Epilepsy is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening neurological condition which affects approximately 65 million people worldwide. There is currently no reliable and simple early warning seizure-onset device available, which means many people with unstable epilepsy live in fear of injury or sudden death and the negative impact of social stigmatization. If anecdotal claims that untrained dogs anticipate seizures are found to be true, they could offer a simple and readily available early warning system. We hypothesized that, given the extraordinary olfactory ability of dogs, a volatile organic compound exhaled by the dog's epileptic owner may constitute an early warning trigger mechanism to which make dogs react by owner-directed affiliative responses in the pre-seizure period. Using 19 pet dogs with no experience of epilepsy, we exposed them to odours that were deemed to be characteristic of three seizure phases, by using sweat harvested from people with epilepsy. The odours were delivered to a point immediately under a non-epileptic and seated pet dog owner's thighs. By altering the alternating odours emerging from sweat samples, captured before seizure, during a seizure and after a seizure, and two nonseizure controls, we were able to record the response of the 19 pet dogs. Our findings suggest that seizures are associated with an odour and that dogs detect this odour and demonstrate a marked increase in affiliative behaviour directed at their owners. A characteristic response of all 19 dogs to seizure odour presentation was an intense stare which was statistically significant, (p < 0.0029), across the pre-seizure, seizure and post-seizure phases when compared to control odours of nonseizure origin.
Keywords: early warning; epilepsy; olfaction; remote odour delivery mechanism; seizures; trigger mechanism; untrained seizure alert dogs; volatile organic compounds.