Preprint Article Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

The Untrained Response of Pet Dogs to Human Epileptic Seizure

Version 1 : Received: 18 July 2021 / Approved: 19 July 2021 / Online: 19 July 2021 (14:30:08 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Powell, N.A.; Ruffell, A.; Arnott, G. The Untrained Response of Pet Dogs to Human Epileptic Seizures. Animals 2021, 11, 2267. Powell, N.A.; Ruffell, A.; Arnott, G. The Untrained Response of Pet Dogs to Human Epileptic Seizures. Animals 2021, 11, 2267.


Abstract Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain and a seriously debilitating condition, which has been associated with injury, social stigmatisation and in some cases, sudden unexpected and premature death. A sense of profound isolation is felt by many individuals with epilepsy, and this community has expressed an urgent desire for an early warning system to allow them time to prepare for seizure onset. Surveys of dog owners with epilepsy have previously reported that some dogs can predict the onset of a seizure. The current study used an experimental design to investigate the alleged propensity of untrained pet dogs to react to human epileptic seizures. We hypothesised that seizures are associated with specific volatile organic compounds resulting in detectable odours which are the biomarker that triggers these reported behavioural changes in the dogs. Here we provide details of the first empirical test to demonstrate that pet dogs display several significant behavioural changes when they are exposed to seizure-related odours that apparently emanate from their owners. Using a repeated measures design experiment, recordings were made of the reactions of 19 untrained pet dogs to odours from sweat samples provided by three people with epilepsy and by two people without epilepsy (controls). The seizure-associated sweat samples were captured pre-seizure, during seizure and post-seizure. All samples were randomly delivered to individual dogs in a test area, using two bespoke pieces of apparatus called Remote Odour Delivery Mechanisms (RODM). One RODM delivered only experimental odours, the other delivered only control odours. Behavioural changes by the dogs on encountering the odour samples were recorded by video for later analysis. Consistent with our hypothesis, seizure-associated odours evoked significant behavioural changes in the dogs which were affiliative in nature and directed at their owners.


Epilepsy; VOCs; Attention seeking behaviours; Remote Odour Delivery Mechanism (RODM)


Biology and Life Sciences, Anatomy and Physiology

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