A recent study by Queen's University has shown that dogs can predict epileptic seizures. The research shows that these seizures are associated with a specific smell that pet dogs can detect. The study looked at how these animals react to odours and it found that they could tell when an episode was imminent.
These findings mean that the family dog could give an early warning and potentially reduce injury and save lives for patients with epilepsy.
What does our resident vet think?
In his fortnightly slot with Damien on Déise Today, William Hill, vet with City Vets in Waterford, backs up the validity of the study. "Queen's did a blind trial. They took sweat samples from people before and after they were having a seizure. The dogs got it right every time basically, they knew exactly," he said.
William tells Damien that a lot of this is down to dogs' incredibly powerful sense of smell. "Humans have about five million receptors in their noses. Dogs have about 150 million. So it's just quantum difference. The parts of the brain in dogs that is responsible for picking up smells is different. It measures about 40 times bigger than in people. So from their nostrils to the brains, dogs have this incredibly intricate sensory smell."
Dogs ability to detect disease was spotted in the 1980s
William tells Damien that a dog's ability to pick up on diseases was first noticed many years ago. "The first scientific reports of dogs diagnosing disease date back to 1989. A dog's owner had been to the doctor with a mole on her leg. And the doc said, 'Oh, that's normal. Don't worry, it's fine.' And the dog wouldn't leave it alone, and actually tried to bite the mole off. The woman went back to the doctor and it turned out it was a malignant melanoma."
How can we use these amazing dog skills?
William says there's definitely potential to develop this science further, and in fact at the moment dogs are being used to detect a number of cancers. "A study in Italy showed that dogs were 98% effective in diagnosing prostate cancer, which is much higher than the PSA test used," William added. However he said that further work is needed to fully commercialise how dogs can detect medical conditions.
You can click on the link in the image above, to listen to Damien's full conversation with William Hill about therapy dogs. Don't forget you can listen back on Déise Today or any of our shows on WLR, by clicking here.