Migraine warning dogs
At the Assistance Dog Center T.A.R.S.Q.® we only train migraine warning dogs who can actually warn of oncoming migraines. Warning dogs react BEFORE the migraine occurs and warn the partner in good time!
A migraine warning dog notices when a migraine is imminent. By giving a warning, the dog provides its partner with the chance to take migraine medication to prevent the attack completely, or to reduce its severity. This enables those who suffer from migraines to better cope with daily life, and they don't lose entire days to migraine attacks. Additionally, they are often spared severe pain and their quality of life is significantly increased.
A dog can't be taught the ability to give a warning before a life-threatening event becomes severe. Either it has the sensitivity to pick up on an oncoming event, or it doesn't. It is therefore of paramount importance to choose the right dog who possesses this innate ability. Not every dog can recognize a an oncoming migraine.
A dog has to be born a warning dog - you can't make a warning dog!
Migraine warning dogs have to want to notice an oncoming migraine a few minutes before it occurs, and to make their partner aware of it. A migraine warning dog has to act on its own initiative and not just give a warning when commanded to. This fact illustrates the uniqueness of warning dogs, and the difficulty in finding and training them. If a migraine warning dog doesn't want to alert its partner to an oncoming attack, it won't. If a dog doesn't have the ability to recognize a migraine before it happens, it will never gain the ability. Neither trainer nor partner can really influence the ability to reliably give a warning prior to a migraine. This depends on several factors, such as the ability of the dog and the bond it has.
- The tasks of a migraine warning dog
The main task of a migraine warning dog is to warn of a migraine attack before it occurs. The warning dog becomes aware of the migraine attack shortly before it occurs, and lets the partner know by prodding or laying out its paw. The way in which a warning dog warns of a migraine is innate and does not need to be taught. In training the partner learns what action they should react to. A migraine warning dog can also learn to fetch emergency medication. This is usually not necessary however, as the dog usually warns its partner early enough that they can fetch their medication themselves.
During training at the International Assistance Dog Center T.A.R.S.Q.®, a qualified assistance dog trainer will help the team to encourage reliable warnings and avoid mistakes, so that the partner can really rely on their warning dog in an emergency.
It is especially important to the International Assistance Dog Center that those who suffer from migraines can rely on their dogs giving reliable warnings.
- Scientific studies on migraine warning dogs
In 2012 the journal "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" published a case study carried out by Dawn Marcus. The study looked at the behavior of family dogs who lived with owners who suffered from migraines. Changes in the dogs' behavior were observed at the time of migraine attacks. The dogs exhibited unambiguously warm behavior from a few minutes to up to 24 hours before migraine symptoms began. Dogs of different breeds and ages - from puppies to adult dogs - took part in the study. The dogs showed warning behavior within the first month of living with the migraine sufferer. The warning behavior was similar to that exhibited by family dogs who warned diabetics in the study carried out by Wells and Kollegen, and included increased awareness, loud utterances, and scratching the migraine sufferer. In one case, the dog stopped making any loud utterances 20-30 minutes prior to the migraine and ignored stimuli which normally caused it to bark.
The case study showed that some family dogs who live with migraine sufferers can give warnings of migraines.
In 2013 a detailed study by Dawn Marcus, "Survey of Migraine Sufferers with Dogs to Evaluate for Canine Migraine Alerting Behaviors," appeared in the journal "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine." 1029 adults took part in the study, of whom 552 (53.7%) reported that their dog showed altered behavior, either right before a migraine attack, or in the early stages of the attack.
The dogs in the study exhibited one or more of the following behaviors when warning of a migraine attack: 27% of the dogs warned of a migraine attack by staring at the migraine sufferer, 3.2% barked at the migraine sufferer, 22.1% wanted to be in close proximity to the migraine sufferer and sat themselves down, e.g. on the migraine sufferer, 78.1% did not leave the the migraine sufferer's side, 12% whimpered, 21.7% laid their paws out and 27.9% showed other behavior, further details of which were not given.
11.2% of the dogs gave warnings 0-15 minutes before the first initial migraine symptoms, 15% gave warning 16-30 before, 13.9% 31-60 minutes before, 12.9% between one and two hours before the initial symptoms and 4.3% more than two hours before. With 42.7% of the dogs, the first migraine symptoms were already present when the owner noticed the warning behavior of the dog.
The breeds of the dogs were as follows:
100 crossbreeds gave warnings
99 small dog breeds gave warnings (Chihuahua, Chinese Crested Dog, German Spitz, toy and small Poodles, Pugs)
91 Terriers (Terriers and Pit-bulls)
89 sporting dog breeds (Spaniel, Retriever, Pointer)
63 working dog breeds (Akita, Doberman, Great Dane, Husky, Mastiff, Newfoundland, Portuguese Water Dog, Rottweiler)
63 other breeds
46 hunting dog breeds
The age of the dog made no difference to its warning behavior. 14.6% of the dogs who provided warnings were puppies younger than six months. 34% of the dog were six to twelve months old. 27.8% of the dogs who exhibited warning behavior were between one and two years old and 23.4% were older than two years.
