is a child. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 0.6% of children aged 0-17 years have active epilepsy, which means they are taking medications to control seizures or have had a seizure within the past year.

Although epilepsy can place a heavy burden on a child's quality of life as well as that of his or her family and friends, new ways of controlling and coping with the disease are continually being developed. Perhaps you've heard of seizure dogs. The concept may sound like science fiction, but it's not. Seizure dogs for children are providing hope for a better life for epilepsy sufferers and their families.

Epilepsy Basics

Epilepsy is an umbrella term for any condition that causes seizures that are unrelated to a temporary medical condition such as a high fever. The cause may be brain trauma, birth defect, tumor, stroke, or in many cases, unknown. The types of seizures are varied as well, appearing as an often-undetectable lapse of awareness to loss of consciousness and uncontrollable motor function. Seizures may be as infrequent as once or twice a year to extreme cases where they occur several times a day. Obviously, the more frequent the seizures, the more havoc they wreak on a person's life, but just the threat of having an unexpected seizure is enough to disrupt activities that others take for granted.

Seizure Dog Benefits

Seizure dogs are a category of service dogs that have been trained to aid people with epilepsy. They are especially helpful for children who may not understand warning signs or lack coping skills. Depending on the dog's innate abilities or training, a seizure dog may help alert a child to an impending seizure, lay down next to a child who is having or about to have a seizure and thus help prevent them from hurting themselves, or gain the attention of other people so they can provide assistance to the seizing child. Some seizure dogs may simply provide emotional support to reduce the stress that can sometimes trigger seizures.

According to Service Dog Central, about 15% of dogs have the ability to predict when a person is about to have a seizure. Some experts believe these dogs are able to smell biochemical reactions that occur 10-20 minutes before a seizure occurs, while others think the dogs can detect small behavior changes that occur in a person about to have a seizure. Whatever the reason, the ability to alert either the victim or others about an impending seizure is invaluable—allowing a person to sit, find a safe place, or halt a particular activity before losing control.

Seizure Dog Challenges

Although seizure dogs can offer greater independence and improved quality of life for children with epilepsy, they may not be a good fit for everyone. Here are some obstacles or challenges that you'll need to consider:

  • Service dogs, like any dog, take a lot of loving attention, as well as food, veterinary care and enrichment toys. Make sure you and your child are able to provide it.
  • Pet allergies could be a problem for the child or other family members.
  • A young child may not have the skills, strength, or discipline to control their pup in public.
  • Service dogs that are placed with very young children may prefer to bond with an adult or older sibling.
  • Seizure dogs require a lot of intensive training, and it may take a long while to find one dog that is a match for your child's needs and personality.
  • The extensive training required is expensive, which means so are the dogs. However, there are programs and organizations, such as the Assistance Dog United Campaign (ADUC) that can assist with the cost.
  • Epilepsy has no outward signs, and you might meet with resistance from people who don't believe your dog is a true service dog. Because of some unscrupulous individuals who take advantage of the system, a service dog vest is not always a reliable indicator.

Even mild epilepsy with infrequent seizures can greatly affect a child's quality of life. However, in many cases, a seizure dog can provide alerting and protective services, or even simple companionship to reduce stress. A bit of research can put you in touch with a reputable organization that will match your child with a furry companion who can help him or her better cope with this disease.