Service Dog News
March 31, 2019
Research in France Finds that Dogs Can Smell Seizures- Plus Tax Strategies for Service Dog Owners
Can Dogs Smell a Seizure? Yes They Can:
In a journal article published in Scientific Reports entitled, “Dogs Demonstrate the Existence of an Epileptic Seizure Odour in Humans,” researchers from the University Rennes in Normandy, France produced a potentially groundbreaking discovery. Previous to the work of the French researchers scientists were uncertain whether seizure alert dogs (SADs) used olfactory, electrical, or visual stimuli when detecting forthcoming seizure activity. Moreover, if the relevant stimulus is olfactory, it was unknown whether the origin is pheromonal, chemical, or electrochemical.
Consequently, the most astute protocols for training SADs emphasized conditioning a behavior that commences upon the observation of visual stimuli indicative of seizure activity. Then, via classical association or spontaneously via intrinsic recognition the dog may develop a pre-ictal alert behavior that provides early warning and concomitant safety for the epileptic handler. Visual-based training was most appropriate, since visual stimuli were known, whereas knowledge regarding potential olfactory and electrical stimuli remained elusive.
In the experiment, the researchers instructed 5 epileptic patients to wipe a sterile cotton pad about their hands, forehead, and neck immediately post a general seizure, place the pad within a Ziplock® plastic bag, exhale into the bag, seal the bag, and then freeze the bag. The researchers also similarly collected control scents while the participants engaged in sporting activity and while in a placid state at least 6 hours before or after a seizure event.
The researchers next used 5 trained detection dogs to:
a) determine whether they could discriminate the seizure scent from the non-seizure active and inactive scents and
b) whether the seizure scent was generalized to all 5 participants or whether each seizure scent carried an individualized signature.
The experimental task set up 7 opaque cans, 1 with the target odor and 6 with control odors, 2 after sporting activity and 4 during placid activity. The dogs detected the target odor with a sensitivity (true positive) rate of 86.8% and ignored the control odors with a specificity (true negative) rate of 98%. Three of the five dogs were perfect, achieving 100% sensitivity and 100% specificity. Given that the dogs were presented with a 7-choice test, their performance significantly exceeded chance, even with the 2 less precise dogs, who exhibited true positive rates of 67%, whereas chance would indicate an accuracy of only 14%.
Clearly, the dogs were able to discriminate seizure odor from non-seizure scent. Furthermore, seizure odor was generalized to all the human participants, whereby if it had an accompanying individual signature the signature was not relevant to the dogs’ ability to recognize the odor.
The findings may impact future training methods for SADs, as olfactory methods, especially in combination with visual methods, may produce a more reliable alert dog. Moreover, if gas chromatography or mass spectroscopy can analyze the constituency of the ictal volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and how it differs from human odor in a normal non-seizure state, then perhaps such information will lead to the development of improved anticonvulsant medications, medical machinery that can detect imminent seizures, and training aids that improve the preparation of SADs.
Can Service Dog Owners Deduct Dog Related Expenses on Their Taxes? Yes, Some of Them Can:
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publication 502 explains itemized deductions for medical and dental expenses available to taxpayers on Schedule A (Form 1040). Taxpayers can submit medical and dental expense deductions on Schedule A for the amount of eligible expenses that exceed 7.5% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI). Publication 502 also discusses when health insurance premiums may be deductible.
The publication states:
Medical expenses are the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and for the purpose of affecting any part or function of the body. These expenses include payments for legal medical services rendered by physicians, surgeons, dentists, and other medical practitioners. They include the costs of equipment, supplies, and diagnostic devices needed for these purposes.
Medical care expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental disability or illness. They don’t include expenses that are merely beneficial to general health, such as vitamins or a vacation.
Medical expenses include the premiums you pay for insurance that covers the expenses of medical care, and the amounts you pay for transportation to get medical care. Medical expenses also include amounts paid for qualified long-term care services and limited amounts paid for any qualified long-term care insurance contract.
The publication lists over 80 categories of eligible medical and dental expenses. One of the categories is “Guide Dog or Other Service Animal.”
You can include in medical expenses the costs of buying, training, and maintaining a guide dog or other service animal to assist a visually impaired or hearing disabled person, or a person with other physical disabilities. In general, this includes any costs, such as food, grooming, and veterinary care, incurred in maintaining the health and vitality of the service animal so that it may perform its duties.
Thus, the regulation appears to include service dogs that assist recipients suffering from sensory or mobility-related disabilities, but excludes deductions for service dogs that assist those with cognitive or psychiatric disabilities. Yet, the 80 referenced categories of allowed expenses include psychiatric care, psychoanalysis, psychologist, and therapy. Allowing deductions for licensed mental health care while denying deductions for a psychiatric service dog appears inconsistent. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “The rules are the rules.”
The publication also states:
You can generally include medical expenses you pay for yourself, as well as those you pay for someone who was your spouse or your dependent either when the services were provided or when you paid for them.
Therefore, taxpayers can deduct service dog related expenses for dogs that assist the taxpayer, a spouse, a dependent child, or a qualified dependent relative, provided the service dog assists someone with a sensory or physical disability.
Although the provision appears biased against those with psychiatric disabilities, on the bright side, it is nice to know that at least some recipients with service dogs or their agents can receive a deduction for the purchase, training, and maintenance of the animal.
© Copyright Mark Spivak and Comprehensive Pet Therapy, Inc., March 2019. All rights reserved.