INTRODUCTION: The unpredictability of epileptic seizures is considered an important threat to the quality of life of a person with epilepsy. Currently, however, there are no tools for seizure prediction that can be applied to the domestic setting. Although the information about seizure-alert dogs - dogs that display changes in behavior before a seizure that are interpreted by the owner as an alert - is mostly anecdotal; living with an alerting dog (AD) has been reported to improve quality of life of the owner by reducing the stress originating from the unpredictability of epileptic seizures and, sometimes, diminishing the seizure frequency.
AIM OF THE STUDY: The aim of the study was to investigate, at an international level, the behaviors displayed by trained and untrained dogs that are able to anticipate seizures and to identify patient- and dog-related factors associated with the presence or absence of alerting behavior.
METHODOLOGY: An online questionnaire for dog owners with seizures was designed. Information about the participants (demographics, seizure type, presence of preictal symptoms) and their dogs (demographics, behavior around the time of seizures) was collected. In addition, two validated scales were included to measure the human-dog relationship (Monash Dog-Owner Relationship scale (MDORS)) and five different traits of the dogs' personality (Monash Canine Personality Questionnaire refined (MCPQ-R)).
RESULTS: Two hundred and twenty-seven responses of people experiencing seizures were received from six participant countries: 132 from people with dogs that had started alerting spontaneously, 10 from owners of trained AD, and the rest from owners of dogs that did not display any alerting behavior (nonalerting dog (NAD)). Individuals' gender, age, or seizure type did not predict the presence of alerting behavior in their dogs. People who indicated that they experience preictal symptoms were more likely to have a spontaneously AD. The owner-dog bond was significantly higher with ADs compared with NADs, and ADs scored significantly higher than NADs in the personality traits "Amicability", "Motivation", and "Training focus".
CONCLUSION: This study collected a large group of dog owners with seizures reporting behavioral changes in their dogs before their seizures occurred. This was associated with the presence of preictal symptoms. The seizure-alerting behavior of the dog may have a positive influence on the bond between the owner and the dog.