Department: Clinical Science and Services
Research Groups: Brain Health and Behaviour
Rowena is currently a BBSRC Research Fellow, specialising in companion animal behaviour and welfare. Her broad research interest is inherited diseases in the dog, with her current research focusing on canine neurodevelopmental disorders and their impact on animal welfare.
EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT
Rowena joined the Royal Veterinary College as a PhD student in 2009, became a Postdoctoral Researcher in 2013, and was awarded a BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship in 2016.
Rowena's background is in animal behaviour and welfare, having graduated from the University of Bristol in 2009 with a BSc (Hons) in Animal Behaviour and Welfare (1st Class). Her PhD, awarded in 2013, focused on inherited disorders related to extreme conformation in dogs, and was supervised by Dr Charlotte Burn and Dr Anke Hendricks.
Following her PhD Rowena worked as a lecturer (maternity cover) on the MSc Animal Behaviour and Welfare course at Queens University Belfast. In 2014 she returned to RVC as a postdoctoral researcher investigating canine epilepsy and its behavioural comorbidities in RVC's canine epilepsy research group, led by Professor Holger Volk until 2017.
Rowena plays an active part in the early career researcher community at RVC, and was on the executive committee of the Researcher Association between 2015-18 (2015-2016: Vice-President; 2016-2017: President, 2017-2018 Senior Vice President).
- (2016) UFAW Young Animal Welfare Scientist of the Year
- (2014) ILAE Best Expert Led Presentation Prize
- (2013) RVC Postgraduate Seminar Day Prize - Runner Up
- (2010) RVC Prize Poster Day - 1st Prize
- (2009) UFAW Dissertation Award - for the highest mark in final year project
- (2008) University of Bristol Undergraduate Scholarship – highest aggregate mark
Rowena's broad research interest is canine health and welfare, focusing on inherited diseases and how we can improve their diagnosis, treatment and ultimately, prevention.
Epilepsy and abnormal behaviour
In her current role as a BBSRC Future Leader Fellow, Rowena is investigating idiopathic epilepsy, a complex chronic brain disorder that affects both humans and dogs. Although seizures may be the signature symptom of epilepsy, co-morbid neurodevelopmental disorders are commonly diagnosed in people with epilepsy including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which may indicate shared underlying pathophysiology.
Using a combination of behavioural and cognitive assays, quantitative EEG and MRI techniques, Rowena aims to establish whether ASD and ADHD-like behavioural abnormalities occur as a co-morbidity of canine epilepsy, and where present, identify associated neuroanatomical and neurophysiological markers, and explore their impact on canine welfare.
Her collaborators for this work include:
Rowena currently supervises several postgraduate students:
- Miss Sarah Hobbs PhD 2020-2023: Investigating behavioural interventions as management tools for canine epilepsy )co-supervised by Dr Emily Blackwell(
- Dr Sarah Finnegan: PhD 2017-2020: Investigating the potential of non-invasive seizure forecasting in canine epilepsy (co-supervised by Dr Lucy Asher, Dr Monica Daley, Prof Holger Volk)
- Dr Amy Pergande: MRes 2018-2020: Owner decision-making in the treatment and management of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy (co-supervised with Dr Zoe Belshaw and Prof Holger Volk)
In her previous role she worked as a postdoctoral researcher in RVCs canine epilepsy research team with Professor Holger Volk,with projects including:
- Development of a canine epilepsy smartphone app RVC Pet Epilepsy Tracker
- Impact of anti-epileptic drugs on the behaviour and welfare of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy (with Luisa de Risio)
- Impact of epilepsy upon the stress physiology and behaviour of affected dogs and their owners (with Dr Rob Fowkes)
- Risk factors associated with remission from idiopathic epilepsy
- Effect of treatment (including novel medications and diet) on seizure control
Breed health and conformation related disease
Rowena’s PhD research centred around the health consequences of extreme morphology in dogs. Her research focused on disorders that are directly associated with conformation, specifically:
- Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome (BOAS)
- Corneal disease
- Intervertebral disc disease
She has an ongoing interest in this area and continues to lecture around the UK to breed clubs on these topics and supervise undergraduate and postgraduate students in research projects in this area, with a particular focus on owner perceptions of disease, and breeder and buyer behaviour.
