A key thing when it comes to dealing with a migraine attack is being prepared for it. This can include having somewhere dark and quiet ready where you can go until the attack is over; already having drinks, snacks, ice packs and medications packed in a migraine survival kit so you don’t need to try and gather them while an attack is going on; and taking those medications as soon as you feel an attack coming.
With quite a few migraine medications, the sooner you take them, the more effective they are. This is because it gives them more time to get into the bloodstream and to ease symptoms, especially as some migraine suffers find that their digestive system slows right down during an attack – making oral medications that much less easily absorbed. It’s this need for early treatment that means that being alerted to an oncoming attack can make much such a big difference to the severity of an attack. This is where migraine alert dogs come in as they can recognise the earliest stage of a migraine – the prodrome.
In the prodrome phase of a migraine, small changes such as more yawning, having food cravings, feeling tired, having mood changes, and going to the bathroom more often can all occur. The prodrome phase of the migraine attack can start up to 48 hours before the aura or pain phase of a migraine attack and studies have found that up to 40% of migraine sufferers experience a prodrome phase.
Just as guide dogs for the blind are specially trained dogs, so are migraine alert dogs; but while guide dogs are trained to help their owners navigate when out and about, migraine alert dogs are trained to recognise these prodrome-related subtle changes in their owner’s physical or psychological behaviour. The dog can then alert their owner by nudging, licking, circling, barking, or not leaving their side.
If some of this sounds familiar, but you don’t have a trained migraine alert dog, then it’s entirely possible that your dog is simply doing it as a natural reaction to your oncoming attack. In one study, close to 60% of migraine sufferers who owned a dog reported that their dog had actively alerted them to an oncoming attack, and 50% said their dog behaved differently towards them before the onset of a headache.