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There is a Scent for Seizures: How Trained Seizure Alert Dogs Could Revolutionize Epilepsy Management

Since ancient times, the human sense of smell has been recognized as a powerful tool for detecting changes in health. From Hippocrates' observations to modern scientific studies, the scent of illness has intrigued researchers and healers alike. While we've long understood that certain diseases like cancer or diabetes can alter body odors, a recent study has shed light on a fascinating new frontier: the scent of epileptic seizures.

Dog smelling seizure samples

In a groundbreaking research effort, a team from the University of Rennes in France and a US-based service dog organization specialized in the training of rescue dogs as medical alert dogs, Medical Mutts, explored whether trained dogs could detect a distinct odor associated with epileptic seizures. The findings, published in a 2019 study in Scientific Reports, reveal remarkable insights into the olfactory abilities of our four-legged friends and their potential to revolutionize epilepsy detection.


Traditionally, technologies like electronic noses have attempted to identify disease-specific odors, but they often fall short due to individual variations and low detection thresholds. Dogs, on the other hand, possess an extraordinary sense of smell that surpasses even the most advanced sensors. Trained to detect various diseases including cancer and diabetes, dogs have demonstrated remarkable success in identifying specific odors associated with these conditions.


In the case of epilepsy, researchers hypothesized that there might be a seizure-specific scent common across different individuals and seizure types. To test this hypothesis, trained dogs were presented with samples obtained from epileptic patients during seizures, calm activities, and physical exercises. The results were nothing short of astonishing.


Statistical Insights:

All dogs involved in the study exhibited an exceptional ability to discriminate seizure odors from other samples, with sensitivity and specificity levels among the highest observed in disease detection studies. Sensitivity refers to the proportion of actual seizures correctly identified by the dogs, while specificity indicates the proportion of non-seizure samples correctly identified as such. In this study, the dogs' sensitivity ranged from 67% to 100%, while specificity ranged from 95% to 100%, highlighting their remarkable accuracy in detecting seizure odors.


Even more remarkable was the dogs' consistent response to seizure odors across different patients and seizure types, suggesting the presence of a distinct odor profile associated with epileptic seizures. Statistical analyses further confirmed the dogs' ability to discriminate seizure odors with high precision, with all dogs exhibiting significant performance above chance levels.


These findings open new avenues for research into the olfactory signature of seizures and the development of innovative seizure detection and prediction systems. By leveraging the keen sense of smell possessed by dogs, we can empower individuals with epilepsy to anticipate and manage seizures more effectively, enhancing their quality of life and safety.

While further studies are needed to explore the full potential of canine olfaction in epilepsy detection, these initial results offer hope and promise for the future of epilepsy research and care. With continued investigation and collaboration, we may unlock the transformative potential of our furry companions in the fight against epilepsy.


As we embark on this exciting journey of discovery, let us embrace the profound bond between humans and dogs and harness the power of their remarkable senses to improve lives and advance medical science.



For information about seizure alert service dogs trained by Medical Mutts, visit: https://www.medicalmutts.org/our-service-dogs/seizure-alert-dogs


Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Consult your healthcare provider for any medical concerns or treatment options.

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