Could You Be Getting A Migraine? Ask Your Dog

Do you often wish you had a reliable way to predict when a migraine would occur? Wouldn’t it be great if you knew an hour or so beforehand so you could start migraine treatment early to ward off severe symptoms? New research conducted through suggests you may have a good predictor—right at the end of a leash.

When dogs have been trained to alert their owners to impending medical conditions, like low blood sugar for people with diabetes and seizures for people with epilepsy, they’re called medical detection or alert dogs. During the month of January, we posted an online survey and invited people with migraines who lived with a dog to participate. People answered questions about their dogs, their migraines, and how their dogs reacted to migraines.

Over 1000 of you completed this survey and 54 percent of you reported that you recognized a change in your dog’s behavior before or during the initial phases of your migraine. Most people reported their dog became excessively attentive before or at the beginning of a migraine. People often described their dog as becoming “clingy,” “glued to my side,” and “Velcro dog.” Intense staring, frantic licking, pawing, and whining were also frequently described. Interestingly, over half of those recognizing a migraine alerting behavior reported that this typically occurred before any migraine symptoms, usually within 2 hours of an impending migraine. And this link between a change in your dog’s behavior and a migraine occurred consistently for about 60 percent of people. One in three migraineurs took advantage of their dog’s predictions by beginning their migraine treatments after recognizing the change in their dog’s behavior but before migraine symptoms had started.

So if you’ve tried to tell your doctor or others that your dog can predict your migraine and have been met with skeptism, you’re not alone. Recognizing migraine alerting behavior in your dog is more common than you think. You may want to add a column to your migraine diary about your dog’s behavior so you can find out if your dog might be trying to tell you something about your migraines

Thanks to all of you who participated and shared your stories. These results will be presented this fall at the large European Federation of Neurological Societies meeting that will be attended by over 5000 doctors. Thanks again, and give some extra belly scratches to your hard working dogs!

June 2013 Update: View the full published results:

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


View Comments (17)
  • Anne
    3 years ago

    omg – my dog becomes very clingy, too, before I have a migraine!!! He’s always pretty clingy, but extra clingy with migraine. He also stays by my side – most attacks – until I’m able to go back to life.

  • Brooke H moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Anne, Thank you for posting. We appreciate you sharing that you can relate to this article. You sound like you have a wonderful dog! Best, Brooke team

  • Lodalyn
    4 years ago

    I missed the survey, but my Shin Tzu could smell my migraines. He would lay right beside my head, sniffing my forehead every half hour or so. If I moved,he did too.
    He was my greatest caretake and I miss him so much.
    So far my new pup, Boo doesn’t smell me but he gets clingy when my head hurts. The Bloodhound has taken over the smelling role. My warning from him is when he spends too much time sniffing my head.

  • SunupShutterbug
    4 years ago

    I missed this survey but I want to add my voice to the discussion. I have two cats who are aged 12 years and a labrador retriever puppy who is 7 months old. I haven’t noticed any awareness from the puppy that a migraine is imminent , but one of my cats will become adamant that I not leave the house. She will body block any attempt at my leaving-actively stopping me from driving to work. She will lay by my side or on me and lick me and meow. Oddly enough, as I type this she has come into the office and begun to walk on the desk and begin her warning behaviors.

  • Meggietye
    4 years ago

    My dog is usually my shadow 24/7 and is highly affectionate…But before my symptoms show up or just early into a migraine she won’t come anywhere near me and avoids eye contact and won’t come within 10 ft of me. It is when this occurs I quickly take my medication and she has not been wrong once in the 2.5 yrs she has been with us. I was so happy to hear others have particularly sensitive pets as well 🙂

  • megeneric
    6 years ago

    I have MS and two Devon Rex companion cats. They can predict migraines and relapses and that helps me get “prepared”. They stay in bed with me while I am resting. When I am getting ill, they howl and circle me and try to direct me to bed. At first, I didn’t understand but then they finally got through to the dense human person.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. I didn’t know what a Devon Rex was until I looked it up. They are very interesting looking cats! I’m glad your companions are so helpful to you!

  • tinamontgomery
    7 years ago

    My cat stays close to me and “talks” to me much quieter than normal when I feel or wake up with a migraine. He lays next to me the entire time I am getting through the migraine. He lets me know I should go ahead and take my meds instead of waiting it out to see if it is really a migraine. He gives me much comfort when I am down with a migraine.

  • MargoW
    4 years ago

    I have three cats, all rescue so who knows what breed. Two are affectionate anyway, but as a migraine approaches they become velcroed to me, purring and cuddling as if trying to ward of the upcoming pain. They massage me with thei paws, bathe me, and nuzzle me. I wouldn’t give them up for all the world and they doo provide such a measure of comfort to me.

  • Dr Marcus author
    7 years ago

    I’m really enjoying reading all the incredible stories about dogs making a difference! I’m sure these will be an inspiration to others. Belly scratches to all your awesome pups!

