Service animals for people living with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES): some thoughts

I get asked about service dogs for PNES quite a bit and over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to observe my patients’ service dogs and emotional support animals in action. The ones who are really well-trained have left me very impressed at how useful they are in ensuring safety and also for some patients, their seizures have been significantly reduced after the dog was brought on board.
So, here are some thoughts on this subject.

What can service animals do for someone who has seizures/PNES? They can:

  • Detect physiological changes the patient is experiencing before she/he is even aware they are occurring
  • Guide the patient to safety
  • Go get help
  • Apply pressure on the patient’s chest or lap to assist in grounding and emotional regulation
  • Stay with the patient until help has arrived and/or the seizure has run its course

They also help reduce anxiety through touch and distraction and provide comfort and loyal companionship.

Keep in mind that the cost for a dog that has been bred and trained for these purposes can be elevated (although there are some foundations that might help cover some of the cost) so, when obtaining a service animal, make sure to do so from reputable therapy and medical alert dog trainers in the US.

Alternatively, some people decide to buy their own dog (certain breeds are thought to be more amenable to this type of work) and hire a reputable trainer to work with the dog and owner directly. However, and this is key, going this route requires extreme dedication and consistency for the dog to become a truly reliable and useful service animal.

You should also know that there are several classifications for service animals (emotional support animals, psychiatric service dogs, therapy service dogs, and seizure response dogs) and some of these are especially important because they may affect where the animal can go or not.

Emotional support animal: a type of animal that assists with psychological symptoms and disorders, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
How would you get your animal classified as an emotional support animal? A licensed mental health professional prescribes the animal as part of an individual’s treatment plan by writing an emotional support animal letter (ESAL). This entitles you and your animal to certain rights under federal law. It must be printed on the licensed provider’s letterhead, signed and dated, includes all licensing information, and explains why the animal is necessary based on the patient’s diagnosis.  Beware of some online scams offering ESALs and keep in mind that not all mental health providers feel comfortable writing this type of letter.

Psychiatric service dog (PSD): a type of assistance animal that is trained to perform specific and unique tasks for certain mental illnesses (e.g., PTSD, agoraphobia, autism, etc.).  They may assess for triggers and threats, provide tactile distraction, help when nightmares occur.
Service animal: is highly trained animal that provides specialized services [e.g., mobility assistance dogs for a person who is a paraplegic or a seizure response dog] and who has a specific designation and rights under federal regulations)

Seizure response dog: is trained to respond when their patient is having a seizure and/or alert the individual when a seizure is going to occur.  The animal may be trained to alert families when the individual has a seizure, and to break the individual’s fall or lie next to the individual to prevent injury. A letter from the patient’s clinician (mental health professional or neurologist) can be used to certify the animal and gain access to certain rights afforded working animals.

Take note: Although the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees someone who is disabled the right to be accompanied by the certified animal in public spaces, it is absolutely necessary that the animal is well behaved and must abide by public health rules (e.g., cannot enter a surgical room in a hospital). In addition, it can be helpful if the animal wears an identifiable harness,

So, in conclusion, when someone with PNES asks me whether I think they should get a service animal or not, I tend to be supportive of this decision, as long as we recognize that bringing an animal home is a big responsibility and commitment, it is not necessarily a solution to all the person’s problems, it will not make things better overnight, and only as long as the animal is either coming from a reputable breeder/trainer or the person is definitely willing to put months if not years into training the animal.

10 thoughts on “Service animals for people living with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES): some thoughts”

  1. Verfrandae Newberry

    For 15 years I have had an undetermined diagnosis Epilepsy PNES several neurologist here in the state of Ga have also been diagnosed with PTSD I have school Aged children and unfortunately spend large amounts of time alone please educate me on what I need to do I have just this year decided to apply for disability and be more consistent with my health care and taking my meds

  2. Claudía Preciado

    My 13 year old daughter was diagnosed with PNES. She always has the episodes at her school. Thanks to the guidance of her neurologist and therapist the school is handled her condition in the best way possible to keep my daughter and her friends safe. Unfortunately, today she had an episode at church what made the correct response very difficult. Next year she will go to HS, and I think that to have a seizure response dog will help her to cope with her emotions. Where may I find information to request a service dog?

    1. Hey my daughter was diagnosed with PNES when she was 13 years old as well. It’s been very difficult and confusing for us. She is 15 now and will start highschool next year. I’ve never met someone else going through what my daughter and I have been going through. My daughter is highly interested in a service dog as well but I wasn’t sure if a dog could work with someone diagnosed with PNES. I would love to talk to you more about PNES and my daughter. My email is if you are interested

  3. I need help getting a service dog since my last one past away. I’m in an area where only epileptic seizure dogs will be given. Paws withacause. Bc my grand Mal seizures are pseudo seizures, I can’t find anyone to provide me with a seizure dog to help me. I’m 35, divorced and live alone.
    Please help me find a service dog!
    Amanisha Jay

  4. Amber Kaslar

    Hi my name is Amber, I have had NON-epileptic seizures for a couple years now. I’m struggling so much to get them under control right now. I’m over 18 years old but my mom is my payee If I wanted to apply to get a seizure response dog could I?

    1. NES is not a disorder that most service dog programs will provide. I am a private service dog trainer I’m in Colorado if your not close I am willing to communicate and help with owner training a service dog

  5. Just wanted to clear up any confusion! The ADa states that a service dog does NOT have to labeled/ have a vest on. There is also not certification for Service Dogs. Only Task trained Service Dogs have those Public Access Rights. ESA do Not! They other option for training a Service dog is to Owner train. However like it said The Dog has to be well behaved!

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