- (2016) BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship (2017-2020) Comorbidity and characteristics of canine neurodevelopmental disorders and their impact on animal welfare
- (2016) BBSRC Responsive mode grant (Researcher Co-I) Investigating the relationship between epilepsy, drug-resistance and affective disorders in the domestic dog
- (2019) BBSRC AWRN Workshop Award
- (2016) American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation (Co-I with Prof Holger Volk, $107,697.06)
- (2018) UFAW Travel Award (3rd International Dog Health Workshop)
- (2015) RVC Public Engagement Competition for Contract Researchers
- (2013) RVC 'Sparking Impact' award to host brachycephalic health day
- (2012) UFAW Travel Award (1st International Dog Health Workshop)
- (2011) Dogs Trust Canine Welfare Grant (with Dr C Burn & Dr A Hendricks)
- (2011) Early Career Bursary - Int'l Conference on Veterinary and Animal Ethics
- (2010) UFAW Research and Project Award (with Dr C Burn & Dr A Hendricks)
- (2009) ASAB Vacation Scholarship (with Dr Melissa Bateson)
- (2008) UFAW Vacation Scholarship (with Prof Christine Nicol)
Peer-reviewed publications (Google Scholar profile)
 BERK BA; LAW TH; PACKER RMA; WESSMANN A; JOKINEN T; KNEBEL A; TIPOLD A; PELLIGAND L; MEADS Z; VOLK HA (In Press) A multicenter randomised controlled trial of a medium-chain triglycerides dietary supplement to improve management of canine epilepsy. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine
 O'NEILL DG; PACKER RMA, LOBB M; CHURCH DB; BRODBELT DC; PEGRAM C (2020) Demography and commonly recorded clinical conditions of Chihuahuas under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2016. BMC Veterinary Research 16 (1), 42
 WATSON F; PACKER RMA; RUSBRIDGE C; VOLK HA (2020) Behavioural changes in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. Veterinary Record 186, 93.
 PACKER RMA; O’NEILL DG; FLETCHER F; FARNWORTH MJ (2019) Great expectations, inconvenient truths, and the paradoxes of the dog-owner relationship for owners of brachycephalic dogs. PLoS ONE. 14 (7) : e0219918
 PLITMAN L; CERNÁ P; FARNWORTH MJ; PACKER RMA; GUNN-MOORE DA (2019) Motivation of owners to purchase pedigree cats, with specific focus on the acquisition of brachycephalic cats. Animals 9 (7), 394
 DE DECKER, S; PACKER, RMA; CAPELLO, R; HARCOURT-BROWN, T; ROHDIN, C; GOMES, SA; BERGKNUT, N; SHAW, T; LOWRIE, M; GUTIERREZ-QUINTANA, R (2019) Comparison of signalment and computed tomography in French bulldogs, pugs and English bulldogs with and without clinical signs associated with thoracic hemivertebrae. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 33 (5), 2151-2159
 O’NEILL DG; SKIPPER AM; KADHIM J; CHURCH DB; BRODBELT DC; PACKER RMA (2019) Demography and disorders of Bulldogs under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2013. PLoS ONE 14 (6) e0217928
 BERK BA; PACKER RMA; LAW TL; WESSMANN A; BATHEN-NOTHEN A; JOKINEN TS; KNEBEL A; TIPOLD A; PELLIGAND L; VOLK HA (2019) A double-blinded randomised dietary supplement crossover trial design to investigate the short-term influence of medium chain fatty acid (MCT) supplement on canine idiopathic epilepsy. BMC Veterinary Research 15 (1). DOI: 10.1186/s12917-019-1915-8
