It Turns Out Dogs Can Smell Epileptic Seizures

Previous research has found that dogs can sniff out diseases such as cancer and malaria with high levels of accuracy. Now a study has found that dogs can also smell epileptic seizures.

Published in Scientific Reports, the new study has found for the first time that dogs can detect the odour of epileptic seizures.

The small study involved five dogs who were trained to detect the odours of various medical conditions including epileptic seizures, anxiety and diabetes. The dogs were trained to indicate the presence of a condition by standing over an opaque can containing the human odour sample.

The dogs were presented with seven cans, with one can containing a sample of odour from an epilepsy sufferer and they demonstrated accuracy in identifying epileptic seizures far above chance levels. Three of the dogs showed 100 percent sensitivity to the correct can, while the other two dogs showed 67 percent sensitivity.

Epilepsy is a condition highly-specific to individuals that is often co-morbid with other conditions such as anxiety or depression, meaning that the scent of the disease varies markedly from person to person.

The authors of the paper noted that, despite these variations, the dogs were highly successful from the first trial and this "clearly demonstrates for the first time that there is indeed a seizure-specific odour across individuals and types of seizures."

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The paper states that the anticipation of epileptic events could be important for sufferers, who could ensure that they are in a safe environment before the onset of a seizure.

While this study did not explore whether the dogs could predict a seizure, the researchers suggest that larger studies should explore this possibility.

Previous research with dogs' ability to detect disease has found that they can correctly identify the presence of prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer  and malaria infection. Researchers from the University of Manchester are also currently training a team of medical detection dogs to identify Parkinson's disease for early diagnosis.