Research Lab – Department of Clinical Sciences
Companion Animal Epilepsy
Epilepsy is the most common chronic neurological disorder in veterinary medicine, and is estimated to affect up to 1% of dogs and 2% of cats in the general population. The term epilepsy is used to describe recurrent seizures that arise due to an abnormality in the brain. The most common cause for recurrent seizures in dogs is idiopathic epilepsy, and many breeds of dogs are genetically predisposed to this disorder. Epilepsy is typically managed with medication directed at controlling the seizures, although the majority of pets do not become seizure free. In these cases, efforts are directed at maximizing seizure control while minimizing treatment related side effects, so as to provide the best quality of life for the pet and the caregiver.
Areas of Study
Epilepsy is a multifaceted disorder. Through partnerships with foundations, industry and other universities, our laboratory studies novel treatment modalities, basis of disease, and improved methods to support pets with epilepsy as well as their caregivers. Much of our work has focused on refractory epilepsy in dogs, evaluating the reasons why dogs might have seizures that are resistant to treatment, as well as exploring methods to achieve better seizure control with medications and alternative forms of therapy.
Each study that we embark upon typically requires many hours of recruitment to locate the specific breeds or characteristics needed for a particular study. To help minimize the time and costs associated with this process, we maintain a Nationwide Database of Pets with Epilepsy. If you would like your pet to be included in this listing, please click here. This information will be held confidentially within the laboratory and the listing will not be distributed to others.
A seizure is a transient disturbance in brain function due to abnormal electrical discharge from brain cells. Other names for seizure include convulsion, fit or ictus. Seizures most frequently manifest as involuntary jerking movements of the head, face and/or limbs. Many animals lose consciousness, and are not aware of their surroundings. Excessive drooling, along with voiding of urine or stools can be seen. Seizures start and stop abruptly, and typically last a few minutes or less. A postictal period follows the seizure, during which animals can be uncoordinated or temporarily blind, and display abnormal behavior such as confusion, disorientation, restlessness, or aggression. The postictal period can last minutes to hours.
There are numerous reasons why an animal might seizure, and seizures are often classified according to their general cause. Reactive seizures result when there is an imbalance of a substance, originating either within the body or in the environment, that adversely affects the normal brain. This can be secondary to abnormal function of organs such as the liver or kidney, low blood glucose, or exposure to certain environmental toxins. Structural epilepsy refers to recurrent seizures that occur secondary to a structural disease of the brain such as an infection, stroke or tumor. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in dogs. In this disorder, the brain appears normal, but brain cells are hyperexcitable due to a presumed or proven inherited predisposition.
In the initial evaluation of an animal with seizures, bloodwork should be performed to identify any abnormalities that might suggest a cause. Additional tests might be recommended by your veterinarian based on age at the onset of seizures, findings of the physical and neurological examination, and results of the initial laboratory tests.
Watching a pet experience a seizure can be very disturbing. The best thing to do is remain calm and note the time the seizure begins. Make sure your pet is on the floor to prevent a fall, and protect your pet from water, stairs, children and other pets. Animals are not at risk of swallowing their tongues; do not reach into your pet’s mouth, or place items in the mouth while your pet is having a seizure because you may be accidentally bitten. It is important to time the seizure; if the seizure lasts for longer than 5 minutes or there are multiple seizures in one day, contact your veterinarian or emergency care facility. Keep a seizure diary to record the date, time, seizure length and description. This information will be helpful to your veterinarian as decisions are made regarding treatment.
Treatment is directed at an underlying cause, if one is identified. In addition, treatment with antiepileptic drugs is often initiated to help control seizures. It is important to realize that your pet may not become seizure free with treatment. Rather, the goal is to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures to an acceptable level. Antiepileptic medications can have side effects, and treatment involves finding the right balance to maximize seizure control while minimizing drug related side effects. It is important that antiepileptic drugs be administered consistently and at the prescribed dose, as sudden changes can result in seizures.
