I'd heard about this phenomenon before, and it's all very scientific, apparently, but it still sounds totally bizarre to me - and cool! An MSNBC article titled 'Is there a doctor — or dog — in the house?' gives a brief synopsis on the whole dog-as-doctor thing. Dogs can be useful in other ways, too:
'He's given me my life'
Dogs that diagnose cancer may be a ways away, but some medical pooches are already on the job, warning their owners of epileptic seizures, high blood pressure, heart attacks, migraines and low blood sugar.
Leigh Meyer, of Huntersville, N.C., has suffered from severe epilepsy since she was 17. Now 35, Meyer credits her ability to live independently and take care of her four daughters to her seizure alert dog Cyrano.
“He’s given me my life,” says Meyer. “He’s offered me a chance to have a little bit of normalcy.”
A giant schnauzer who spends most of his time as a docile couch potato, Cyrano’s mood changes abruptly about 30 minutes before the onset of Meyer's seizures. Suddenly he becomes nervous and antsy, and begins pawing at Meyer and leaning on her. This signal gives her time to stop whatever she’s doing, move away from her children and prepare.
Once the seizure starts, Cyrano stands next to her until the episode is over, usually from two to four minutes. Because Meyer’s seizures are often very violent — she has broken several fingers, both collar bones and her feet during convulsions — she relies on Cyrano to keep her children out of the way. And, if a seizure occurs in a public location, she has taught him to herd the children to prevent them from wandering off.
Little research has been done to unravel the mystery behind dogs' ability to warn of a seizure or other medical crisis, but most observers believe it is based on canines' keen observational skills, sense of smell, or a combination of both.
"There would have to be some type of chemical change or physiological change in the body," says Sharon Hermansen, executive director of Canine Seizure Assist Society of North Carolina, and Cyrano's trainer. "People can't tell when (a seizure) is coming on, so there's something the dogs are doing that we can't figure out."