Supervisor:   Dr Rowena Packer, Dr Zoe Belshaw (PDSA)

Department:  Clinical Science and Services


Project Details

Background: Owners of dogs with chronic disease need support and good quality information regarding their dog’s condition, preferably from their vet, to maximise their dogs’ welfare. Epilepsy is the most common chronic neurological condition in dogs, affecting approximately 59,400 (0.6%) of the 9.9 million dogs in the UK, including a wide variety of breeds. Affected dogs may have multiple seizures per month despite powerful anti-epileptic medication, side effects of which may lead to significant welfare compromises. For dogs with epilepsy to have the best possible welfare, owners and vets need to work together to optimise medical and lifestyle management. We recently interviewed owners of epileptic dogs (n=21) about their dogs’ welfare, management strategies, and relationship with their vet. Surprisingly few owners felt adequately supported by their vet, with some vets unaware of some of the negative welfare aspects of this condition. Most owners had unanswered questions about how to optimise basic aspects of their dog’s welfare. Owners felt this limited their ability to care for their dogs, and many had turned to internet forums for support, accessing advice potentially dangerous to their dogs’ health.

Aims: This research aims to identify how welfare decisions are made about dogs with epilepsy by vets and owners working together and independently. These data will be used to determine where decisions might be improved in line with canine and human welfare.

Study objectives: 

  1. To use qualitative research methods to explore knowledge, confidence and attitudes of veterinary surgeons working in general practice towards managing dogs with epilepsy and their owners, in a focus group setting (in person or virtual depending upon circumstances).
  2. To perform thematic analysis on focus group transcript data to build key themes characterizing what veterinary surgeons working in general practice know and think about canine epilepsy and its management.
  3. To compare these data with thematically analysed interview data already gathered from owners of dogs with canine epilepsy to build a comprehensive picture of the decisions made in relation to the welfare of this canine population.
  4. To design interventions that might enable veterinary surgeons and owners to collaborate and communicate more effectively to ensure the welfare of dogs with epilepsy is maximized.

Plan of investigation: We will run focus groups (n=10) to explore what vets in a range of UK general practices think about epilepsy, their management strategies and rationale for their choices. Data will be analysed to develop key themes using qualitative methodologies. Descriptions of epilepsy treatment preferences will be compared to recent European expert consensus statements to determine whether basic knowledge gaps exist. Descriptions of interactions with owners and consultation-based welfare discussions will be compared to our owner data and areas of conflict identified. These data will build a comprehensive picture of decisions made about the welfare of epileptic dogs, identifying key intervention points where improvements can be made.



  1.  Kearsley-Fleet, L., et al., Prevalence and risk factors for canine epilepsy of unknown origin in the UK. Veterinary Record, 2013. 172(13): p. 338.

  2. Packer, R.M. and H.A. Volk, Epilepsy beyond seizures: a review of the impact of epilepsy and its comorbidities on health-related quality of life in dogs. Veterinary Record, 2015. 177(12): p. 306-315.

  3. Bhatti, S.F., et al., International Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force consensus proposal: medical treatment of canine epilepsy in Europe. 2015. 11(1): p. 176.

  4. De Risio, L., et al., International veterinary epilepsy task force consensus proposal: diagnostic approach to epilepsy in dogs. 2015. 11(1): p. 148.

  5. Pergande, A., et al. “We have a ticking time bomb”: A qualitative exploration of the impact of canine epilepsy on dog owners living in England. BMC Veterinary Research, 2020. 16, 443.



 Applicants should have a veterinary medicine or nursing degree, or a first or second class university honours degree in biological sciences.

Applicants should have experience or an interest in qualitative research methods.

This can be taken full-time over 12 months or part-time over two years (12months FTE). The project commences in October 2021, based at RVC's Hawkshead campus, although much of this project can be conducted remotely.



This is currently a self-funded project. The MRes student will be expected to pay for their course fees and living expenses. The student will cover some of the project costs (e.g. training at external courses in qualitative methods, transcriptions cost, to a maximum of ~£2500; however,  the supervisory team are currently applying for grant funding to try to cover part of these costs.

For information on the Postgraduate Master's Loan please follow the link:


We welcome informal enquiries - these should be directed to Dr Rowena Packer on


How to Apply

For more information on the application process and English Language requirements see How to Apply.

Deadline: 23/03/2021

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