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Migraine Medical Alert Dogs

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Migraines can be crippling - it's bad enough when they happen at home, but it can be devastating and dangerous if a migraine suddenly hits when a person is out. That's where migraine medical alert dogs come in.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines are quite common in the US - about 38 million people, from adults to children, suffer from migraines. That works out to about 12 percent of the US population; on a larger scale, migraines are the eighth most disabling condition in the world.

Migraines are far more than bad headaches - they can be debilitating, causing vertigo, extreme light sensitivity, distorted or blurred vision, vomiting and more, along with extreme pain on one or both sides of the head. If a person is away from home - whether at work, shopping, at a restaurant or driving - a migraine attack can render them helpless and without a way to return home to safety. Migraines can last from a few hours to a few days, and afterwards many people report feeling fatigued. Migraines are not age specific, they can occur in children, adolescents, and adults.

A migraine alert dog is trained to warn a person before the migraine occurs, even if it's in the middle of the night while a person is sleeping. A warning might take the form of a particular type of persistent whining, constant licking, staring at the owner, incessant barking, whirling in circles, or other obvious alerts. The dog's early warning allows the sufferer to either take their medication right away to help lessen or prevent the migraine or to get home or to a safe place without sound or light before the migraine hits. During the migraine, if the person experiences dizziness, loss/distortion of vision or any other type of movement impairment, the dog can help to guide them and give them stability and support. This is also helpful during the post-migraine fatigue period.

A specialized type of training is required for migraine service alert dogs; much like seizure alert dogs, they're trained to recognize the sometimes subtle signs that occur before a migraine actually comes on. According to Psychology Today, approximately 80 percent of migraine sufferers experience one or more "prodromes" - these are the symptoms that can occur minutes or hours before a migraine that may not necessarily be recognized or may be overlooked by the sufferer but that will be a clear signal to a migraine alert dog. Some (but not all) of these symptoms include:

  • food cravings
  • hiccups
  • yawning
  • hyperactivity
  • mood changes (irritability, depression, etc.)
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty with language comprehension
  • frequent urination
  • dizziness
  • neck pain

When a migraine alert dog senses the changes in his owner that signal an oncoming attack, the person can take medication before pain begins. This is important because once a migraine sufferer feels pain beginning, it can already be too late for medication to prevent the attack.

While migraine alert dogs receive general training before they're assigned to a person, their training becomes fine-tuned to the specific person they're helping. The more time the dog spends with the person, the better they become at recognizing early, more subtle changes such as a difference in the smell of the person's breath, their skin tone (paleness, flushing) and other things.

Migraine alert dogs can help sufferers lessen the likelihood of an attack in some cases. For example, dogs are excellent for lowering a person's stress level in general, which can benefit a migraine sufferer whose headaches may be triggered by stress. Also, if a doctor recommends a regular exercise routine (which can also lower stress levels), taking a dog for regular walks every day is a great way to make sure an exercise routine is maintained.

It's important that migraine alert dogs be outfitted with a service dog vest so other people realize they are working service dogs and not pets that can be played with. Service dogs are always doing their job every minute of every day, paying close attention to their owners, and shouldn't be distracted unless permission is given by their owner.

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