Published: 26 Nov 2020 | Last Updated: 26 Nov 2020 14:00:21

A study led by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), which explored the impact of owning a dog with idiopathic epilepsy on their owner’s lives, has revealed that almost all owners have made substantial lifestyle changes in order to care for their dog.

Idiopathic epilepsy is a common neurological condition that causes affected dogs to have repeated seizures. While much previous research has focused on developing treatments to manage idiopathic epilepsy, little previous attention has been given to the emotional and logistical challenges for owners chronically managing their dog’s condition. This study used semi-structured interviews to explore how owners’ lives were changed following their dogs’ diagnosis and glean in-depth insights into their lives.

two dogs and owner playing fetch
Photo credit: The Melias Studio

The research discovered that following their dog’s initial seizure, all interviewees recalled feeling negative emotions such as being distraught, fearful or uncertain regarding their dog’s future and disease progression. Prior experience with canine epilepsy was rare, and owners were shocked and distressed by the appearance of their dog’s seizures.

Whilst many owners discussed a very emotionally close dog-owner bond, owning a dog with epilepsy had a significant impact on their lifestyle. Impacts affected many aspects of daily routines, and in some cases, owners’ jobs. The unpredictable and sometimes inconvenient timing of seizures negatively impacted owners’ sleep and wellbeing. This unpredictability also made some owners feel that they were living with “a ticking time bomb”.

Other limitations included strict daily medication schedules and difficulty finding assistance in caring for their dog. This, combined with a fear of leaving their dog unsupervised, had social implications in some instances and led to increased use of the Internet and online groups for peer support. Owners also reported that friends, family and colleagues did not always understand the magnitude of commitment required.

Amy Pergande, Small Animal Intern at the RVC and primary author of the study, said:

“We are sincerely grateful to the owners who participated in this study for providing us with such detailed and often emotive accounts of their experiences. Many of the participants had willingly altered many aspects of their daily routine for their dogs, both socially and professionally, and sometimes at the expense of their own quality of life.”

This research highlights that further consideration of these factors by veterinary professionals and the friends and families of owners of these dogs could improve owner quality of life and facilitate the provision of additional, much needed support.

Dr Rowena Packer, Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science and research lead in canine epilepsy at the RVC, said:

“Epilepsy can be an extremely tough condition for owners to manage, where the love, time and money owners dedicate to their dogs is not necessarily matched by a significant improvement in their condition, with seizures often continuing unabated. Our study has revealed previously unrecognised or underappreciated impacts that epilepsy introduced to these owners’ lives. Improved awareness and understanding of these challenges by veterinary professionals have the potential to improve communication with clients, to avoid owners feeling that social media is the only place they can go to feel supported and understood”.

These findings increase the understanding of the sometimes negative and often profound emotional effects and lifestyle changes experienced by owners managing a dog with idiopathic epilepsy. With better support and resources, the reported impacts could potentially be minimised to protect owner quality of life.

Dr Zoe Belshaw, independent research collaborator, said:

“The welfare of pets and their owners can be closely intertwined. This research exploring how owners’ lives change when their dogs develop epilepsy is another important piece in the jigsaw of understanding both what the veterinary profession can do to best support our clients, but also in starting to appreciate the substantial wider societal impacts of chronic ill health in our nations’ pets”.

Research reference

Pergande, A.E., Belshaw, Z., Volk, H.A. and Packer, R.M.A. “We have a ticking time bomb”: a qualitative exploration of the impact of canine epilepsy on dog owners living in England. BMC Vet Res 16, 443 (2020).

Notes to Editors

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About the RVC

  • The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK's largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a Member Institution of the University of London. It was the first in the world to hold full accreditation from AVMA, EAEVE, RCVS and AVBC.
  • The RVC is the top veterinary school in the UK and Europe, and ranked as the world’s second highest veterinary school in the QS World University Rankings by subject, 2020.
  • The RVC offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences.
  • In 2017, the RVC received a Gold award from the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – the highest rating a university can receive.
  • A research led institution with 79% of its research rated as internationally excellent or world class in the Research Excellence Framework 2014.
  • The RVC provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals and first opinion practices in London and Hertfordshire.

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