How To Do Dysautonomia Doggy Style!


That FACE! This is Valentine and he’s the reason this post exists. I saw an article and video in which his person, Michelle talks about how important Valentine is to her independence. Valentine is Michelle’s service dog; Michelle has dysautonomia. At the time of the article, January 2016, Valentine needed lifesaving surgery. I haven’t found any updates about him, but if you’re interested in donating, their site is here.

What would you do if you were alone at work or on the street or at home and you fainted? What if it happened frequently because you had a condition called POTS, a type of dysautonomia? Could you ever live an independent life?

Those are some of the questions that lead people suffering from dysautnomia to consider getting a service dog.

What is dysautonomia?

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the part of the body’s central nervous system (CNS) that coordinates those body processes that happen independent of conscious thought, in other words, automatically (see what they did there? “automatic/autonomic”—the “nomic” part comes from the Greek word for melody—the ANS keeps things singing!). Maintaining a constant internal temperature, regular breathing, steady blood pressure, and other functions that people don’t generally think about are all controlled by the ANS.

But if a properly functioning ANS keeps things happening independently, dysautonomia is kind of like all those horrible families you see on reality TV: dysfunctional. Because the ANS orchestrates so many different things in the body, dysautonomia comes in many forms with myriad symptoms. One common symptom is “syncope” (pronounced SINK-oh-pee), which is the fancy medical term for fainting. When people with a properly functioning ANS stand up and gravity pulls blood down from the head, the body counteracts it by making automatic adjustments to ensure the brain has adequate blood flow and oxygen. That’s what keeps us from fainting.

How could a service dog help?

You would be AMAZED at what service dogs can be trained to do! And I mean specifically trained. In order to be considered a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act (and in most other countries as well), the dog must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of person with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

To help someone who dysautonomia, a service dog might be trained to:

  • Alert the person that a syncope episode is about to happen and assist the person to a safe place to lie down, by stopping and bracing after each step the person takes. People who have POTS often experience serious injuries such as concussions, broken bones and traumatic brain injuries due to sudden fainting—a properly trained service dog helps prevent these issues
  • Pick up dropped items, as bending over can cause syncope
  • Carry a note to a designated co-worker, alerting them that their assistance may be needed
  • Provide balance support—the dog will stand, braced with stiff muscles, counter resistance the person’s unsteadiness
  • Call 911 or any pre-programmed number on a K-9 Rescue speaker phone

Dogs trained to help people with dysautonomia may also be called “Cardiac Alert Dogs” or “Medical Alert Dogs.”

But a dog by any other name still smells that sweet doggy smell! If you’re interested in a service dog, beware of sites that offer “easy certification”! One site I saw made my blood boil because it touted “Take your dog with you anywhere!” People with sham service dogs ought to be ashamed of themselves, imho.


EmpatheticBadass is a young-at-heart writer from Ohio (Go, Bobcats & The Marching 110!)) who is passionate about being a voice for the patient perspective.

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