Can a Service Dog Help With Narcolepsy?
Trained service dogs are a relatively new way to help people with narcolepsy live more independent, safer lives.
How do narcolepsy service dogs help? Certain dogs can be trained to notice the small changes that take place when a person with narcolepsy is about to have an attack. The dog then alerts the person with a bark, nudge, or lick. This gives the person time to sit or lie down in a safe place.1,2
Other helpful tasks a narcolepsy service dog can do include:2
- Fetching medicine
- Standing over their person to prevent crime
- Finding help or calling 911
- Acting as a soft landing spot
- Reminding the person to take medicine at a certain time
- Waking up the person with a lick
Some people with narcolepsy also have anxiety. Dogs can be trained to provide hugs or pressure therapy during panic attacks, stress, or anxiety. Getting out and walking the dog can help fight other symptoms of narcolepsy, including high blood pressure, obesity, and fatigue.3-5
Requirements to get a narcolepsy service dog
The organizations that provide trained service dogs have many requirements for potential adoptees. The conditions vary, but in general, you must be:3,4
- Diagnosed by a doctor with narcolepsy
- Be at least 12 years old, with exceptions for children with certain conditions
- Be physically and mentally able to join in the training process for 1 to 2 hours a day for 3 to 6 months
- Able to command and handle a service dog
- Able to provide for the dog emotionally, physically, and financially
- Live in a stable home
- Have no other dog in the home (other animals are okay)
Most organizations will not train your pet. Most only train dogs they have bred through their own program. The breeds most often trained are retrievers and labradors, and sometimes poodles or labradoodles.
It can take 2 or more years to get a trained service dog. It depends on whether the person is matched to a dog already in training or is matched with a puppy. Learning the skills to be a service dog for a particular person takes roughly 2 to 3 years.
Costs of a narcolepsy service dog
In addition to meeting strict household requirements, most narcolepsy service dogs cost the person between $10,000 and $30,000. A few programs around the country offer service dogs for free or at very low cost to veterans or people who live in a certain geographic area. The cost of service dogs is not covered by insurance. Most people must raise the funds themselves.3-5
If you cannot afford a fully trained service dog, getting a dog may still provide vital emotional support for those with depression and anxiety. Emotional support animals do not have the same legal protections as trained service dogs but can still provide valuable support.4,5
Where to get a narcolepsy service dog
There are many organizations across the United States devoted to training narcolepsy service dogs. Some are for-profit, and some are nonprofit. Some provide dogs only to people living in a certain geographic area. A few of these organizations include:
Legal issues of service dogs
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is a dog that has been custom trained to perform tasks for a certain person. Generally, these animals must be allowed to go anywhere anyone in the public goes. Emotional support animals are not protected under the ADA.6
Due to the high costs of getting a trained service dog, some people may try to put a vest on their dog and declare it a service animal. However, if the dog misbehaves, in some states you can be fined or go to jail for misrepresenting the animal’s training.6