What is Epilepsy?

Affecting thousands of dogs each year, Epilepsy can be a lifelong condition that causes fits or seizures that can range from a few seconds of twitching to uncontrollable shaking for much longer.

These seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, and whilst the condition can often be managed with medication, there is no known cure for the disease.

Extracting DNA in the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the AHT

Researching Epilepsy

Dogs of many different breeds and ages are affected by Epilepsy, with details such as the typical age of onset and how well the dogs respond to medication varying between breeds. Research has shown that some breeds have a higher rate of Epilepsy than others, and we believe that the way in which Epilepsy is inherited is complex in the breeds we have studied to date. It is almost certain that multiple variations within a dog’s DNA, alongside factors from the environment, are responsible for the condition. With so many variables, we’re effectively trying to complete a 2.4 billion piece puzzle!

In order to understand this complex and life-altering disease, we’re looking at DNA from affected and unaffected dogs of particular breeds to find out more about Epilepsy and develop ways to prevent it. We are currently investigating Idiopathic Epilepsy in Italian Spinoni, Border Collies and German Shepherd Dogs but plan to expand the breeds we study over the coming years.

Epilepsy comes in many forms and is a very distressing condition for both dogs and owners to live with. Our research very much needs the support of dog owners to help us find out what causes some dogs to be at greater risk of developing the disease.”

Dr Sally Ricketts
Dr Sally Ricketts, Postdoctoral Geneticist, Canine Genetics Research Group

Help our research into Epilepsy

In order to develop new ways to prevent Epilepsy, we need help from owners and breeders of:

  • any dogs diagnosed with Epilepsy
  • any dog, over eight years of age, who has never had a seizure

We cannot beat Epilepsy without your help! Please complete our short questionnaire which you can download here and give us consent to speak with your vet about your pet.

Return the questionnaire to us. We’ll then send you a cheek swab collection kit to gather DNA from your dog which you simply need to send back to us in the post!

Please help our Epilepsy research...

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Looking at Epilepsy in Field Spaniels

We want to know more about ‘late-onset’ Epilepsy in Field Spaniels, and its genetic risk factors. In order to do this, we need to thoroughly understand the history and inheritance of the disease in the breed. If you own, or have ever owned, a Field Spaniel, with Epilepsy, you can help our research.

You can also help if your Field Spaniel is unaffected by the disease, but is a close relative of a dog with Epilepsy.

Please complete our short form, which you can download below. Please return this, along with a 5-generation pedigree, to the address on the form. Thank you for your help.


Research lead

Dr Sally Ricketts

Dr Sally Ricketts

Postdoctoral Geneticist, Canine Genetics Research Group

Sally’s current role within the Canine Genetics Research Group involves designing, co-ordinating and analysing genome-wide association studies of complex conditions in the dog, including hereditary cataract and idiopathic epilepsy.

Read Dr Sally Ricketts's bio

We are very grateful to the following for their ongoing support of this work:

The Kennel Club Charitable Trust,
Petplan Charitable Trust,
various Breed Clubs and individuals.