  • 7 years ago

    I think this is true. I have had migraines since I was 3 or 4 years old. Neither of my parents suffered them though my mother’s mom and sister did. I was told my whole childhood I had sinusitis or I was a liar. That was hard to take when my earliest memory was of blinding pain as a small child behind my left eye spreading across to the to left side of my head as it does to this day (though not exclusively). Last year my father had a major stroke. It was suggested to me as I tried to care for two severely disabled parents (I’m now 31) that I get myself a dog. I’ve had a cat for maybe 12 years now–predating my ever meeting my husband. But the stress was so out of control that my husband truly believed we should do it. So we did. We found a free 8 month Chihuahua mixed with dachshund creating a popular hybrid mix that is quite popular right now. The FREE part is why I went to see the dog. The family was big with many small children and told me they knew they weren’t doing right by him. They were cat people. And too boot they couldn’t house break him or even get him to walk on leash. They were anxious for me to take him but being blunt about his problems. My husband became slightly reluctant because I was all ready taking care of my very sick parents. But I just wanted to take him out of there. So we brought him home. I realized the little girls weren’t supervised as they played with him and though they meant well….he was afraid of people. He also was stuck in the Garage all winter in a crate to sleep very isolated from the family. So to bond with us while he was still a bit suspicious of us I allowed him to sleep in bed with us. I think that sealed our bond. For months after that my husband and my mom remarked how he was incredible at calming me. Frankly at the time I didn’t see it. My world was falling a part. I might have been in the year where I’d turn 30 but I was losing my father and it was devastating to me. Some of the best times I had last year wear just leaving the apartment and walking him. When my father died I also was oblivious to his attention to my feelings. But this year I’ve begun to notice it goes farther than what everyone else was talking about. When I’m really sad he will snuggle next to me and lay his head on me till he can catch my eye. If I’m just sad…he’ll start acting goofy and will inevitably make me smile and laugh. Not for a treat to eat–but to just be with me seemingly in a better mood. Then when the migraines come….since I’ve gotten older I’ve nearly gotten used to living through and going on with daily life with a constant headache. It’s there but isn’t crippling or horrible like a migraine so I just push through it. I started doing that when I was a kid on those days when doctors shamed me and told my mom I was either exaggerating my pain or just making it up to get out of school. She of course believed the doctor so when I’d complain of ‘headaches’ I’d get in trouble. When I was 17, they stopped being sporadic and started happening on a weekly basis. So I just learned to deal with the different degrees of pain. And when finally one hit where I couldn’t get out of bed she threatened to take me to the ER still thinking I was putting on a display to get out of school. What happened was I was validated and given imitrex injections that tended to work half the time for my most severe migraines. So now at 31 years old, a year after my father’s death–still taking care of my mother….I’ve noticed this sweet little dog is incredible in-tune to my feelings. Say I have a cramp in my calf like a few days ago. This wonderful little being tried to help me by laying on it as if he was hoping to heal it. Then I noted with my very own migraines he tries very, very hard to stay as close to me as possible even if I somehow fall asleep during the episode. When I wake he looks up at me twisting and turning his head as if he is trying to discern if the episode has past! I’ve found it remarkable how he attempts to watch over me. And doesn’t surprise me at all that he might be able sense a migraine episode before it happens. Knowing this idea, I need to be astute and look for his subtle signs. I’ve told people I rescued him because his out of control behavior if he couldn’t be given away was next going to land him in the county shelter (I like to think he’d been adopted fast but I know they have SOOOOOO many adorable dogs like him just as worthy of homes)….But in retrospect maybe when I brought him home it wasn’t me as savior but something much more mutual.

  • kathy m
    7 years ago

    yes, yes, yes!!! finally our canines are recognized for their invaluable work. my new service dog started alerting to my migraines as a puppy before i realized it. he is trained for mobility assistance and object retrieval. my last service dog did not allert. what a bonus. he allerts in the middle of the night before i am aware of the problem. he has saved me numerous times from missing work because i am able to medicate before too late. he is a god-send!!!

  • Dr Marcus author
    7 years ago

    Smogzilla — I’ve heard from others who also live with a migraine-alerting cat. Isn’t is wonderful when our pets provide such wonderful service to us! It’s also interesting that people can live with several dogs (and probably several cats, too), and only one of the alerts the person to migraines. The same, actually, has been found to be true to other types of medical detection dogs, like those that alert people with diabetes to impending low blood sugars. It’s truly incredible what the pets in our lives can often tell us about ourselves — if we’ll only listen!

  • Smogzilla
    7 years ago

    my dog is useless, however my cat, Max, is my migraine cat. He’ll stick to my side when I’m having a migraine.

  • Dr Marcus author
    7 years ago

    I’ve heard from a number of folks who said, “I always thought my dog could do this, but …” and either they thought maybe they were reading too much into their dog or their family/doctors told them dogs can’t detect migraines. It’s amazing what we can learn from our doggie companions once we really start to listen! Keep up the great work everyone.
    Dr. Marcus

  • kathyhorton-bishop
    7 years ago

    I’ve known for awhile not only does our dog try to get me to lay down when one is coming on often before I notice the symptoms she won’t leave my side till I’m through the worst of it……she even knew something was wrong with my husband she kept laying on his stomach…..he ended up having cancer right where she was laying and later when the cancer returned she knew too….. she always seems to know when and where I’m hurting and curls up to it…..what a loyal companion she was to my husband util the cancer took his life now she has taken over by taking care of me watching over me and protecting and alerting me of anger….there has really got to be something to it..I’m a believer

  • kyange
    7 years ago

    I didn’t comment but please add my dog, Woody and I to the list!!!

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