Brianna's mother said Charlie is "very protective" and rarely leaves the child's side
An Irish family has said
their pet dog is helping to protect their three-year-old daughter by
warning them when she is about to have an epileptic seizure.
The Lynch family, from County Clare, believe their Great
Dane, Charlie, can sense changes in their child up to 20 minutes before
she has a fit.
Brianna Lynch has epilepsy since birth.
Her family said Charlie will alert them by walking in circles
around Brianna. He also gently pins her against a wall to stop her from
falling during a fit.
Brianna's condition was picked up when she was three months old.
It can lead to traumatic seizures, some of which cause her to
go into a trance-like state, while others cause violent convulsions
during which she is at risk of falling and hitting her head.
Brianna's mother, Arabella Scanlan, said Charlie is not a
trained "seizure alert dog" but was just a normal, family pet who
appears to have developed some kind of special skill through his own
They first noticed it some time ago when the huge Great Dane
began to get agitated and walk in circles around Brianna. Minutes later
the toddler had an epileptic fit.
"If you see a child having a seizure, it's pretty horrific,
it's frightening, it's terrible, it's gut-wrenching," Ms Scanlan said.
"Charlie will know about 15 to 20 minutes before she's going
into seizure. He'll get ever so panicky and giddy, almost as if you'd
think 'this stupid dog is going to knock her over'."
In fact, at first the family thought they might have to find
another home for their clumsy Great Dane, amid concerns that he would
knock the toddler down as a result of his agitation.
"He's a big boy - it isn't like he's agile. When Charlie
turns the whole room turns with him," Ms Scanlan said. "But he has
never once knocked her over."
She said the family began to notice a pattern to Charlie's
behaviour, with his increased agitation often preceding one of Brianna's
"We kept an eye on this and, sure enough, I went into the yard one
day and she (Brianna) was buckled over to the side, on top of him
(Charlie). She was actually having a seizure.
"She was leaning against the wall, bent over him and he just
looked at me as if to say 'I don't know what to do'. But he stayed with
her, he didn't move."
Ms Scanlan said that since then, the dog rarely leaves
Brianna's side and will gently pin her up against a wall or other
surface if he senses she is about to fit. He will guard the child until
"I actually don't know the psychology behind it but, no
shadow of a doubt, people are mesmerised when they see him in action. It
would actually melt your heart to see them together," she added.
Scientific studies have established that some dogs can be
trained to "sniff out" cancers and detect low blood sugar levels in
diabetic patients, but to date, there is no conclusive scientific proof
that canines have an ability to predict human epileptic seizures.
UK charities such as Support Dogs and Medical Detection Dogs train dogs to assist people with a variety of medical conditions.
The Sheffield-based charity, Support Dogs, trains "seizure
alert dogs" which it says can "give between 10-55 minutes warning prior
to an oncoming seizure".
Medical Detection Dogs chief executive Dr Claire Guest has
personal experience of the animals' ability to detect serious illness.
She was training dogs to recognise cancers, when she said one of them "started to warn her". She subsequently discovered she had an early stage breast tumour.
Dr Guest said it had been established that dogs could detect
human odour changes in cancer and diabetes patients but said it was not
yet clear how some dogs could predict epileptic fits.
She said it could be triggered by smell, but the dogs could also be responding to visual signals.
It is certain that not all dogs showed signs of ability to detect illness and disease.
Dr Guest said it was usually found in highly expressive dogs
that were very attentive to humans and showed a general concern to
protect their owners from harm.
She added that most scientific studies had been initially
sparked by "anecdotal reports" from pet owners who noticed a pattern of
behaviour in their dogs, but said the area would benefit from more
In 2003, findings from a preliminary study published in
Seizure, European Journal of Epilepsy, suggested that "some dogs have
innate ability to alert and/or respond to seizures".
The study added that the success of these seizure alert dogs
"depends largely on the handler's awareness and response to the dog's
Charlie and Brianna's story was first reported in their local paper, the Clare Champion.
The family are fundraising to a buy a new
electroencephalography (EEG) machine for University Hospital Limerick,
in order to accurately diagnose their daughter's condition.