Department: Clinical Science and Services

Campus: Hawkshead

Research Groups: Animal Welfare Science and Ethics, Brain Health and Behaviour, CPCS (Research Programme)

Research Centres: RVC Animal Welfare Science and Ethics, Clinical Investigation Centre

Rowena is currently the Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science and a BBSRC Research Fellow at RVC. Her main research interest is the impact of health on behaviour, cognition and welfare, with a focus on chronic inherited diseases in the dog.

Rowena joined the Royal Veterinary College as a PhD student (2009-2013). She has since been a Postdoctoral Researcher (2013-2016), BBSRC Future Leader Fellow (2017-2021), and she is currently the Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science (2020-).

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; awarded the UFAW Dissertation Award for highest mark in final year project, and the University of Bristol Undergraduate Scholarship for highest aggregate exam marks).

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 at RVC.

In 2016, she was awarded the UFAW Young Animal Welfare Scientist of the Year award.

Rowena is an Editorial Board Member for the Journal Scientific Reports, and a Coordinating Group Member for the BBSRC-UFAW Animal Welfare Research Network.

Rowena's broad research interest is canine health and welfare, focusing on chronic diseases (particularly inherited disorders) and how we can improve their diagnosis, treatment and ultimately, prevention. 

Canine brain health and behaviour

Rowena is interested in how the canine brain expresses pathology and is particularly interested in the interplay between neurological disorders and behaviour/cognition. Rowena leads RVC's canine epilepsy research team and supervises a number of undergraduate and postgraduate students in this area.

In her role as a BBSRC Future Leader Research Fellow (2017-2021) Rowena explored differences in the behaviour, cognition, neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of dogs with epilepsy compared to healthy controls. Her work in this area uses a combination of behavioural and cognitive assays, quantitative EEG and MRI techniques.

Her collaborators for this work include Dr Fiona James, University of GuelphProf Lucy Asher, Newcastle University, and Prof Holger Volk, Hannover.  She is interested in using technology to better diagnose and manage canine epilepsy. To this end she co-developed RVC's Pet Epilepsy Tracker, and is working with PhD student Dr Sarah Finnegan and Prof Lucy Asher to develop IMU technology to predict and detect seizures.

Rowena's postgraduate students in this area include:

  • 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 2017-2021: Investigating the potential of non-invasive seizure forecasting in canine epilepsy (co-supervised by Prof 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)
  • Miss Olivia Edgar-Price: MRes 2021-2022: Exploring risk factors for visually-mediated abnormal repetitive behaviours in the domestic dog (co-supervised with Dr Maria Diez-Leon)
  • Dr Callum Atkins: MRes 2021-2023: Exploring veterinary management of canine epilepsy for optimal canine welfare (co-supervised with Dr Zoe Belshaw and Dr Luisa De Risio)

Breed health and conformation related disease

Rowena is interested in the impact of breeding on the welfare of dogs, with a strong focus on conformation-related diseases. She is co-leader of RVC's Brachycephalic Research Team, and collaborates with a number of clinical colleagues on topics including Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome, spinal disease and ophthalmological disorders. Her PhD in this area focused on defining safe conformational limits for dogs, and has gone on to influence international legislation in this area.

She regularly collaborates with the VetCompass team on breed and brachycephaly-related disorders and with VetCompass colleague Dr Dan O'Neill recently co-edited the first text book on this topic (Health and Welfare of Brachycephalic (Flat-faced) Companion Animals: A Complete Guide for Veterinary and Animal Professionals).

She is a founding member of the UK Brachycephalic Working group and involved in a range of impact, policy and campaigning activities in this area.

Ownership of chronically ill companion animals

Rowena is interested in the ownership of animals with chronic disorders. Her work in this area has used a mixed methods approach to explore topics including owner decision-making in managing a dog with chronic disease and the impact of owning a chronically ill animal on owner wellbeing and lifestyle, in collaboration with Dr Zoe Belshaw

Dog acquisition

Rowena is interested in how and why people acquire dogs, and what factors infleunce breed and breeder choice. This research theme has focused on the recent phenomena:

  • 'The brachy boom': exploring drivers of the huge surge in acquisition of brachycephalic dogs over the past decade
  • 'Pandemic Puppies', characterising how, why and by whom puppies were purchased in the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, with AWF-Funded Research Technician Dr Claire Brand

Peer-Reviewed Publications (Google Scholar)

[64] PACKER RMA; BRAND CL; BELSHAW Z; PEGRAM CL; STEVENS KB; O'NEILL DG (2021) Characterising motivations and behaviours of UK
owners who purchased puppies during the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. Animals.

[63] PEGRAM C; GRAY C; PACKER RMA; RICHARDS Y; CHURCH DB; BRODBELT DC; ONEILL DG (2021) Euthanasia in dogs under primary veterinary care in the UK: frequency and risk factors. Scientific Reports 11, 9145.