 PACKER RMA; DAVIES AM; VOLK HA; PUCKETT HL; HOBBS SL; FOWKES RC (2019) What can we learn from the hair of the dog? Complex effects of endogenous and exogenous stressors on canine hair cortisol. PLoS ONE 14 (5): e0216000. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216000
 PACKER RMA; HOBBS SL; BLACKWELL EJ (2019) Behavioural interventions as an adjunctive treatment for canine epilepsy: a missing part of the epilepsy management toolkit? Frontiers in Veterinary Science. DOI: 10.3389/fvets.2019.00003
 WYATT S; LAFUENTE P; TER HAAR G; PACKER RMA; SMITH H; DE DECKER S (2018) Gait analysis in French bulldogs with and without vertebral kyphosis. The Veterinary Journal. DOI: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2018.12.008
 BRISTOW P; TIVERS MS; A KUMMELING; PACKER RMA; GERRITS H; HOMAN K; ORTIZ V; NEWSON K; LIPSCOMB V (2018) Health Related Quality of Life following Surgical Attenuation of Congenital Portosystemic Shunts versus Healthy Controls. Journal of Small Animal Practice.DOI: 10.1111/jsap.12927
 BERK BA; PACKER RMA; LAW TH; VOLK HA (2018) Investigating owner use of dietary supplements in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. Research in Veterinary Science 119; 276-284
 WATSON F; RUSBRIDGE C; PACKER RMA; CASEY RA; HEATH S; VOLK HA (2018) A Review of Treatment Options for Behavioural Manifestations of Clinical Anxiety as a Comorbidity in Dogs with Idiopathic Epilepsy. The Veterinary Journal 238, 1-9
 WINTER J; PACKER RMA; VOLK HA (2018) A preliminary assessment of cognitive impairments in canine idiopathic epilepsy. Veterinary Record 182, 633
 O'NEILL DG; BARAL L; CHURCH DB; BRODBELT DC; PACKER RMA (2018) French Bulldogs under primary veterinary care in the UK: Demography and disorders. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 3(5): 3
 FARNWORTH MJ; PACKER RMA; SORDO L; CHEN R; CANEY SMA; GUNN-MOORE DA (2018) In the eye of the beholder: Owner preferences for variations in cats’ appearances with specific focus on skull morphology. Animals 8(2): 30
 PACKER RMA; MCGREEVY PD; SALVIN HA; VALENZUELA M; CHAPLIN C; VOLK HA (2018) Cognitive dysfunction in naturally occurring canine idiopathic epilepsy. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0192182
 PACKER RMA; MCGREEVY PD; PERGANDE A; VOLK HA (2018) Negative effects of epilepsy and antiepileptic drugs on the trainability of dogs with naturally occurring idiopathic epilepsy. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 200: 106-113.
 INGLEZ C; RYAN R, TER HAAR G, PACKER RMA, VOLK HA, DE DECKER S (2018) Evaluation of the influence of kyphosis and scoliosis on intervertebral disc extrusion in French bulldogs. BMC Veterinary Research 14:5
 O'NEILL DG; KEIJSER SFA; KISKO C; LEROY G; LLEWELLYN-ZAIDI A; MALM S; OLSON P; PACKER RMA; ROUSSELOT JF; SEATH IJ; STULL JW; BONNETT B (2017) Moving from information and collaboration to action: report from the 3rd International Dog Health Workshop, Paris in April 2017. BMC Veterinary Research 4:16
 PACKER RMA (2017) Survival in feline epilepsy: the long and short of it. Veterinary Record 181: 477-478.
