While epilepsy may be a life-altering disease, there are ways to make this disability more manageable. In the same way that dogs can be trained to serve visually impaired individuals, they can also be trained as psychiatric service animals for people with seizures. These service animals are also sometimes known as seizure alert dogs or seizure response dogs.
At a glance:
- What is a Psychiatric Service Dog? – Psychiatric service dogs are service dogs that are specifically trained to assist someone with a mental illness or learning disability directly. PSDs have access to all public areas.
- Do I Qualify for a Service Dog? – Only individuals diagnosed with a mental illness and deemed eligible for a service dog by a licensed mental health practitioner can own a service dog.
- What Can Service Dogs Do for Seizures? – Service dogs can anticipate an oncoming seizure, alert others to what is happening, prevent their handler from injuring themselves during a seizure, provide companionship and support to their handler and alleviate feelings of social isolation.
- How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog? – Individuals can obtain a psychiatric service dog by purchasing one from an organization that trains service dogs or training their own dog to become a service dog.
What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are dogs that are trained to work with people who have specific mental illnesses or learning disabilities. Each PSD is specifically trained to help its owner with their disability. For example, suppose an individual is suffering from anxiety. In that case, a PSD may be trained to pick up on signs and symptoms of anxiety attacks before they start or learn how to distract an individual during an anxiety attack so that they can calm down.
Individuals must be diagnosed with a debilitating mental illness to qualify for a psychiatric service dog. If your dog's primary purpose is to provide them with comfort and support, it is not a psychiatric service dog but rather an emotional support dog. PSDs must help their owners perform tasks they wouldn't be able to do otherwise.
What Can Service Dogs do for seizures?
People with epilepsy can benefit from the assistance of service dogs in more ways than one. Here are some ways service dogs can help individuals suffering from seizures.
Anticipate an Oncoming Disorder
Some service dogs can detect seizures before they occur and alert their owners that they may soon suffer from an epileptic episode. This type of assistance dog is also known as a seizure alert dog. As seizure assistance dogs become more and more familiar with their owners, they begin to recognize behavioral changes and patterns that occur right before an epileptic seizure. Dogs can be trained to detect changes in respiration, heart rate, and other metabolic changes for handlers with seizure disorders. This gives the service dog owner a window of time to prepare for an impending seizure.
Once a service dog recognizes that a seizure is imminent, it can then alert its owner or other household members. If the service dog's owner is a small child, then the service dog can alert the parents that a seizure is about to occur. The child's parents can then ensure that the child is in a safe place or even issue the child with medication. Suppose the service dog owner is an adult or lives alone. In that case, they can respond to an issued warning by taking medication, lying down, or ensuring that they are not performing a precarious activity, such as climbing stairs, driving, or using an exercise machine.
A service dog can be trained to issue a warning by ringing a bell, barking, or by retrieving medication or a phone for its owner. In some cases, service dogs have been trained to trigger an alert device or a life alert system that summons additional help to the scene of the seizure.
Service dogs can assist an individual before a seizure occurs, but they can also assist an individual during an episode. Service dogs can be trained to lie next to an individual experiencing an attack, which can help calm the person with epilepsy when they are in a postictal state. While a seizure usually lasts only 30 seconds to two minutes, a postictal state can last between five and thirty minutes. A postictal state is a period that begins when a seizure subsides and ends when the individual returns to baseline. During this period, an individual may experience confusion, drowsiness, hypertension, nausea, and headache.
A service dog can also protect an individual from injuring themselves or falling. These assistance animals are trained to place themselves between their owner and the ground to ease them onto the floor or move them away from falling into a dangerous location, such as into a street.
Not only is epilepsy a disabling and dangerous condition, but it is also a socially isolating disability. People with epilepsy experience social isolation for various reasons. For one, many people with epilepsy will avoid social settings for fear of potentially embarrassing themselves if a seizure occurs. Research has shown that interacting with assistance animals, whether it's an emotional support dog or a psychiatric service dog, can help ease depression, anxiety, and the emotional stress that people with epilepsy often experience.
Do I Qualify for a Service Dog?
Not everyone can qualify for a service dog. An individual must be diagnosed with a debilitating mental health condition to qualify for a psychiatric service dog. A service dog must be trained to assist their owner with a life-altering task that the owner cannot perform on their own. One of the most significant benefits of owning a service dog is that they are granted access to all public spaces under the law. This is crucial for individuals who rely on their service dogs to maintain their safety and well-being, like people with epilepsy. Here are several other individuals who are also eligible to own a service dog.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a severe anxiety disorder caused by a single traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. Like epilepsy, PTSD can be a debilitating mental health disorder that significantly impacts an individual's quality of life.
