A migraine is a severe headache that is often accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. There are more than three million cases of migraines in the United States alone, and the threat of migraine and its debilitating symptoms causes many to alter the way they live life each day.
Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with the symptoms of a migraine, and you can even reduce the risk of an episode through proper preventive techniques. One of the more effective strategies for ensuring you always get the care you need before, during and after a migraine is to use a trained service dog.
It may seem crazy that a migraine could be enough cause to obtain a service dog, but it is possible. Most individuals never consider the idea, simply because they are unaware that service dogs could be an option for them. They also may not realize how much a person who suffers from migraines can benefit from having a service dog around to help.
Dogs have been utilized for a number of different ailments over the years. Oftentimes, they are simply available to provide general assistance and companionship. The thorough training that service animals undergo helps them learn specialized skills. These skills can then be put to use with an owner suffering from a wide range of conditions.
The majority of us have experienced a migraine at one point in our lives, but this doesn’t mean we are capable of obtaining a service dog for it. Those who need the service animal most likely experience these migraines very frequently and have been diagnosed with a chronic condition. Let’s take a closer look at migraines to understand the symptoms of the condition, as well as the potential benefits of a service dog.
What Is a Migraine?
A migraine is a very severe headache that can cause throbbing pain in one or more parts of the head, nausea, and sensitivity to light. Migraines are generally distinguishable from regular headaches because the pain is more severe and longer-lasting; some migraines last for a few hours, while some can last for up to a few days at a time.
Additionally, those who suffer from frequent migraines may require long-term treatment, as this is considered a chronic condition. Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic migraines. That said, there are many treatment options that help minimize the frequency of symptoms. While some treatments may involve medication, many treatments are centered around lifestyle changes like sleep improvement, exercise, and stress management.
Additionally, service dogs can be a beneficial part of a chronic migraine treatment plan. While this is not the most common treatment option, it is still a possibility. So, let’s take a look at service dogs and how they can benefit a person living with chronic migraines.
As mentioned, the most common symptoms of a migraine are severe, throbbing head pain, nausea and vomiting and sensitivity to light. However, the symptoms for each individual are unique, and it may also include lightheadedness, sensitivity to sound, distorted vision and face and neck pain.
If you feel as if you may have an issue with migraines, it is encouraged to visit a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis. The diagnosis process often includes examining the symptoms, considering the medical history and running various tests to rule out other possibilities.
The main goal in treatment is to prevent migraines from occurring in the first place — or at least limiting the number of migraines that occur as much as possible. Techniques such as stress management, normal daily schedule and sleep schedule and proper diet are often helpful. As it relates to a service dog specifically in treatment, they can help alert others during an episode, keep the owner calm and stress-free to reduce the risk of one and remind the owner to take medication as directed.
When to See a Doctor About Migraines
There are certain times when visiting a doctor is essential for migraines. Of course, a minor headache caused by allergies or a lack of sleep is not typically an issue, but frequent headaches that are severe and exist along with other concerning symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light are often a cause for concern.
Perhaps the main reason to visit a doctor about migraines is if the symptoms are severe and the headache is intolerable. In other words, if the symptoms cause you to not be able to go about your daily routine, then it is strongly encouraged to schedule a visit with a doctor or visit an emergency center(walk-in clinic, emergency room or urgent care).
The length of the headache is also important to determine. Migraines range anywhere from four hours to several days, whereas headaches may go away within the hour. If a migraine, particularly one that is rather severe, exists for an extended period of time, then see a doctor as soon as possible.
As mentioned, oftentimes the headache may be tolerable for the most part, but the other symptoms are not. If the issue causes any issues with your vision, such as blurred or double vision, then it is a sign as a more serious matter. Other complications may include but not be limited to severe neck or face pain, constant vomiting, and fainting.
Also, if the head pain exists as a result of an injury, such as a car accident, physical altercation, etc., then you should seek immediate assistance. In these instances, it is likely not a migraine that is the issue, and it may be something that requires immediate care to ensure proper health.
What Is a Service Dog?
It is important to note the differences between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. Service animals (typically dogs) have been trained to perform specific tasks that a person is incapable of performing on their own. For this reason, service animals are allowed in public spaces where other animals (possibly including emotional support animals) may not be allowed to go.
Alternatively, emotional support animals are not trained in specific tasks, nor are there as many limitations on the types of animals that qualify; dogs, cats, birds, and even miniature horses can qualify as emotional support animals. In the United States, the Fair Housing Act covers the legal definitions of emotional support animals. This law helps protect emotional support animals and their owners when attempting to rent a living space. So, if you or someone close to you suffers from chronic migraines, but the condition is not considered to be severe, an emotional support animal may be the best option for you.