[62] JONES GMC; VOLK HA; PACKER RMA (2021) Future research priorities for canine idiopathic epilepsy: viewpoints of owners, general practice veterinarians and neurology specialists. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

[61] WATSON F; COPPI AA; VOLK HA; PACKER RMA; TAURO A; RUSBRIDGE (2021) Comparison of volume of the forebrain, subarachnoid space and lateral ventricles between dogs with Idiopathic Epilepsy and Controls using a stereological approach: Cavalieri’s principle. Canine Medicine and Genetics, 8: 3.

[60] BERK BK; PACKER RMA; LAW TH; WESSMANN A; BATHEN-NOTHEN A; JOKINEN TS; KNEBEL A; TIPOLD A; PELLIDAND L; VOLK HA (2021) Medium-chain triglycerides dietary supplement improves cognitive abilities in canine epilepsy. Epilepsy & Behavior. 114, 107608.

[59] BOOTH S; MELLER S; PACKER RMA; FARQUAR R; MADDISON K; VOLK HA (2021) Owner Compliance in Canine Epilepsy. Veterinary Record. 118, 4. 262-269. 

[58] PERGANDE A; BELSHAW Z; VOLK HA; PACKER RMA (2020) “We have a ticking time bomb”: A qualitative exploration of the impact of canine epilepsy on dog owners living in England. 16, 443.

[57] HOBBS SL; LAW TH; VOLK HA; YOUNIS C; CASEY RA; PACKER RMA (2020) Impact of canine epilepsy on judgement and attention biases. Scientific Reports. 10, 17719.

[56] O'NEILL D; PEGRAM C; CROCKER P; BRODBELT D; CHURCH D; PACKER RMA (2020) Unravelling the health status of brachycephalic dogs in the UK using multivariable analysis. Scientific Reports 10, 17251.

[55] PACKER RMA; O'NEILL DG; FLETCHER F; FARNWORTH M (2020) Come for the looks, stay for the personality? A mixed methods investigation of reacquisition and owner recommendation of Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs. PLOS ONE 15(8): e0237276.

[54] GRAPES N; PACKER RMA; DE DECKER S (2020) Clinical reasoning in canine cervical hyperaesthesia: which presenting features are important?. Veterinary Record. doi: 10.1136/vr.105818

[53] FINNEGAN SL; VOLK HA; ASHER L; DALEY M; PACKER RMA (2020) Investigating the potential for seizure prediction in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy: owner-reported prodromal changes and seizure triggers. Veterinary Record. doi: 10.1136/vr.105307

[52] BERK BA; LAW TH; PACKER RMA; WESSMANN A; JOKINEN T; KNEBEL A; TIPOLD A; PELLIGAND L; MEADS Z; VOLK HA (2020) A multicenter randomised controlled trial of a medium-chain triglycerides dietary supplement to improve management of canine epilepsy. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 34 (3) 1248-1259

[51] 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

[50] WATSON F; PACKER RMA; RUSBRIDGE C; VOLK HA (2019) Behavioural changes in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. Veterinary Record 186, 93.

[49] 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

[48] 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

[47] 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

[46] 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

[45] 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

[44] 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

[43] 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

[42] 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

[41] 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

[40] 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

[39] 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

[38] WINTER J; PACKER RMA; VOLK HA (2018) A preliminary assessment of cognitive impairments in canine idiopathic epilepsy. Veterinary Record 182633

[37] 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

[36] 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

[35] 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

[34] 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.

[33] 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

[32] 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

[31] PACKER RMA (2017) Survival in feline epilepsy: the long and short of it. Veterinary Record 181: 477-478.

[30] PACKER RMA (2017) Wider impacts from dog showing; more than just a rosette? (Editorial). AWSELVA Journal

[29] 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

[28] 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

[27] 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

[26] 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

[25] 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

[24] PACKER RMA; LUCAS R; VOLK HA (2016) Owner perception of focal seizures in canine epilepsy. Veterinary Record doi:10.1136/vr.104099

[23] 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

[22] 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

[21] 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

[20] 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

[19] 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

[18] 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

[17] 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.

[16] 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.

[15] 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.

[14] 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

[13] 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.

[12] 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.

[11] 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.

[10] PACKER RMA, HENDRICKS A, & BURN CC (2015) Impact of facial conformation on canine health: Corneal ulceration. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0123827

[9] 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

[8] 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

[7] 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

[6] 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

[5] 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

[4] 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.

[3] 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

[2] 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

[1] 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   Media coverage: Vet Record Telegraph


PACKER, RMA (2012) Normal for the breed? The Veterinary Nurse 3 (5) 326;article=_3_5_326

Rowena is involved in lectures and Directed Learning sessions related to companion animal behaviour and welfare to the BVetMed, BSc and Veterinary Nursing courses. She supervises final year research projects across a range of topics primarily related to canine and feline behaviour, health and welfare.

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.


Current studies recruiting:

  1. 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
  2. RESET (Reducing Epileptic Seizures and improving Emotional state with behavioural Therapies). For more information, click here
  3. 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

Rowena currently acts in the following roles:

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

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