Findings could help veterinary professionals to better support clients.
Almost all owners of dogs diagnosed with epilepsy have made substantial life changes to care for their pet, according to new research.
The study by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) found that a diagnosis of canine epilepsy affects many aspects of an owner's life, including work, relationships and overall wellbeing. Many owners said the unpredictable nature of epilepsy made them feel like they were living with a 'ticking time bomb'.
Previously, much of the research surrounding canine epilepsy has centred on developing treatments to manage repeated seizures, rather than the emotional and logistical challenges faced by the owners of affected dogs. Researchers say these new findings could help veterinary professionals to better support clients and improve their overall quality of life.
Dr Rowena Packer, a 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.”
In the study, published in BMC Veterinary Research, researchers conducted interviews with owners to discover how their lives changed following a diagnosis of canine epilepsy.
Following the initial diagnosis, many of the owners said they felt negative emotions, such as being fearful or uncertain about their dog's future and how the disease might progress. Experience with the disease was rare, and owners were shocked and distressed by the appearance of seizures.
The study also highlights the difficulties of strict daily medication schedules and finding assistance in caring for their dog. These factors, together with fear over leaving their dog unsupervised, had implications on the owner's social lives and led to the increased use of internet forums for support.
Amy Pergande, a 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.”