We all love our four-legged friends – but now dog lovers have another reason to celebrate their canine pals as French scientists claim to have found proof that dogs can detect the smell of an epileptic seizure.

Super Senses

Scientists continue to investigate dogs’ extraordinary sense of smell hoping it will offer a more reliable way of identifying and predicting illness than existing methods. Malaria, prostate cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and breast cancer are some of the condition’s researchers are trying to or have established that dogs can smell.

Now epilepsy can be added to that list thanks to a team of scientists at the University of Rennes, who hope their findings could lead us to new ways to predict a seizure – either using real-life doggies or through ‘electric noses’.

Electric Noses

The electric nose is an instrument that mimics the olfactory system – animals and humans alike can learn to recognise a smell based on a response pattern. An electric nose will analyse the chemical make up of a smell through chemical sensors which detect gases or vapours, grouping them into chemical families and allowing the machine to identify the smell. Electric noses offer an alternative to a dog that won’t tire, will work all day and not need walkies or dinner.

The Study

Seizures in people suffering from epilepsy are caused by disruption of the electrical signals in the brain, the disease can be hereditary or caused by health problems at birth or later in life. Some sufferers already rely on furry friends to alert a family member of a seizure at night time.

The study, published in the Journal of Scientific Reports, trained five dogs to identify differences in the smell of sweat – the samples were taken from people relaxing, exercising or having a seizure. Of the five dogs, three successfully found the seizure sample 100% of the time – the other two were correct two-thirds of the time. The report says;

“The results are extremely clear and constitute a first step towards identifying a seizure-specific odour.”

Dr Amelie Catala, from the University of Rennes, added;

“Further research is needed but it is possible that the change in electrical activity triggers the releasing of some neurohormones that will, in the end, trigger the scent or that it is linked to stress-related molecules and pathways, or anything else – all hypothesis are still to be considered.”

“It could lead to significant improvements in terms of seizure detection or prediction systems,”.

There is still work to be done, but any study that brings us further forward in being able to alert a person before a seizure begins is a step in the right direction. And what’s more, if man’s best friend is involved it’s win-win.

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