February 25, 2018

Epilepsy Management Requires Substantial Commitment From Dog Owners

Survey results show that long-term veterinary support and successful control of seizures strongly influence owner and pet quality of life.
By Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD
Canine epilepsy researchers at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine recently conducted an online survey to question owners of epileptic pets on multiple aspects of managing the disease. Results of the survey were published recently in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association.

The survey, consisting of 59 questions, was available online from July 2011 through August 2012. Questions addressed demographic information; medical history; treatment efficacy, adverse effects, and financial cost; and perceived quality of life for the pet and owner. Partially answered surveys were included in analysis.

Two hundred twenty-five owners of epileptic dogs from North America, Europe, and Australia completed the survey. The respondents’ dogs represented more than 33 breeds, and the mean onset of seizures was 30.2 months. Owners reported seizure activity ranging from partial or isolated to cluster seizures. Most dogs experienced fewer than 1 (32%) or 1 to 4 (36%) seizures per month, while 13% of dogs had been seizure-free over the previous 6 months. Sixty (21%) dogs had been hospitalized at least once for seizure activity.   

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Of 98 responses received about diagnostic testing, owners indicated routine bloodwork as the most commonly performed diagnostic test for seizures (76%), followed by MRI (31%), abdominal ultrasound (23%), and computed tomography (17%). The cause of seizures for most (89%) dogs was presumed or confirmed to be genetic. Owners indicated several triggers for their pets’ seizures, including stressful events (eg, veterinary visits and boarding), lunar phase, and weather and barometric changes.

Medical treatments for epilepsy included phenobarbital, bromide, levetiracetam, zonisamide, and gabapentin. Most (81%) owners reported adverse effects from antiepileptic treatment, including lethargy, increased appetite or thirst, and cognitive changes. The median monthly cost of antiepileptic medication ranged from $51 to $75, with 10% of respondents spending over $200 per month on medication.

Eighty-percent of respondents indicated they received some form of veterinary support for long-term management of epilepsy via direct dialogue with veterinary staff, educational materials, and/or interacting with other clients. Most respondents also subscribed to online support groups for owners of epileptic pets. 

Combined quality of life scores for owners and their pets were relatively low at the onset of seizures and before antiepileptic treatment was initiated. Scores remained relatively low in cases of poorly controlled epilepsy, while the highest scores were reported for dogs with infrequent seizure activity and no medication adverse effects. The number and average monthly cost of medications did not significantly affect quality of life. 

Owners and their dogs were able to maintain a relatively high quality of life, despite the diagnosis, if the disease was well controlled and treatment had minimal side effects. Most owners also relied on emotional and educational support from their veterinarians and online pet-owner groups for long-term management of the disease.

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