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Investigating behavioural interventions as management tools for drug-resistant canine epilepsy

Project Description

Project description: Idiopathic epilepsy (IE) is a common, complex and often challenging neurological disorder to treat in the dog. Although anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) are the mainstay of canine IE treatment, seizure freedom is rarely achievable with these medications, with 20-30% of patients resistant to conventional medical therapies. There is an urgent need to develop treatments to improve the quality of life (QoL) of this population, who may continue to experience unpleasant AED side-effects despite their lack of treatment success, along with behavioural comorbidities including anxiety. Behavioural interventions are an emerging area of focus in the adjunctive treatment of drug-resistant human epilepsy patients, with studies indicating positive effects of interventions including relaxation-based techniques and behavioural therapy based interventions. Behavioural interventions have the potential not only to improve seizure control, but also behavioural comorbidities and general QoL in this hard to treat patient group. Despite striking similarities between human and canine epilepsy patients, such interventions have yet to be studied in dogs. This PhD programme will conduct the first ever blinded, prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial to investigate whether two behavioural interventions based upon efficacious human therapies (a daily relaxation exercise and behavioural therapy) will reduce seizure frequency compared to a control group undertaking the same study visits and data collection, without any behavioural advice given. As epilepsy has multiple impacts upon patient QoL in addition to seizure frequency, behavioural comorbidities (particularly anxiety) and stress physiology (acute and chronic stress via saliva and hair cortisol, respectively) will be studied in each group during the baseline and intervention phases. Novel inertial measurement unit technologies will be utilized to verify owner reports of seizures along with studying the effects of the interventions on daily behavioural and sleep patterns. If successful, this low-cost, non-invasive intervention could become a vital new addition to the 21st century epilepsy management tool-kit.

Essential and/or desirable requirements

• Background in animal behaviour science essential, minimum 2.1 undergraduate degree with postgraduate research experience highly desirable
• Experience in clinical animal behaviour highly desirable
• Veterinary degree non-essential
• Full driving license with willingness to regularly travel between RVC and Bristol Vet School during studentship

Please note: This is a competition studentship.

Interviews will take place between the 8th and 22nd March at RVC’s Hawkshead Campus.

We welcome informal enquiries - these should be directed to Dr Rowena Packer

Funding Notes

A 3 year fully-funded studentship open to Home/EU applicants. International students are welcome to apply but must be able to fund the difference between UK/EU and international tuition fees.

The studentship will commence in October 2019.

If you are interested in applying for this position, please follow the link below. Please use your personal statement to demonstrate any previous skills or experience you have in using both qualitative and quantitative research methods.


1. HAUT, S. R., LIPTON, R. B., CORNES, S., DWIVEDI, A. K., WASSON, R., COTTON, S., STRAWN, J. R. & PRIVITERA, M. 2018. Behavioural interventions as a treatment for epilepsy. A multicenter randomized controlled trial. Neurology, 90 (11): e963-e970.

2. BLACKWELL, E., CASEY, R. A. & BRADSHAW, J. W. S. 2006. Controlled trial of behavioural therapy for separation-related disorders in dogs. Veterinary Record, 158, 551-554.

3. WATSON, F., RUSBRIDGE, C., PACKER, R. M. A., CASEY, R. A., HEATH, S. & VOLK, H. A. 2018. A review of treatment options for behavioural manifestations of clinical anxiety as a comorbidity in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. The Veterinary Journal, 238, 1-9.

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