 PACKER RMA (2017) Wider impacts from dog showing; more than just a rosette? (Editorial). AWSELVA Journal
 PACKER RMA; VOLK HA; FOWKES RC (2017) Physiological reactivity to spontaneously occurring seizure activity in dogs with epilepsy and their carers. Physiology & Behavior 177: 27-33
 STANCIU G-D; PACKER RMA; PAKOZDY A; SOLCAN G; VOLK HA (2017) Clinical reasoning in feline epilepsy: what combination of clinical information is useful? The Veterinary Journal 225: 9–12
 BRISTOW P; TIVERS MS; PACKER RMA; BROCKMAN D; ORTIZ V; NEWSON K; LIPSCOMB VJ (2017) Long term serum bile acid concentrations in dogs after complete extrahepatic congenital portosystemic shunt ligation. Journal of Small Animal Practice. doi: 10.1111/jsap.12685
 PACKER RMA; MURPHY D; FARNWORTH MJ (2017) Purchasing popular purebreds: Investigating the influence of breed-type on the pre-purchase attitudes and behaviour of dog owners. Animal Welfare 26: 191-201
 PACKER RMA; DE RISIO L; VOLK HA (2017) Investigating the potential of the anti-epileptic drug imepitoin as a treatment for co-morbid anxiety in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. BMC Veterinary Research. 13:90
 PACKER RMA; LUCAS R; VOLK HA (2016) Owner perception of focal seizures in canine epilepsy. Veterinary Record doi:10.1136/vr.104099
 PACKER RMA; SEATH IJ; O'NEILL DG; DE DECKER S; VOLK HA (2016) DachsLife 2015: An investigation of lifestyle associations with the risk of intervertebral disc disease in Dachshunds. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 3:8 doi: 10.1186/s40575-016-0039-8
 FARNWORTH MJ; CHEN R; PACKER RMA; CANEY S; GUNN-MOORE DA (2016) Flat feline faces: Is brachycephaly associated with respiratory abnormalities in the domestic cat (Felis catus)? PLOS ONE 11(8): e0161777
 WESSMANN A; VOLK HA; PACKER RMA; ORTEGA M; ANDERSON TJ (2016) Quality of life aspects in idiopathic epilpesy in dogs. Veterinary Record:10.1136/vr.103355
 DE DECKER S; GOMES S; PACKER RMA; KENNY P; BELTRAN E; PARZEFALL B; FENN J; NAIR D; NYE G; VOLK HA (2016) Evaluation of magnetic resonance imaging guidelines to differentiate between thoracolumbar nucleus pulposus extrusions and anulus fibrosus protrusions in large breed dogs. Journal of Veterinary Radiology and Ultrasound doi: 10.1111/vru.12394
 SUITER EJ; PACKER RMA; VOLK HA (2016) Comparing the effects of first line antiepileptic drugs on the gait of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. Veterinary Record doi:10.1136/vr.103736
 O'NEILL DG; PACKER RMA (2016) The First Canine Behaviour and Genetics Conference: Summary and recommendations for future directions in canine behavioural science. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2016.02.006
 GOMES SA; VOLK HA; PACKER RMA; KENNY PJ; BELTRAN E; DE DECKER S (2016) Clinical and magnetic resonance imaging characteristics of thoracolumbar nucleus pulposus extrusions and anulus fibrosus protrusions in large breed dogs. Journal of Veterinary Radiology and Ultrasound. DOI: 10.1111/vru.12359.
 PACKER RMA; SHIHAB NK; TORRES BBJ; VOLK HA (2016) Risk factors for cluster seizures in canine idiopathic epilepsy. Research in Veterinary Science 105: 136–138.
 PACKER RMA, LAW TH, DAVIES E, ZHANGI B, PAN Y, VOLK HA (2016) Effects of a ketogenic diet on ADHD-like behaviour in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. Epilepsy & Behavior 55: 62-68.
 PACKER RMA, HENDRICKS A, TIVERS MS & BURN CC (2015) Impact of facial conformation on canine health: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0137496
 PACKER RMA, VOLK HA (2015) Epilepsy beyond seizures: a review of the impact of epilepsy and its comorbidities on health-related quality of life in dogs. Veterinary Record 177 : 306-315.