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Those dealing with chronic migraines also have the option of seeking treatment with a therapy dog, but this is a little more complicated, as therapy animals are often used exclusively in treatment facilities. To put it simply, a therapy dog is any dog that meets certain criteria required to provide psychological and emotional support to an individual. However, by this definition, most dogs would probably qualify. Many people adopt dogs for this very purpose: to provide emotional support and companionship. In reality, therapy dogs are used for specific intervention treatments for those suffering from any kind of mental pain or debilitation.
Therapy dogs can be used for a variety of circumstances. For example, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospice care facilities often use therapy dogs to combat loneliness and depression among the residents. When children (or adults) suffer the loss of a close family member, therapy dogs are a great way to encourage healing and help the individual cope with emotional trauma.
It is important to note that there are different kinds of therapy dogs that all serve different purposes. Generally, therapy dogs can be divided into three categories:
- Therapeutic Visitation Dogs – This is the most common type of therapy dog. These pets and their owners visit hospitals, mental health facilities, and other healthcare centers to prevent patients from feeling lonely, disconnected, or hopeless.
- Animal Assisted Therapy Dog – This type of therapy dog is generally reserved for rehabilitation clinics. Under the guidance of a trained physiotherapist, these dogs help patients regain mobility through various motor-control activities.
- Facility Therapy Dog – These dogs are often used exclusively in elderly care facilities to alert staff of any issues with the patients. They also provide companionship to the residents, many of whom do not have any living friends or relatives outside of the facility.
In short, it can be difficult for people with mild or infrequent migraines to qualify for a service dog, and therapy dogs are usually limited to treatment facilities. As a result, emotional support animals are usually the best choice for these situations. Nonetheless, if your chronic migraines are severe, you can still qualify and obtain a service dog.
When to Consider a Service Dog for Migraines
Now that we have covered exactly what a migraine is and what a service dog and therapy dog is, let’s look into when to consider a service dog for migraines. While many with migraines choose to just deal with each episode on their own, a service dog is a great way to ensure you recognize the early symptoms, prevent migraines and make episodes that do occur as tolerable as possible.
Anyone who experiences severe complications during a migraine requires attention as they most often are unable to help themselves. Service dogs can be trained to retrieve the phone for someone who may have issues with dizziness, eyesight complications, or head pain that is too severe to think properly, which makes the process of calling for assistance much easier. Of course, this is just one example, and there are numerous ways in which a service dog can help for migraines.
For individuals who live with someone else and are rarely home alone, migraines may not cause a threat to long-term health. However, individuals who live alone need a proper plan in place in case the migraine symptoms become severe. In some instances, you may not live alone, the individual may not live alone, but they are often by themselves, whether it is at home, at the office or in any other area, and it is helpful to have a trained faithful companion by your side.
For many who struggle with migraines, the thought of a severe migraine while in public is extremely scary, particularly if the migraines cause temporary impairment with hearing, vision, or general function. During a migraine, a service dog can help you walk, communicate, and find the needed assistance. One of the most distinguishable differences between a headache and a migraine is the secondary symptoms, such as sensitivity to light, blurred vision and nausea, which often do not exist with the average headache. When these symptoms exist, service dogs will know exactly how to handle the situation so you can save and get the proper care.
There are many reasons to consider a service dog for migraines, and many individuals may seek one for issues other than migraines, such as epilepsy, panic disorders and asthma. If you feel a service dog would be beneficial and have the time and ability to care for the service dog, then reach out to us or visit a medical professional to learn more.
How a Service Dog Can Help With Migraines
A service dog is trained so that their behavior and actions are tailored to fit your specific needs. They learn what is normal for you, and more importantly, they learn the type of behavior that is not normal or the behavior that signals an upcoming migraine attack.
Dogs have a heightened sense of smell, and this helps them notice when things are a bit off well before others are aware. To bring this change to your attention, these dogs may do the following:
- Stare or stick very closely to you
- Give you a nudge or lick you
- Circle around you
- Bark to get your attention
Some dogs do it naturally. In one study among dog-owning migraine sufferers, over 50% of participants reported that their dogs behaved differently towards them before the onset of a headache. Closer to 60% reported that their dogs had actively alerted them before a pending attack.
The fact that these dogs are able to detect these changes and associate them with an oncoming migraine is extremely beneficial. In most cases, migraines sneak up on you and hit you out of nowhere. By the time you realize you have one, your medication either takes too long to kick in or simply isn’t that effective. These dogs let you know at the first sign that a migraine may be coming on. This allows you time to take the necessary medication before the pain has time to set in.
