Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs: owners’ perspectives on management with phenobarbital and/or potassium bromide


In 2002 the neurology clinicians from the Small Animal Hospital of the University of Glasgow Veterinary School conducted a survey of their clients who owned dogs with epilepsy. Their aim was to explore seizure management from the perspective of the owners of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. The results were reported in the Journal of Small Animal Practice (Chang and others, 2006).


In this survey questionnaires were mailed to owners of 29 dogs with suspected or diagnosed idiopathic epilepsy that were being treated using either phenobarbital or potassium bromide alone or in combination.


The response rate (86%) was encouraging and analysis of the responses

demonstrated that there were three main concerns for these owners:


1. ‘‘the dog’s quality of life’’

2. ‘‘seizure interval’’ and

3. ‘‘side effects of anti-epileptic drugs’’


From the owners’ perspective, adequacy of seizure control was determined by the balance between these 3 factors. More than half (52%) of owners believed that the seizure management for their dog was adequate - the seizure frequency within this group varied from seizure free to 1 seizure every 3 months (except one dog that had a partial seizure at monthly intervals). Owners therefore perceive less than one seizure every three months to be adequate seizure control. A decreased quality of life in their dogs was reported by nearly half (48%) of owners. Reasons for this were: side effects of medication (seven of 12), inadequate seizure control (five of 12) and behavioural changes (three of 12), including repetitive compulsive behaviour, over activity and increased attention seeking.


Practical considerations of convenience and cost appeared to be less of a concern for owners. Although in this survey owners did not report concern about the cost of seizure management, this group of dogs were not receiving higher cost ‘novel’ therapies. Opinions as to the value of further diagnostic procedures, in particular intracranial imaging, were significantly affected by having pet health insurance. Whilst the majority of owners did not consider the administration of medication a nuisance, approximately 60% of owners reported that caring for an epileptic dog had an effect on the organisation of their free time.


In human studies, quality-of-life issues are central to the assessment of treatment regimes. In contrast, there is a paucity of veterinary literature in this field, with only one previous study on the impact of long-term phenobarbital treatment on epileptic dogs from the owner’s perception (Lord and Podell 1999). The results of this pilot study provide useful information about how owners perceive their pet’s care. However, the highly motivated nature of the clients selected from a referral population may have had an impact on the responses. A further study with a larger sample size from both the general and referral populations will be undertaken.

Extended Study


In 2011 the neurologists from the Small Animal Hospital of the University of Glasgow Veterinary School undertook a survey of owners of epileptic dogs across the country. Results of this survey were presented at a meeting of veterinary neurologists.


Owners of 128 dogs with epilepsy were included in the survey. Almost a hundred of these owners reported their dog’s quality of life to be 8 out of 10 or higher. Most participants were worried about the frequency and severity of their dog’s seizures. Almost 6 out of 10 owners believed that their dog’s quality of life was affected by its epilepsy. Thirsty percent of owners thought that the only acceptable outcome of treatment would be a complete cessation of their dog’s seizures.


The full results of the survey will be published in the veterinary literature.


Chang, Y., Mellor D. J. & Anderson T. J. (2006) Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs: owners’ perspectives on management with phenobarbitone and/or potassium bromide JSAP 47, 574–581.


Lord, L. K. & Podel, M. (1999) Owner perception of the care of long-term phenobarbital-treated epileptic dogs. JSAP 40, 11-15


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