 HÜLSMEYER V; FISCHER A; MANDIGERS PJJ; DE RISIO L; BERENDT M; RUSBRIDGE C; BHATTI SFM; PAKOZDY A; PATTERSON EE; PLATT S; PACKER RMA; VOLK HA (2015) International Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force’s current understanding of idiopathic epilepsy of genetic or suspected genetic origin in purebred dogs. BMC Veterinary Research 11:175.
 DE RISIO L; BHATTI S; MUÑANA K; PENDERIS J; STEIN V; TIPOLD A; BERENDT M; FARQHUAR R; FISCHER A; LONG S; MANDIGERS PJJ; MATIASEK K; PACKER RMA; PAKOZDY A; PATTERSON N; PLATT S; PODELL M; POTSCHKA H; PUMAROLA BATTLE M; RUSBRIDGE C; VOLK HA (2015) International veterinary epilepsy task force consensus proposal: diagnostic approach to epilepsy in dogs. BMC Veterinary Research 11:148.
 PACKER RMA, HENDRICKS A, & BURN CC (2015) Impact of facial conformation on canine health: Corneal ulceration. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0123827
 PACKER RMA; TIVERS MS (2015) Strategies for the management and prevention of conformation-related respiratory disorders in brachycephalic dogs. Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports 6, 219-232
 DE DECKER S; LAM R; PACKER RMA; GIELEN IMVL; VOLK HV (2015) Thoracic and lumbar vertebral bone mineral density changes in a natural occurring dog model of disseminated idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. PLoS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0124166
 PACKER RMA; BERENDT M; BHATTI S; CHARALAMBOUS M; CIZINAUSKAS S; DE RISIO L; FARQUHAR R, HAMPEL R; HILL M; MANDIGERS PJJ; PAKOZDY A; PRESTON SM; RUSBRIDGE S; STEIN V; TAYLOR-BROWN F; TIPOLD A; VOLK HA (2015) Inter-observer agreement of canine and feline paroxysmal event semiology and classification by veterinary neurology specialists and non-specialists. BMC Veterinary Research 11 (1) 39
 PACKER RMA; NYE G; PORTER SE; Volk HA (2015) Assessment into the usage of levetiracetam in a canine epilepsy clinic. BMC Veterinary Research 11 (1) 25
 PACKER RMA; SHIHAB NK; TORRES BBJ; VOLK HA (2015) Responses to successive anti-epileptic drugs in canine idiopathic epilepsy. Veterinary Record doi: 10.1136/vr.102934
 PACKER RMA; SHIHAB NK; TORRES BBJ; VOLK HA (2014) Clinical risk factors associated with anti-epileptic drug responsiveness in canine epilepsy. PLoS ONE 9(8): e106026.
 ARMASU A; PACKER RMA; COOK S; SOLCAN G; VOLK HA (2014) An exploratory study using a statistical approach as a platform for clinical reasoning in canine epilepsy. The Veterinary Journal 202, 2: 292–296
 PACKER RMA; HENDRICKS A; VOLK HA; SHIHAB NK; BURN CC (2013) How long and low can you go? Effect of conformation on the risk of thoracolumbar intervertebral disc extrusion in domestic dogs. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69650. Media coverage: The Times
 PACKER RMA; HENDRICKS A; BURN CC (2012) Do dog owners recognise clinical signs related to a conformational inherited disorder that is 'normal for the breed'? A potential constraint to improving canine welfare. Animal Welfare 21(S1): 81-93. Media Coverage: Vet Record, DogWorld, RSPCA Australia
PACKER, RMA, HENDRICKS, A, & BURN, CC (2014) Conference Report: Building Better Brachycephalics 2013. The Royal Veterinary College, North Mymms. pp. 1-36 http://www.ufaw.org.uk/documents/BuildingBetterBrachycephalics2013Report.pdf Media coverage: Vet Record Telegraph
PACKER, RMA (2012) Normal for the breed? The Veterinary Nurse 3 (5) 326 http://www.theveterinarynurse.com/cgi-bin/go.pl/library/article.cgi?uid=92586;article=_3_5_326
Rowena is involved in lectures and Directed Learning sessions related to animal welfare to the BVetMed, BSc and veterinary nursing courses. Rowena annually guest lectures for the University of Edinburgh's MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare, and co-supervises MSc thesis projects related to her research interests.