In addition to the prevention of migraines, service dogs can also be trained to assist their owner during a migraine episode. For example, if a migraine develops in a public place, the service dog can help their owner get to a safe place without falling or becoming impaired by the symptoms.
They can also help the individual get in touch with someone else when their owner is not able to communicate properly. There are several ways they might be trained to do this, such as retrieving the phone for the owner when he or she is alone.
After the migraine occurs, the service dog is there to help with the recovery process, which may include taking certain medications, allowing for rest without constantly to get up and simply making life less stressful(it is hard to be stressed with a fun, loving dog right beside you!)
What It Costs to Get a Service Dog
The exact price of a service dog depends on a variety of factors. Perhaps the most important determination is the role of the service dog, and the more training that is required the more it will likely cost. Most service dogs are trained specifically for their owners, meaning they are trained after considering the needs of their owners. However, there are pre-trained dogs available as well, which works well for individuals who do not need a service dog with personalized training. Then, of course, there are therapy dogs and emotional support animals, which are not specifically trained to help with migraines, but they do help minimize stress, and they are often much less expensive than service dogs.
The price to obtain one of these animals is around $10,000- $20,000. If you think you are a good candidate and could greatly benefit from having a migraine alert dog in your life, reach out to a service animal company. Unlike most service animal companies, there typically isn’t a waitlist that allows you to obtain the animal for little to no cost. These animals are very specialized, but they are not considered a necessary component of an individual’s life. This doesn’t mean that you can’t try and raise the funds on your own, you just won’t receive it through insurance or the company for free.
You can also opt to train a service dog yourself through our online course; this is significantly less expensive than hiring a trainer or purchasing an already trained service dog.
How to Qualify
In order to obtain a service dog, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 12 years of age, unless a service dog is needed for a child with autism (then the age is 6-12).
- Have a diagnosed physical disability, an anxiety disorder such as PTSD, debilitating chronic illness, or neurological disorder affecting at least one limb.
- Reside in a stable home environment.
- Be physically and cognitively capable of participating in the process of training, up to one hour per day.
- Be able to independently command and handle a service dog.
- Be able to meet the physical, emotional, and financial needs of a service dog.
- Have no other dog in the home (other animals as pets are permitted).
The bottom line is that if you are suffering from chronic migraines and think a migraine alert dog can help you manage this and increase your quality of life, look into it! These dogs are great companions and they can help you feel better and beat those nasty migraines before they occur. In addition to having one of these animals by your side, it is always a great idea to keep a migraine diary that charts what you ate and symptoms you were feeling before your migraine began. These are known as triggers and can help you learn on your own certain things that may be causing the migraine disturbance.
In any case, you should consult with a doctor before making a decision regarding your treatment. Service dogs can be costly, and they may not be the right choice for everyone. If you simply want a companion to help you cope with the stress and pain of migraines, consider getting an emotional support animal instead! The requirements are far laxer, and the costs are much lower as well.
It is also important to make the distinction between a service dog and an emotional support animal, which are confused with one another. A service, as discussed, is specifically trained to help with the prevention, treatment and aftercare of individuals with a condition, such as chronic migraines. An emotional support animal, however, is not specifically trained and is there solely for emotional support. Another distinction to make is with a therapy dog, which is not protected on airlines, with housing or in most public places in the same manner an emotional support animal or service dog is.
How to Choose the Right Service Dog for You
Not every service dog is the same. In fact, each one is completely unique and tailored to meet the needs of its owner. Even more than that, each dog, in general, has a unique personality. It is helpful to consider the type of dog you want before purchasing a service dog for migraines.
The first consideration to make is the breed. Some breeds are simply smarter and able to be trained to do more. For example, a labrador retriever is easier to train to do complex tasks, which is why they make great service dogs. However, they are often more expensive and other breeds may be slightly less expensive.
You should also consider the dog’s needs in addition to your own. Every requires care, including a proper diet, veterinary care and daily exercise. Some dogs require more exercise than others, which may not be ideal for someone who is not in the physical condition to take the dog out regularly.
The Bottom Line
Migraines are never a fun experience, and they often occur at times when they are least expected. Service dogs help patients determine when a migraine is just around the corner, which allows their owner to take the necessary precautions. While there may be a cost associated, the value of living your life the way you want to without fear of a debilitating migraine cannot be measured.
If you feel you can benefit from a service dog, or if you already own a service dog that needs to be registered, then fill out a form on our website to start the service dog registration process. We are here to help you through every step, and we can answer any questions you have along the way.