A psychiatric service dog can be trained to help individuals with PTSD in various ways. For one, PSDs can be trained to perform alert tasks. These tasks may include alerting their owner when it's time to take medication or alerting their owner when a person or car is approaching them. PSDs can also be trained to interrupt flashbacks, nightmares, or episodes of self-harm. Individuals who have PTSD often feel nervous or overwhelmed when entering large groups or crowds. A service dog can circle their handler in a crowded place and act as a barrier between them and approaching individuals.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is another debilitating mental illness that can completely take over an individual's life. A service dog can be trained to prevent individuals from getting distracted from the task at hand. For instance, if you are trying to complete an essay for school but keep getting derailed by the minor messes in the room around you, a service dog can help bark or paw at you until you snap out of this distraction.
While this might sound like a minor role to play in someone's life, these small interruptions frequently occur for individuals with OCD.
People with OCD also tend to suffer from anxiety and depression. Psychiatric service dogs can help provide comfort and support in moments when an individual is suffering from an anxiety attack. A PSD will actively help someone with OCD achieve a sense of calm by lying on them, compressing or stilling their body, or by bringing them medication.
This anxiety disorder is when you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. Many people with agoraphobia fear a specific location or situation, such as using public transportation, standing in line, being in a crowd, or being in an enclosed place. People with agoraphobia often have a hard time feeling safe in any public place, which is why a service dog can be an excellent treatment plan.
A PSD can act as a barrier for their handler in crowded places. If people get too close, a PSD can subtly push them away without drawing unwanted attention to their handler. A PSD can also be trained to perform room checks and ensure that every room is safe before their handler enters the space. If their owner does end up feeling unsafe or panicked and wants to leave, then a PSD can escort them to a safe and quiet area.
What Is the Best Service Dog for Seizures?
Some breeds do a better job than others at alerting individuals with seizures. These breeds can perform tasks such as moving you to a safe place, calling someone who can help, and removing any dangerous items that might be near you.
- Golden Retriever: A golden retriever is many people's first choice for a service dog. These animals are sensitive, intelligent, and very attuned to their owner's feelings and needs. These traits are particularly valuable for someone suffering from a mental health disorder and seeking a psychiatric service dog.
- Labrador retriever: Labrador retrievers are another breed exceptionally skilled at service work. This breed would excel as a PSD for individuals with seizures, as they can be trained to let you know when to expect a seizure and can help you before and after it.
- Poodle: One of the defining characteristics of poodles is they are extremely intelligent pooches. While a poodle service dog may not be as skilled at alerting you when a seizure is approaching, they can be trained to fetch your medication and a telephone and will stay by your side and provide comfort until someone arrives.
How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog for Seizures?
A psychiatric service dog can not be obtained by just anyone. An individual must be diagnosed with a mental health disorder by a licensed health care professional. Once you have been deemed eligible for a service animal, you can then begin searching for your PSD.
While most dogs have the potential to become service dogs, not every dog can perform the tasks that their handler requires without any training. Therefore, when securing a PSD, you have two main options. You can purchase a dog from an organization that specifically trains psychiatric service animals, or you can adopt an animal from a local shelter and train the dog yourself.
How Do I Make My Dog a Service Dog?
It is possible to train your dog to learn the skills and obedience necessary to become a psychiatric service dog. These skills must be directly related to supporting a handler’s qualifying mental health condition, such as deep pressure therapy for staving off panic attacks and clearing a room for handlers with PTSD.
If you wish to train a psychiatric service dog, Pettable offers an online PSD training course to help you. Led by a certified psychiatric service dog trainer, this 15-module video PSD training coursey will provide you with the guidance you need to confidently train your PSD and ensure it will perform in circumstances where it needs to support your mental health. The course is entirely self-guided and can be completed on whatever timeline suits you. To get started take our online quiz to determine if you qualify for a psychiatric service dog.
Frequently Asked Questions About Seizure-Alert Dogs
Can I Get an Emotional Support Animal Instead?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is another assistance animal that aids individuals with mental and emotional illnesses. However, while a service dog is specifically trained to perform tasks related to its owner's mental health disorder, ESAs provide comfort and support through their mere presence.
How do you get a service dog for seizures?
To get a service dog for seizures, you can purchase a PSD from an organization that specifically trains these assistance animals, or you can train your dog. If you want your current dog to become certified as a PSD, you can also hire a PSD trainer.
How does a service dog help with seizures?
A service dog can be trained to perform various tasks that help with seizures. Some service dogs can alert their owners before an imminent seizure, while others can help protect an individual from injuring themself when a seizure occurs. Seizure dogs can also bring their handler's medication or a phone to call for help.
How much does a seizure response dog cost?
Like other service dogs, purchasing a trained seizure response dog can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $50,000.
What is the best service dog for seizures?
Some dog breeds are more susceptible to service dog tasks than others. Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, poodles, and German shepherds are all breeds that make great service dogs for seizures.