In 2013 she lectured Animal Welfare for a term (maternity cover) at Queen's University Belfast on their MSc Animal Behaviour and Welfare.
Rowena is currently recruiting for studies related to canine epilepsy, listed here:
Current studies recruiting:
- The Big Brainy Border Collie Study: Investigating brain structure, function and behaviour In Border Collies with and without Idiopathic Epilepsy. For more infomation, click here
- PREDICT: (Prodrome Recognition in Epileptic Dogs to Improve Control and Therapeutics) – Investigating the potential of non-invasive seizure forecasting in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. For more infomation, click here
- IDEAS (Idiopathic Epilepsy and Anxiety Study) - Investigating the relationship between epilepsy, drug-resistance and affective disorders in the domestic dog. For more infomation, click here
- LIFETIME: Investigating the long-term influence of a medium chain fatty acid diet on canine idiopathic epilepsy. For more information, click here
- Pexion behaviour: Investigating the effect of Pexion (Imepitoin) on the behaviour dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. For more informatoin click here.
Rowena is keen to share her research with relevant stakeholder including owners, breeders and animal charities, and has organised two public engagement events:
- "Building Better Brachycephalics", November 2013 - Report available here
- "21st Century Management of Canine Idiopathic Epilepsy", June 2015. Further information available here
She is a member of the Dog Breeding Reform Group and the Brachycephalic Working Group, regularly lectures at breeder events across the UK and has authored articles for the Kennel Club Pet Health Information pages.
A study to investigate the long-term influence of a medium chain fatty acid diet on canine idiopathic epilepsy - LifeTIME (Long Term remission Mct Epilepsy) study
Dietary management for epilepsy is commonly used in humans, and recent studies at RVC have demonstrated that a diet containing medium-chain-triglycerides (MCTs) can reduce seizure frequency, and improve behaviour in some dogs with epilepsy. The purpose of the present trial is to confirm the efficacy of an MCT enriched diet in the management of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. We will use a parallel design, which means that your dog will either receive a standard high-quality diet or the same diet enriched with MCT.
Extreme body shapes can cause debilitating conditions, from breathing difficulties to agonising slipped discs, and from irritated wrinkly skin to eye ulcers. Our research highlights the need for breeding strategies that safeguard the welfare of these companion animals.
IDEAS (Idiopathic Epilepsy and Anxiety Study) - Investigating the relationship between epilepsy, drug-resistance and affective disorders in the domestic dog
IDEAS aims to investigate how environment, diet, genetics and other factors affect the development of epilepsy and anxiety, and how they may be linked in dogs with epilepsy. This study will improve our knowledge and ability to diagnose epilepsy and develop treatments for dogs with epilepsy. We aim to increase quality of life for both dogs with epilepsy and their owners. To do this we are specifically recruiting German Shepherd and Border Collies as both breeds are popular in the UK and have a breed predisposition for drug-resistant epilepsy.
PREDICT Study (Prodrome Recognition in Epileptic Dogs to Improve Control and Therapeutics) – Investigating the potential of non-invasive seizure forecasting in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy
PREDICT aims to investigate the potential of non-invasive seizure forecasting in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. This study will improve our knowledge and ability in prediction of seizures and management of canine epilepsy. We aim to increase quality of life for both dogs with epilepsy and their owners. To do this we are specifically recruiting any breed, age and sex of dogs from the United Kingdom.
The Big Brainy Border Collie Study: Investigating brain structure, function and behaviour In Border Collies with and without Idiopathic Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a complex brain disease seen in both humans and dogs. Subtle differences in brain anatomy, electrical activity in the brain, and day to day behaviour are found between people with epilepsy and people with normal brain development. We are interested in exploring these differences between Border Collies with and without epilepsy, and if they may mimic differences seen in human epilepsy cases.