Development & Alumni Relations Office 


07 September 2016

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

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

As well as examining whether dogs can 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 here.

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

Speaking about the feedback 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 at whom they will bark continuously 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. This indicates, therefore, just 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 here.  

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office, tel: +44 (0)28 90 97 3091.




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