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Migraines and other diseases that dogs can detect

Beagles are especially known for being particularly loyal and observant companions. Stacey Hardman’s brats Snoopy and Daisy are no exception.

They keep a close eye on the window. Any unknown animal, noise or sudden outward movement causes ‘loud, energetic and dramatic’ barking, Hardman says.

Hardman has realized over the years that Snoopy and Daisy also pay close attention to what is happening. within the house, including how she feels.

Just before he gets migraines, the dogs start behaving differently.

Even the tone of their bark changes.

“It’s going from ‘I want to get you’ to ‘Going away,'” Hardman explains. “They also cling to me more, lie close to me and are more careful with my movements.”

Hardman is convinced that her dogs know she is getting migraines even before she does.

By paying close attention to the beagles’ behavior, she now gets a head start before the pain strikes, which helps her manage her migraines better.

Why dogs can respond to migraines

Can dogs really expect migraines in humans? The science on this is not solid.

But Hardman’s experience is not uncommon.

In a survey-based study of people who get migraines, more than half said their dog was more observant before noticing their own symptoms.

“Dogs are very sensitive to changes in our behavior and to changes in our smell,” says Alexandra Horowitz, PhD, an expert in canine cognition at Columbia University in New York and author of several books on the subject.

“Often something indicates’ wrong ‘with us,’ says Horowitz. ‘But it is not clear that the dogs identify it as wrong. They simply see that something is very different. ”

Stories similar to those of Hardman are not difficult among dog owners who deal with migraines.

Shalini Buckel of Durham, NC, says when a migraine was in full swing, her dog Taosi would jump up and start licking her right eye. Buckle gets the most migraine pain on the right side of her head.

Janet Terranova of Portland, OR, says her dog Lily stops what she’s doing, comes up to her and starts licking and pawing.

She believes Lily does not respond as much to migraines as to the pain in her voice and her tears.

The idea that dogs experience changes in your voice during a migraine has scientific support. There is evidence that an area in the brain of dogs is particularly sensitive to the sound of one’s voice and to sudden changes in it.

And migraines are not the only health condition that dogs can notice.

Based on medical research, dogs can pay attention to:

  • Symptoms of skin, colon or lung cancer
  • Low blood sugar in people with diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Melanoma

Researchers are also investigating whether dogs can sometimes expect the symptoms.

Can dogs be trained to help with migraines?

If a dog notices your migraines, can he be trained to help you deal with them?

Horowitz thinks so, but says that this kind of training does not just take an afternoon.

Jennifer Thornburg trains service dogs for a company called Compass Key. She is working with several dogs to detect signs of migraines. But more often she teaches them to respond to attacks, anxiety and other human conditions.

There are no guarantees a dog will succeed, she says. The challenge lies partly with you in identifying an idea on which your dog can be trained to respond.

It is not clear what dogs detect when it comes to migraines. It could be a smell, Thornburg says. Or it could be a blank look or a change in body position that is frequently associated with your migraines.

Part of her training in these situations is to notice and reward the way a dog responds to migraines with special attention and treats.

Even if your dog cannot expect your migraines, he can still help.

For example, says Thornburg, some service dogs are trained to fetch a medical bag when their human is in distress. And of course, dogs reward people every day by offering closeness and company.



Alexandra Horowitz, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Barnard College Columbia University.

Current biology: “Voice-sensitive regions in the dog and human brain are revealed by comparative fMRI.”

Jennifer Thornburg, service dog trainer, Compass Key.

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicines: “Examination of migraine sufferers with dogs to evaluate on canine migraine warning behavior,” “Canine responses to hypoglycemia in patients with type 1 diabetes,” “Sniffer dogs are a reliable approach for the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2- infection?”

Seizure: European Journal of Epilepsy: “Seizure dogs: a review and preliminary study.”

Stacey Hardman, Wheeling, WV.

Shalini Buckel, Durham, NC.

Janet Terranova, Portland, OR.

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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