In the last ten years, the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) has polled parent clubs annually to determine what health concerns are the most important, and what research is most needed. Epilepsy has been in the top six every year; it is often listed as number one or two. In response, CHF has approved nearly $1.3 million in epilepsy research. While epilepsy is a complicated disease, we are hopeful that we will soon have information available to help with treating and preventing disease.
What is epilepsy? Epilepsy is the name for recurrent, unprovoked seizures (abnormal activity in the brain which can manifest as an alteration of mental state, convulsions or involuntary muscle contractions). Seizures are a symptom of brain disease. If we can confirm the specific brain disease that is causing the seizures, then a diagnosis of symptomatic (or secondary) epilepsy can be made. If no specific cause can be determined, then it is called idiopathic (or primary) epilepsy. The term idiopathic simply means that we don’t know the cause; it has either been overlooked, or cannot be established. Idiopathic epilepsy, while often treatable, is a diagnosis of elimination. This means that all other diseases that can cause seizures must be ruled out.
Epilepsy has been shown to be heritable in some breeds (e.g. Vizsla), though the mode of inheritance for most has not been established. Genetic research for epilepsy has had one success: the mutation that causes progressive myoclonic epilepsy in Miniature Wirehaired Dachshunds and Basset Hounds has been isolated, and genetic tests for these two breeds are now available. This is just the beginning. Researchers have determined that most heritable epilepsy is caused by more than one mutation, likely involving more than one gene. This makes genetic research for epilepsy complex. Because of its complicated nature, epilepsy has fascinated researchers, and also provided them with significant challenges.
While CHF continues to support research into the genetic causes of epilepsy, additional funds have been approved for projects looking at treatment and therapy. While some dogs respond well to phenobarbitol and/or potassium bromide, about 20-30% of dogs with epilepsy still have very frequent seizures even when treated with multiple anti-epileptic drugs. Investigators are looking for alternative treatments for these dogs, as well as the genes that prevent standard treatments from being effective.
To date, more than 10,000 samples have been submitted in support of canine epilepsy research through the Canine Epilepsy Network. If you would like to participate, visit http://www.canine-epilepsy.net/ for specific instructions.
Help Future Generations of Dogs
Participate in canine health research by providing samples or by enrolling in a clinical trial. Samples are needed from healthy dogs and dogs affected by specific diseases.