Researchers Discover a Better Treatment for Epilepsy in Dogs

Scientists have discovered the gene responsible for a common type of epilepsy in dogs. Now, steps toward treatment and preventative breeding are possible.

Epilepsy in dogs is a very common condition, and to this day, there were no clear and effective treatments for it. Until recently, when a new study finally discovered the cause of epilepsy in dogs, and thereby proposes several ways to treat epileptic dogs.

To be more precise, there are several types of epilepsy in dogs, but the researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland have uncovered the gene responsible for myoclonic epilepsy in dogs, which is one of the most common types of epilepsy in dogs.

As a result of this new research, a genetic test has been developed for use by both veterinarians and breeders. So by identifying this gene, not only can dogs be more quickly diagnosed with epileptic seizure disorder and get a more effective treatment, but breeders can work to potentially eradicate epilepsy in dogs altogether.

While the major accomplishment of this research was to find a way how to prevent epileptic seizures in dogs in the first place, another great news is that now vets and scientists are hopeful that this discovery may lead to understand all other types of epileptic seizures in dogs and hopefully remove them from the gene pool completely.

What is Myoclonic Epilepsy?

Dog epileptic seizureEpilepsy in dogs is similar to that of humans. It's a condition in which the affected dog experiences recurring, unprovoked seizures.

A myoclonic seizure is different than its more well-known counterpart, the tonic-clonic (or “grand-mal” seizure). Grand-mal seizures occur when the dog first loses consciousness, then experiences convulsions. In a myoclonic seizure, there is no loss of consciousness.

Usually, epileptic seizures in dogs are provoked by flashing lights or sudden sights or sounds which startle the dog.

When seizing, dogs will exhibit alarming symptoms such as sudden jerking movements of the head or limbs, high-pitched vocalizations, and uncontrolled movement of certain muscle groups.

The disorder generally develops at a young age (approximately 6 months).

Treatment for more severe cases generally involves antiepileptic medications such as phenobarbital or potassium bromide. These medications treat epileptic seizures in dogs, but may cause liver damage over time.

Beagles are particularly resistant to pharmaceutical treatments of dog epilepsy. This and may other breeds need a prevention from epileptic episodes more than a cure.

RELATED: Science Uncovers the Gene Responsible for Dalmatian Disease ARDS

Identifying the Epilepsy Gene

The University of Helsinki study looked at more than 600 Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs and approximately 1,000 epileptic dogs of other breeds. Researchers made a point to note that dogs didn't need to be sedated or experience any suffering during the experiment.

Wires were hooked up to the dogs’ back which transmitted data straight to computers. Dogs were free to move around and be comfortable while researchers collected data.

After collecting all this data, researchers determined that the gene responsible for this disorder appears to be the so-called DIRAS1 gene. Scientist Riika Sarviaho, MSc says this defect appears to be specific to the Ridgebacks.

According to Franziska Wieländer, DVM from LMU Munich, about 15 percent of Ridgebacks carry the DIRAS1 mutation, and dogs all over the rest of the world are affected as well.

The DIRAS1 gene hasn't been linked to any neurological disease before this study.

What this Discovery Means

Because canine myoclonic epilepsy resembles human juvenile myoclonic syndrome in many ways, this research is significant to both canines and humans for developing future epilepsy treatments, cures, and preventative methods.

By identifying this gene, scientists can work to effectively treat myoclonic epilepsy in both dogs and people, as well as potentially prevent epilepsy in the first place.

In addition, veterinarians can more quickly and accurately diagnose this disorder, and dog breeders can avoid the gene while breeding which means they can effectively prevent this disorder from occurring altogether in the future in any dogs.


  1. Franziska Wielaender, Riika Sarviaho, Fiona James, Marjo Hytönen, Miguel A. Cortez, Gerhard Kluger, Lotta L. E. Koskinen, Meharji Arumilli, Marion Kornberg, Andrea Bathen-Noethen, Andrea Tipold, Kai Rentmeister, Sofie F. M. Bhatti, Velia Hülsmeyer, Irene C. Boettcher, Carina Tästensen, Thomas Flegel, Elisabeth Dietschi, Tosso Leeb, Kaspar Matiasek, Andrea Fischer, Hannes Lohi. Generalized myoclonic epilepsy with photosensitivity in juvenile dogs caused by a defective DIRAS Family GTPase 1. PNAS, 2017 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1614478114

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Cody has worked and volunteered with rescue animals her entire life. She worked as a veterinary assistant and technician in shelters, rescues, boarding facilities, doggy daycares and animal hospitals in New York and Chicago throughout her teens and twenties, and now resides as a pet foster mom in Upstate New York.