Epilepsy is the most widespread neurological condition found in canines. This chronic condition affects around 50,000 canines in the UK alone, not to mention more than half a million people. The most standard course of action for canine epilepsy is anti-epileptic drugs or AED’s. Although the drug works for most dogs, this treatment fails to reduce the number of seizures experienced in one-third of the dogs to which it is given. Further, even if the drugs do “work” it does not mean the dog will remain seizure –free indefinitely. According to a recent study which analyzed six years of data from the RVC epilepsy clinic, they found that only 14% of those dogs studied were in seizure-free remission at the point of follow up.
Epilepsy is not considered a disease but rather a condition characterized by recurrent seizures. The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) canine epilepsy clinic sought to find out why some dogs respond well to treatment, while others continue to have seizures long-term. The study focused on variables that could likely coincide with observed outcomes. Results show that the rapidity with which another seizure occurs after the initial one is more telling than the actual number of seizures a dog has. This study also found that the time from original diagnosis to the time treatment was administered, or the number of seizures experienced before treatment, did not affect the chances of remission. The dog’s sex however, was found to be an important factor, with female dogs more likely to go into remission after receiving AED treatments than male dogs. The RVC also evaluated the specific dog breed as a determining factor in recovery. The results pointed to Border Collies and German Shepherds being at a significantly higher risk of not responding to anti-epileptic drugs than other breeds.
Professor Holger Volk, Clinical Director of the RVC's small animal referral clinic and specialist in Neurology and Neurosurgery said that drug treatments can be successful in reducing seizures, but since canine epilepsy is such a complex condition, it is important to remember that consistent remission is still hard to achieve. This can be very distressing for the dog and their owners, who feel helpless while managing this scary and unpredictable condition. Dr. Rowena Packer, co-author of the study and Clinical Investigations Research Assistant at RVC, said canine epilepsy can be life threatening to dogs, but more often it is a dog's long term quality of life that is most affected. Therefore, it is important for owners to be realistic and patient in their expectations with regards to drug treatments. Continuing research into the drug treatments of the condition in dogs could also improve understanding of the disorder in human beings.