New research from the Royal Veterinary College canine epilepsy clinic has provided information on why some dogs do not respond to anti-epilepsy treatments. 

A macro shot of a sleepy beagle dog's nose and face.

The work could shed light on the condition in humans due to similarities between the condition in man and dog.

Epilepsy is the most common chronic neurological condition found in dogs and humans and past studies have found that in a third of dogs, drug treatments failed to reduce the number of seizures they experience by 50 per cent.

The latest study sought to find out why some dogs respond well to treatment, and become seizure-free, while others continue to have seizures over a long period.

Researchers analysed data from six years of medical history taken from the epilepsy clinic at the RVC’s Small Animal Referral Hospital.

The results show that seizure density, how close together seizures occur, rather than the number of seizures is a more telling sign of achieving remission in canine epilepsy. Similar results have previously been found in human epilepsy.

The researchers say that further  research into the drug treatments in dogs could also improve understanding of the disorder in human beings.

Traditionally in human medicine, epilepsy patients are treated with AEDs (Anti Epilepsy Drugs) immediately after the onset of the condition.

The 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.

Border Collies and German Shepherds are at a significantly higher risk of not responding to anti-epileptic drugs than other breeds, according to the research.

Prof Holger Volk,  Clinical Director of the RVC’s small animal referral clinic and specialist in Neurology and Neurosurgery said: “Canine epilepsy is a complex condition and can be very distressing for the dog and their owner.

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

Co-author of the study and Clinical Investigations Research Assistant at RVC, Dr Rowena Packer, said “In its worst form canine epilepsy can be life threating to dogs, but it is a dog’s long term quality of life that is most affected.

“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 Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the England’s largest and longest established veterinary school and is a College of the University of London.