“Together we stand, side by side
Canine and man, our silent fight.” ~Victoria McGuckin
Close your eyes. Imagine your dog falling on his side, becoming stiff, chomping his jaw, drooling profusely, urinating or defecating, and crying while paddling with all four limbs. Imagine helplessly watching your dog be overcome by this silent monster with no ability to help him or stop it.
You cry out and plead for someone, ANYONE to stop the horror and save your baby from this monster within!
After several minutes he “comes to” but is confused and disoriented. He starts wandering blindly, pacing, thirsty. What is less than 5 minutes might as well be an eternity.
You thank God for His mercy and pray for the silent monster to never return again. But it does. For with this monster, there is no cure. No end. No certainty.
But there is HOPE, because with KNOWLEDGE comes POWER.
Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs – The Silent Monster
Epilepsy is defined as recurrent, unprovoked seizures not caused by something outside the brain (for example, kidney or liver disease that might trigger an isolated seizure). Approximately 0.5% – 5.7% (~ 2 million dogs) of the general dog population are diagnosed with canine epilepsy each year, with 75% of those put into the idiopathic category.
The word idiopathic is used to describe a disease or condition that arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown. A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy in dogs occurs when a dog has had 2 or more unprovoked seizures.
Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs is both proven and presumed to be hereditary. That bears repeating. Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs has been proven to be hereditary in several breeds and is presumed or suspected in numerous other breeds.
While it is true that any breed of dog can be affected, the following is a list of breeds in which idiopathic epilepsy is prevalent.
What We Know Today – There are No Simple Answers
Significant strides have been made in the last few years in the area of epilepsy research, for both dogs and humans.
Though there are no clear-cut reasons why certain breeds are genetically predisposed to epilepsy, there is some consensus with regard to the congenital anomalies of the disease.
The most common explanation is through a recessive inheritance, meaning certain traits do not appear present in parent dogs, yet are passed on to the children. In this case, idiopathic epilepsy in dogs would be inherited from both the sire and the dam.
Another explanation is polygenic inheritance – where multiple alleles are needed to determine the makeup of a certain trait. In other words, the risk of an individual dog having epilepsy is controlled by many genes, each of which contributes some amount to the overall phenotype.
In either case, dogs (sire and/or dam) who have produced epileptic offspring should not be bred. Period.
Cutting Edge Research
But what happens when idiopathic epilepsy in dogs skips a generation or when only one out of a litter of 10 puppies is affected? Are the other 9 siblings of the affected dog carriers? Should they be bred?
As I stated in Nature Versus Nurture and the Drivers of Canine Temperament, I can be opinionated. I tend to be a black and white kind of gal, with very few shades of gray in my life (no pun intended). I do NOT believe the siblings of affected dogs should be bred.
Researchers tend to have more objectivity.
The Canine Epilepsy Project is a collaborative study into the causes of idiopathic epilepsy in dogs and is supported by grants from the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), individual breed clubs and private donations.
Their primary goal is to find the genes responsible for epilepsy in dogs so that wise breeding can decrease the incidence of the disease in dogs. In order to do this, they must:
- “Recruit samples from a large number of affected individuals and their immediate family members (siblings, parents, and grandparents), from many breeds of dogs.
- Evaluate the genotype of selected families to search for linkage between DNA markers and clinical epilepsy, then use this information to identify the causative mutation or mutations.
- Devise a DNA marker test that detects and distinguishes normal and mutant (epilepsy-causing) alleles, and make this test available to dog breeders so that they can produce epilepsy-free dogs.”
Because epilepsy is the most common medical neurological disorder in dogs, the AKC Canine Health Foundation has made it one of their top priorities.
Here are some of the recently funded grants, several of which are still open for donations (DNA).
- Efficacy of Cannabidiol (CBD) for the Treatment of Canine Epilepsy (Open through September 30, 2020)
- Identification of Genetic Risk Factors for Canine Epilepsy (Open through July 30, 2018)
- Investigating a Ketogenic Medium-Chain Triglyceride (MCT) Supplement for the Treatment of Drug-Resistant Canine Idiopathic Epilepsy and Its Behavioral Comorbidities (Open through March 31, 2018)
- Identification of a Novel Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy Gene and Its Underlying Disease Mechanism (Closed)
- Canine Epilepsy: Genetic Variants, Biomarkers, and New Therapies (Closed)
- Neurostimulation: A Groundbreaking New Treatment for Canine Epilepsy (Closed)
- Identifying the Genetic Cause of Epilepsy (Closed)
- Identification of Epilepsy-Causing Mutations from the Associated Loci by Next-Generation Resequencing (Closed)
- Studying the Role of the Gastrointestinal Tract in Canine Epilepsy (Open)
- A Pilot Study: Establishing the Role of Melatonin in the Occurrence of Seizures in Dogs (Closed)
Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs & You
In Canine Epilepsy: A Journey from Heartbreak To Advocacy, I shared Kelly Ann’s story. She is the big dog mom of not one, but two epileptic Mastiffs, Riona (5/27/10 – 12/19/14) and Fearghas. Their story is a story that needs to be told. Told to the millions of dog owners, like you and I, who live our lives unaffected by this terrible monster. Why you ask? Because each one of us can do something about it.
With knowledge comes power – when we know better, we need to do better. Each one of us has the power to make a difference in the life of a human or a canine affected by epilepsy. The following are four simple action steps YOU can take TODAY to make that difference.
“The CHIC DNA Repository, co-sponsored by the OFA and the AKC/CHF, collects and stores canine DNA samples along with corresponding genealogic and phenotypic information to facilitate future research and testing aimed at reducing the incidence of inherited disease in dogs.”
I think of this DNA bank like a one-stop-shop for canine genetic research because each donation can be used in a plethora of research studies, including those that I referenced above on idiopathic epilepsy in dogs. And, bonus, it could not be easier to donate.
Simply fill out the application form and submit to the OFA. You will receive the appropriate swab or blood collection kit in the mail. You collect the sample from your dog and fill out a short health survey and mail both into the designated labs for storage and use. Here are the forms you will need to get started today:
- DNA Application Form
- Instructions for submission of DNA samples via Blood Sample
- Instructions for submission of DNA samples via Cheek Swab
2. Show your Support for National Epilepsy Awareness Day on March 26th
In addition to wearing purple in solidarity with all those living with epilepsy, please consider joining the Purple Day for Epilepsy 2018 Event. Use the hashtag #Pets4PurpleDay on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Whether you are an epi-parent or not, you can help to raise awareness and shine a light on this important cause.
3. Support Worthy Organizations with a Mission For Making a Difference
The Wally Foundation: Dedicated to financially assisting people, dog rescues, and animal shelters who are caring for canines diagnosed with epilepsy and providing support for epilepsy research.
4. Continuing Education on Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs
Epil-K9: Information and support to those who love and care for an epileptic pet.