RVC study sets the agenda for the future of canine epilepsy research - Veterinary Practice
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RVC study sets the agenda for the future of canine epilepsy research

Findings provide valuable insight and highlight the importance of ensuring owners views integrated into the direction of future research planning

A new study, conducted by the RVC, has identified improving drug management and the development of new antiepileptic medication as key research priorities for dog owners, general practice veterinarians and specialist veterinary neurologists in treating idiopathic epilepsy in dogs.

These findings provide valuable insight and highlight the importance of ensuring owners views integrated into the direction of future research planning. It will also ensure future research more effectively improves the quality of life of both affected animals and their owners.

Seeking to better understand these challenges, a team of researchers, led by Dr Rowena Packer at the RVC, alongside RVC PhD student Dr Gareth Jones and Professor Holger Volk at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, conducted prioritisation activities to highlight the most important and urgent research needs. The study also investigated views on non-drug therapies for epilepsy, which is an emerging area of research in epilepsy.

Epilepsy is the most common, chronic brain disease in dogs, characterised by recurrent seizure activity, and although anti-seizure medications are available, these are sadly ineffective for many dogs. Available treatments can also have unpleasant side effects for some dogs, including lethargy, wobbliness and extreme hunger.

Analysing the results of an online survey, the team were able to identify the areas of canine epilepsy research deemed most important by 414 owners of dogs with epilepsy and specialist neurology and general practice veterinarians. It also assessed how these views changed from 2016 to 2020. Key findings of the study include:

  • The research areas with the highest perceived importance were improving existing drug management of epilepsy, the development of new antiepileptic medication and improving the education of vets regarding epilepsy.
  • The research areas ranked as the highest priorities were the development of new antiepileptic medication, identifying genetic causes of epilepsy, and non-drug management of epilepsy.
  • Of 10 non-drug therapies, the five rated to have the highest potential positive impact on epilepsy management were behaviour management, gene editing, CBD oil supplementation, MCT oil supplementation and epilepsy surgery.
  • Priorities differed between vets and owners, with owners prioritising day-to-day quality of life issues for their dog, such as behavioural issues or the side effects from medications. In contrast, the vet groups prioritised clinical issues such as identifying the genetic causes of epilepsy and how different types of seizures are classified.

Dr Rowena Packer, Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the Royal Veterinary College, said:

“Our study identified clashing research priorities for epilepsy between owners and vets, with owners prioritising research focusing on issues that impact upon their and their dog’s day-to-day life, such as side effects and behavioural co-morbidities of epilepsy, whereas GP vets and neurologists focused more strongly upon clinical issues and longer-term strategies to manage or prevent epilepsy. This is perhaps unsurprising given the different experiences of epilepsy between owners and vets, with similar findings seen in studies of doctors and human epilepsy patients.

“Although all of the research areas included in this prioritisation activity are important areas of investigation, ensuring that the voices of owners are heard in the planning of future research should be a broader goal in veterinary medicine, to ensure efforts are targeted at those areas most likely to improve the quality of life of both affected animals and their owners.”

Professor Holger Volk, Professor of Small Animal Diseases and the Head of Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, said:

“We all hope that our research makes a difference for pets, their owners and vets, but how often have we really explored what that means for the individual stakeholders? In this study, we have clearly shown that future research needs can differ depending on which group you ask. We do need to take this into account for our future research projects.”

Veterinary Practice

Veterinary Practice is an online knowledge and information hub for veterinary professionals across all specialties. It provides reliable, useful and interesting content, written by expert authors and covering small animal, large animal, equine and practice management sectors of the veterinary surgeon and nursing professions.


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