Department: Clinical Science and Services

Campus: Hawkshead

Research Groups: Brain Health and Behaviour

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 Fellowship (2017-2020), 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 inherited diseases and how we can improve their diagnosis, treatment and ultimately, prevention.

Epilepsy and abnormal behaviour

In her 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-like and/or 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 at RVC:

  • 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 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)

[59] PERGANDE A; BELSHAW Z; VOLK HA; PACKER RMA (Under Review) “We have a ticking time bomb”: A qualitative exploration of the impact of canine epilepsy on dog owners living in England. Pre-print available at:

[58] BOOTH S; MELLER S; PACKER RMA; FARQUAR R; MADDISON K; VOLK HA (In Press) Owner Compliance in Canine Epilepsy. Veterinary Record.

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

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

[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.

Rowena is currently recruiting for studies related to canine epilepsy, listed here:

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. 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
  3. LIFETIME: Investigating the long-term influence of a medium chain fatty acid diet on canine idiopathic epilepsy. For more information, 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.


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