The researchers provided numerous examples of the warning behaviors of the dogs: a sheepdog, who had already received several obedience and agility titles, is normally very obedient. Directly prior to the start of a migraine attack, the dog stares at its owner and can't stay calm. It refuses to react to commands such as "sit" and "down." The migraine sufferer's symptoms begin thirty minutes after the dog exhibits this behavior. Ever since the owner recognized the link between the dog's behavior and an oncoming migraine, she has taken her migraine medication as soon as the dog begins acting this way. After she has taken her medication, she calms the dog, lies down and falls asleep. This dog also showed similar behavior with two colleagues of the owner who also suffered from migraines, although in these cases the behavior occurred a shorter amount of time before the first migraine symptoms.
One to two hours before the first migraine symptoms appear, a sporting dog starts to bark, go round in circles and chase its tail. This behavior repeats every 15 minutes until the first migraine symptoms begin. When the symptoms begin, the dog becomes calm, doesn't leave the owner's side and puts its head on her lap.
A three year old Labrador Pit-bull mix changes its behavior around 30 minutes before the start of a migraine. It whimpers and jostles its owner, as if compelled by some irresistible impulse. The dog tries to get its owner to sit or lie down. If the dog is successful in this, it sits itself on the owner and doesn't let her stand up and move about. The owner also reported that her dog woke her up at night by licking her face; this behavior was shortly followed by a migraine attack. She has begun to take her medication as soon as she notices this behavior in her dog.
The researchers came to the conclusion that one out of four migraine sufferers who live with a dog notice abnormal behavior before they experience a migraine attack.
2014 In a seven year long behavioral study, the researchers found out that dogs don't just react in the same way to hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, but also to focal epileptic seizures, migraine attacks and life-threatening asthma attacks. Dogs between the ages of three weeks and seven years took part in the study. They all had the innate ability to give a warning without having received any training, which they did by prodding at the hand, ear, leg and mouth, licking the hand and laying out their paw. They gave the same identical warning with all illnesses. Dogs who warned of hypoglycemia gave the same type of warnings for migraine attacks and focal seizures. This observation suggested that dogs notice the same thing with all these illnesses. Between May 2013 and February 2014 the team at the German Assistance Dog Center carried out a study with 24 participants and fourteen dogs. The participants consisted of seven type 1 diabetics, one type 2 diabetic, two epileptics with focal seizures, one asthmatic and one migraine sufferer, as well as twelve healthy people, all between ten and 63 years old. All dogs had been proven to have the innate ability to warn and showed this ability with those known to them, as well as study participants who were strangers to them. The dogs consisted of two crossbreeds, seven long-haired Collies, four Lollies and one Poodle. Each participant was observed over several days with different dogs, with only one dog being in the room at any one time. During this time each participant wore a pulse oximeter on their finger, which constantly measured the SpO2 level of the participant. The diabetics regularly measured their blood sugar. At the beginning of the study, it was determined that each participant had a normal SpO2 level, while the blood sugar levels of the diabetics were optimal and the epileptics, migraine sufferers and asthmatics were not in any danger of an imminent attack.
The dogs did not give a warning with any of the healthy participants over the whole course of the study. The healthy participants' SpO2 level also did not change. The SpO2 levels of the diabetics sank by at least three units from the normal individual levels every time their blood sugar sank to the level of oncoming hypoglycemia or rose to the level of oncoming hyperglycemia. The SpO2 levels of the epileptics decreased significantly shortly before a focal seizure. The SpO2 levels of the asthmatic and the migraine sufferer also decreased shortly before an attack. Every time that the pulse oximeter showed a decrease of three to four units, the dog stood up, went to the test person and showed typical warning behavior by prodding, licking or laying down a paw. If a diabetic delayed snacking on a carbohydrate after a warning of hypoglycemia from the dog, the SpO2 level decreased further to SpO2 91. When a slow decrease of blood sugar levels into hypoglycemia occurred, reduced oxygen saturation sometimes continued. The SpO2 level also sank further during focal seizures and life-threatening asthma attacks, after having in some cases increased for a short time before decreasing again. The SpO2 levels normalized again only when blood sugar levels were stable or the attacks were over. The dogs continued giving warning signs until the SpO2 level returned to normal. None of the dogs gave a warning if the SpO2 level did not decrease by at least three units. The researchers came to the realization that the dogs noticed a decreasing oxygen saturation, and that this was responsible for the warnings the dogs gave. When oxygen saturation decreases, the breathing rate changes by an amount imperceptible to humans. The researchers conclude from this that the dogs hear smalls changes in breathing rate, as all warning dogs make clear ear movements to localize a noise, before they go to the person and give a warning.
- Preconditions for having a migraine warning dog
- You suffer from severe migraines which severely limit your quality of life and can be counted as a disability.
- You should be ready to react to every warning the dog gives, and to praise the dog when it gives a warning. You should be willing to learn how the dog gives a warning.
- You are willing and capable of developing and maintaining a connection with the migraine warning dog. The migraine warning dog must have the strongest bond with the migraine sufferer, so that it knows who it should watch. All other family members must limit their limit their interactions with the dog, so that the dog's ability to reliably give warnings is not endangered.
- You are with the migraine warning dog 24 hours a day. You always remain close to the migraine dog, so that it can help you in emergencies.