By Linda Cole
Dealing with migraine headaches can be debilitating. It’s not always easy to predict when one will hit or how severe it will be. Dogs can be trained to detect a seizure before it begins to give the person a chance to prepare for the event, but can dogs also be used to signal their owner when a migraine headache is about to hit? Read on to find out!
Migraines strike over 37 million people in the United States, affecting women more than men. Researchers understand some of the triggers that can bring on a migraine, but they are still in the dark when it comes to why they occur. What triggers a migraine is different for each person who experiences this type of chronic severe headache, and there can be more than one trigger. Stress, changes in the weather, certain foods or drinks, bright lights, strong smells, loud noises and hormonal changes are some common triggers. What makes living with migraines hard to deal with is that it’s so difficult to know when one will occur. For many people, by the time early warning signs appear, it’s already too late to take medication that can ease the pain.
A migraine actually starts around 12 to 48 hours before an attack occurs. This is called the prodrome phase where subtle changes begin to take place in the central nervous system. These small changes affect the normal balance in the nervous system and slowly grow during this period, culminating with a painful migraine.
Migraine alert dogs are trained to pick up on changes a migraine sufferer develops during the prodrome phase preceding the headache. Some of the symptoms during this time include mood changes, excessive yawning, tiredness, difficulty in speaking or concentration, dizziness, hyperactivity, irritability and neck pain. Migraine alert dogs are trained to sense changes in behavior, but they also use their incredible sense of smell to notice changes taking place in a person’s body chemistry during the prodrome phase. Dogs trained to alert you when an attack is coming may sit and stare intently, refuse to leave your side, nudge or lick you, whine, bark or walk around in a circle.
It’s likely that all dogs are able to pick up on the changes migraine sufferers go through during the prodrome phase, but untrained canines probably don’t understand that you want them to share what they have noticed or sensed with their nose. It appears that some dogs are naturals, though. Researchers conducted a survey and asked migraine sufferers about their untrained pet dogs. Over 50% of dog owners who have migraines reported that their furry friend acted differently before a migraine began or when one was occurring, and around 60% said their dogs alerted them before an attack happened, usually around two hours before the headache began. Migraine sufferers who figured out that a change in their dog’s behavior was a signal of an impending headache were able to begin their treatment before warning signs of a migraine attack started, to reduce the intensity and duration of the attack.
Dogs pay much more attention to us than most people realize. It’s easy to be skeptical about linking your dog’s behavior to something going on with you medically. However, your dog knows how you normally behave and can sense chemical changes in your body. Whether or not your untrained pet will respond with changes in his own behavior is uncertain, but it’s always wise to pay attention when behavioral changes occur – your dog might be trying to tell you something is wrong with you.
As with any service dog, it takes time to properly train migraine alert dogs, but researchers believe all dogs are capable of sensing changes that take place and can detect a migraine before one begins. If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from migraines and share your home with one or more dogs, you might want to look to your best friend for advanced notice that can help you manage a migraine episode. And if he does alert you in advance of a migraine, don’t forget to reward him with some tasty CANIDAE dog treats!
Read more articles by Linda Cole