Addressing the Behavioral Changes of Canine Epilepsy

01/05/2021
Author: Sharon M. Albright, DVM, CCRT

Canine idiopathic epilepsy is the most common medical neurologic disorder in dogs. Approximately 30% of dogs continue to have seizures despite appropriate treatment with medication. These medications can have undesired side effects such as sedation and changes in appetite. In addition to the stress of managing seizures and medication side effects, behavioral changes have also been reported in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. All of these factors negatively impact the human animal bond and create stress for epileptic dogs and their owners. While exploring potential new treatments for canine epilepsy, AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) funded investigators at the Royal Veterinary College are also analyzing the important behavioral changes that accompany this disease. (CHF Grant 02252: Investigating a Ketogenic Medium-Chain Triglyceride (MCT) Supplement for the Treatment of Drug-Resistant Canine Idiopathic Epilepsy and Its Behavioral Comorbidities)

As part of this study, questionnaires were completed by European owners of epileptic dogs describing their behavior before and after developing epilepsy. Results were compared to those from healthy dogs of similar age and breed. Findings published in Veterinary Record1 showed that epileptic dogs had a lower trainability score, but demonstrated more dog-directed fear and aggression, more non-social fear, and more attachment/attention seeking behavior. These changes could be caused by epilepsy itself, secondary to anti-seizure medications, or indicative of broader underlying cognitive changes. Nonetheless, this data lends support to the fact that significant behavioral changes are associated with canine idiopathic epilepsy and they must be addressed to improve quality of life for affected dogs and their owners.

Investigators also completed a multi-center clinical trial to evaluate the effect of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil on seizure frequency and severity, medication side effects, behavioral and cognitive problems associated with epilepsy, and dog stress levels. Participating dogs were fed either an MCT oil supplement or a control oil for three months, took no oil for one week, and then consumed the opposite oil for three months. Results showed promise in the use of MCT oil to reduce seizure frequency (See A Clinical Trial of Medium-Chain Triglyceride Oil for the Treatment of Canine Epilepsy). Results describing the oil’s positive impact on behavior were also recently reported in Epilepsy & Behavior.2 While taking MCT oil, epileptic dogs performed better on spatial-memory (remembering where a treat was placed in the testing room) and problem-solving tasks (the ability to access a food reward covered by a clear plastic box) and their trainability scores improved. Specifically, they were better able to learn new tricks and respond to feedback while taking MCT oil.

While only a small group of dogs (29) completed this behavioral evaluation, any improvements to cognition and behavior in epileptic dogs will support the human animal bond and improve quality of life for dogs and their owners. CHF and its donors remain committed to finding new and better treatments for canine idiopathic epilepsy. Since 1995, more than $1.4 million has been invested in exploration of the genetics underlying epilepsy and the search for new treatment strategies such as those involving the gut microbiome and dietary supplements. Learn more about this important research at akcchf.org/epilepsy.

  1. Watson, F., Packer, R. M. A., Rusbridge, C., & Volk, H. A. (2019). Behavioural changes in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. Veterinary Record. 
  2. Berk, B. A., Packer, R. M. A., Law, T. H., Wessmann, A., Bathen-Nöthen, A., Jokinen, T. S., Knebel, A., Tipold, A., Pelligand, L., & Volk, H. A. (2020). Medium-chain triglycerides dietary supplement improves cognitive abilities in canine epilepsy. Epilepsy & Behavior. 

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