Epileptic pets are typically normal between seizures and can have a good quality of life and a normal lifespan. It is important for your pet to be evaluated regularly by your veterinarian, to review seizure diaries and evaluate treatment success, screen for any side effects, and discuss any concerns that you have regarding your pet’s care.
First Aid Kit (verify adapted form with FS)
Current Clinical Trials
Please keep in mind that each organization is independent and has their own set of rules and guidelines. Therefore you will have to investigate each one separately to determine if you qualify for assistance:
IMOM Inc.: IMOM.org
The Pet Fund: thepetfund.com
Good Sam Fund: goodsamfund.org
United Animal Nations LifeLine Fund: uan.org
Angels for Animals: angels4animals.org
Brown Dog Foundation: browndogfoundation.org/home
Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program: fveap.org
Feline Outreach: felineoutreach.org
Cats In Crisis: catsincrisis.org
The Perseus Foundation (cancer-specific): PerseusFoundation.org
Canine Cancer Awareness: caninecancerawareness.org
Cody’s Club (radiation treatments): codysclub.bravehost.com/
Diabetic Pets Fund: petdiabetes.net/fund/
The Mosby Foundation: themosbyfoundation.org
Magic Bullet Fund (cancer-specific): themagicbulletfund.org
The Binky Foundation: binkyfoundation.org
God’s Creatures Ministry Veterinary Charity: http://www.all-creatures.org/gcm/help-cf.html
Jake Brady Memorial Fund: http://www.myjakebrady.com/memorial_fund.shtml
- Population pharmacokinetics of extended-release levetiracetam in epileptic dogs when administered alone, with phenobarbital or zonisamide. Muñana KR, Otamendi AJ, Nettifee JA, Papich MG. J Vet Intern Med. 2018;1–7.
- Evaluation of the impacts of epilepsy in dogs on their caregivers. Nettifee JA, Griffith EH, Muñana KR. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 2017; 53:143-149
- Muñana KR, Nettifee-Osborne J, Papich MG. Effect of chronic administration of phenobarbital or bromide on pharmacokinetics of levetiracetam in dogs with epilepsy. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 2015; 2:614-619.
- Schwartz M, Muñana KR, Nettifee-Osborne JA, Messenger KM, Papich MG. The pharmacokinetics of midazolam after intravenous, intramuscular and rectal administration in healthy dogs. Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics 2013; 36:471-477.
- Schwartz M, Muñana KR, Nettifee-Osborne J. Prevalence, clinical course and owner perception of dogs with cryptogenic epilepsy: 45 cases (2003-2011). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2013; 242:651-657.
- Muñana KR, Nettifee-Osborne JA, Bergman RL, Jr, Mealey KL. Association between ABCB1 genotype and seizure outcome in Collies with epilepsy. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 2012; 26:1358-1364.
- Muñana KR, Thomas WB, Inzana KD, Nettifee-Osborne JA, McLucas KJ, Olby NJ, Mariani CM, Early PJ. Evaluation of levetiracetam as adjunctive treatment for refractory canine epilepsy: A randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 2012; 26:341-348.
- Moore SA, Muñana KR, Papich MG, Nettifee-Osborne JA. The pharmacokinetics of levetiracetam in healthy dogs concurrently receiving phenobarbital. Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 2011; 34:31-34.
- Moore SA, Muñana KR, Papich MG, Nettifee-Osborne J. Levetiracetam pharmacokinetics in healthy dogs following single and multiple oral doses. American Journal of Veterinary Research 2010; 71:337-341.
- Muñana KR, Zhang D, Patterson EE. Placebo effect in canine epilepsy trials. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 2010;24:166-170.
- Kennerly EM, Idaghdour Y, Olby NJ, Muñana KR, Gibson GC. Pharmacogenetic association study of 30 genes with phenobarbital drug response in epileptic dogs. Pharmacogenetics and Genomics 2009; 19:911-922.
