New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has shed light on why some dogs do not respond to anti-epilepsy treatments.

The study by the college’s canine epilepsy clinic sought to find out why some dogs respond well to treatment, and become seizure-free, while others continue to have seizures long term.

It analysed patient data from six years of medical history taken from the epilepsy clinic at the RVC’s small animal referral hospital. At the point of follow up, only 14% of dogs studied were in seizure-free remission.

The results showed seizure density (how close together seizures occur) rather than the number of seizures a dog was a more accurate sign of achieving remission in canine epilepsy.

Similar results have previously been found in human epilepsy, highlighting the dog as a naturally occurring model of this disorder. Continuing research into the drug treatments of the condition in dogs could also improve understanding of the disorder in human beings.

Traditionally in human medicine, epilepsy patients are treated with anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) immediately after the onset of the condition. This study found that time to treatment after diagnosis, or the number of seizures experienced before treatment, did not affect the likelihood of achieving remission.

The sex of the dog was also found to be an important risk factor with male animals less likely to go into remission than female dogs receiving AED treatments.

Other studies into canine epilepsy have focussed on a specific dog breed. Due to the data gathered from the RVC hospital, this research was able to look at how epilepsy affects a wider section of dog types. The results found border collies and German shepherd dogs were at a significantly higher risk of not responding to AEDs than other breeds.

The clinical director of the hospital and specialist in neurology and neurosurgery Holger Volk said canine epilepsy was a complex condition and could be very distressing for the dog and its owner.

“Drug treatments can be successful in reducing seizures, but it is important to note that consistent remission is difficult to attain,” Prof Volk added.

Co-author of the study and clinical investigations research assistant at the RVC, Rowena Packer said that in its worst form canine epilepsy could be life-threatening to dogs.

“But it is a dog’s long-term quality of life that is most affected,” Dr Packer said. “It can also take a toll on the owners who have to manage this unpredictable, uncontrollable condition.

“Therefore it is important manage owners’ expectations with regards to drug treatments. Studies like this are important and can have wider implications for the treatment of epilepsy in humans as well as dogs.”

The research paper will be published in academic journal, PloS One.

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