RVC research finds potential in ground-breaking new dietary treatment for canine epilepsy

Small changes to the diets of dogs with hard-to-treat epilepsy has the potential to reduce the number of seizures and improve their quality of life

19 May 2020, at 9:00am

Research conducted by the RVC, funded by The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation (AKC CHF), shows that small changes to the diets of dogs with hard-to-treat epilepsy has the potential to reduce the number of seizures and improve the quality of life for affected dogs and their owners.

Epilepsy is the most common long-term neurological condition in dogs and can be very distressing for both dogs and their owners. Current treatments focus on managing the condition and reducing how often seizures occur. However, despite treatment with appropriate anti-seizure medication, approximately one-third of dogs continue to experience frequent seizures. This has significant impacts on their behaviour and cognitive functions and can also make dogs prone to anxiety.

Helping develop new treatment strategies to reduce epileptic seizures and improve the overall welfare of dogs, a team of researchers, led by veterinarians Professor Holger Volk and Dr Benjamin Andreas Berk, alongside canine behaviour and welfare scientist Dr Rowena Packer, at the RVC, tested the effects of an oil supplement on seizure frequency in dogs with drug-resistant epilepsy.

Previous research by the RVC had shown that the oil, which contains a specific type of fat known as medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, could have beneficial effects when included within a dry kibble diet. During this study, the oil was added as a supplement to a dog’s existing diet to determine if the same benefits could be achieved. The oil was tested in a rigorous clinical trial during which 28 dogs received the MCT oil for three months and a placebo oil for three months. Both owners and investigators were blind to which oil dogs were receiving during each phase.

Overall, dogs had significantly fewer seizures during the MCT phase compared the placebo phase, and an improved owner-reported quality of life. New therapies are urgently needed to improve the quality of life of affected dogs and their owners and the results of this study offer a promising addition to other methods commonly used to treat canine epilepsy.

Dr Rowena Packer, BBSRC Research Fellow at the Royal Veterinary College, said:

“Epilepsy is often a challenging and distressing condition for dog owners to manage, particularly when dogs don’t respond to anti-seizure medications in the way their owner and vet might have expected or hoped. Historically, diet has not been considered a key part of epilepsy management, but along with other recent findings, these results indicate that nutrition likely plays an important role in seizure control.

“Our novel findings indicate that a relatively small change to the diet of dogs’ with hard-to-treat epilepsy can potentially reduce the number of seizures they have, while also improving their medication side effects and overall quality of life. MCT oil offers a promising addition to the wider epilepsy management tool-kit.”