When Pets Warn You of An Impending Migraine

Pet Soothing and Migraine-Alerting Behaviors

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We all love our furry friends. They bring companionship, joy and perspective to our lives. Not surprisingly, there is a reason why “pet therapy”  exists. Pets can provide comfort and emotional healing to those who are sick, lonely or uncomfortable.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is an intervention used by health care providers in various settings, ranging from hospitals to extended care facilities, and for patients of all ages, including children and the elderly.

This type of therapy uses the human-animal bond to promote relaxation. It has been found to lower individual’s blood pressure and heart rate, improve mood symptoms such as anxiety and depression, and even used as an adjunct or complementary therapy in pain clinics.

So, if you are a headache sufferer, you may find that your pets have a keen ability to comfort you or maybe even ease your pain a bit, both physically and emotionally. In addition, some people even notice that their pets alert them to medical problems, like when their sugar is too low (in people with diabetes) or when a migraine is about to occur.

Study Examining Dog Migraine-Alerting Behaviors

An online survey of 18 questions was filled out by over 1000 migraineurs who were also dog owners. The questions revolved around the participant’s migraines, and their dog’s behaviors before and during their migraine attacks.

According to the survey results, over half of the participants reported a recognized change in their dog’s behavior before or during the first phase of their migraine attack.

Of the 466 participants who provided details about their dog’s behavior, 57 percent were able to identify dog alerting behaviors before a migraine attack, typically within two hours. The most commonly reported behavior alteration was unusual attentiveness to the owners, often described as "clingy" or "glued to my side." Other behaviors included:

  • intense staring
  • licking
  • pawing
  • whining

A little over a third of the migraineurs reported initiating migraine therapy upon recognition of their dog’s alerting behaviors, prior to their attack starting. These results were independent of the participant’s migraine frequency or breed of dog.

What are the Dogs Recognizing?

They are likely recognizing the migraine prodrome phase, which begins hours to days prior to a migraine attack. The symptoms of a prodrome phase are variable, but tend to include symptoms like fatigue, mood changes (depression or irritability) or nausea. The benefit of recognizing the prodrome phase is that a person can initiate migraine treatment before the migraine begins -- this can either lessen the severity of the migraine or prevent it completely.

Bottom Line

This article is not suggesting that you need to buy a dog if you have migraines. Caring for and loving a pet is a wonderful but time and resource-consuming proposition. That being said, if you happen to have a dog or even another type of pet, you may want to pay attention to their behavior around your migraine attacks.

If anything, it's an interesting and harmless activity.  

Sources:

Giffin, N.J., et al. (2003). Premonitory symptoms in migraine: an electronic diary study. Neurology, Mar 25;60(6):935-40.

Marcus, D.A., Bernstein, C.D., Constantin, J.M., Kunkel, F.A., Breuer, P., Hanlon, R.B. (2012). Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic. Pain Medicine, Jan;13(1):45-57

Marcus, D.A., Bhowmick, A. (2013). Survey of migraine sufferers with dogs to evaluate for canine migraine-alerting behaviors. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Jun;19(6):501-8.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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