- Muñana KR, Vitek SA, Tarver WB, Saito M, Skeen TM, Sharp NJH, Olby NJ, Haglund MM. The use of vagal nerve stimulation as a treatment for refractory epilepsy in dogs: a placebo-controlled, double blind, cross-over study. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2002; 221:977-983.
- Saito M, Muñana KR, Sharp NJH, Olby NJ. Risk factors for development of status epilepticus in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy and effects of status epilepticus on outcome and survival time: 32 cases (1990-1996). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2001;219:618-623.
- Scientific Abstracts
- Waldron RJ, Muñana KR, Nettifee-Osborne JA. Comparison of clinical outcome with zonisamide, levetiracetam or phenobarbital monotherapy in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. The 33rd Annual Forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, June 2015.
- Muñana KR, Nettifee-Osborne JA, Papich MG. Pharmacokinetics of levetiracetam in epileptic dogs when administered concurrently with phenobarbital, bromide, or phenobarbital and bromide in combination. The 32nd Annual Forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Nashville, TN, June 2014. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 28: 1358, 2014.
- Schwartz M, Muñana KR, Nettifee-Osborne JA, Messenger KM, Papich MG. Pharmacokinetics of midazolam after intravenous, rectal and intramuscular administration in dogs. Proceedings of the 2012 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine forum. New Orleans, LA, June 2012.
- Muñana KR, Thomas WB, Inzana KD, Nettifee-Osborne JA, McLucas KJ, Olby NJ, Mariani CL, Early PJ. Evaluation of levetiracetam as adjunctive treatment for canine epilepsy. The 28th Annual Forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Anaheim, CA, June 2010.
- Muñana KR, Nettifee-Osborne JA, Bergman Jr RL, Mealey KL. Association between the ABCB1 (MDR1) gene and seizure control in canine epilepsy. The 28th Annual Forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Anaheim, CA, June 2010.
- Moore SA, Muñana KR, Papich MG, Nettifee-Osborne JA. The pharmacokinetics of levetiracetram in dogs concurrently receiving phenobarbital. The 27th Annual Forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Montreal, Canada, June 2009. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 23: 708, 2009.
- Moore SA, Muñana KR, Papich MG, Nettifee-Osborne JA. The pharmacokinetics of levetiracetam in normal dogs following single and multiple oral doses. The 26th Annual Forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, San Antonio, Texas, June 2008. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 22: 724-725, 2008.
- Moore SA, Muñana KR, Papich MG, Nettifee-Osborne JA. The pharmacokinetics of levetiracetam in normal dogs following single and multiple oral doses. 2008 CVM Research Forum, Raleigh, NC, March 2008.
- Patterson EE, Muñana KR, Kirk CA, Lowry SR, Tripp E, Armstrong PJ. Results of a ketogenic food trial for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. The 23rd Annual Forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, June 2005. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 19;421, 2005.
The primary goal of the Seizure Studies Fund is to help support continued research into the treatments and causes of seizures in companion animals. Epilepsy can have a significant impact on the pet from a health standpoint, as well as posing a financial and emotional burden for the caregiver. Sadly, many epileptic pets are surrendered to pet rescues or euthanized because of these factors.
By continuing our research, we hope to improve the quality of life for pets with epilepsy and their caregivers, (please select “other” on the fund list and indicate the name Seizure Studies Fund in your gift).
Veterinary Clinical Epilepsy Research, teaching and outreach would not be possible without the financial support from our sponsors. We would like to acknowledge the following for their current and past support of Epilepsy Clinical Research Efforts:
Much of our work would not be possible without the ongoing efforts of Mr. Willard J. Moore and his Mission for Molly.
We would like to also recognize and thank the following organizations for their support of canine epilepsy education and outreach on a continued basis.
- Alamance Kennel Club
- Autumn Winds Agility Center
- Cary Kennel Club
- Durham Kennel Club
- Fayetteville Kennel Club
- Mid-Atlantic Hound Association of Central North Carolina
- Raleigh Kennel Club
- Salisbury Kennel Club
- Second Chance Pet Adoptions