Euthanasia is often the only alternative to medical treatment when seizures cannot be consistently controlled in a dog with epilepsy. Daily treatment with antiepileptic drugs can reduce the frequency and/or the severity of seizures, but complete seizure control can be difficult. Thus, this study was conducted to investigate the possible association of epilepsy with premature death in dogs. Data collected included seizure onset, seizure frequency, medication and seizure control, remission of epilepsy, and cause and time of death. The median age of death for dogs with epilepsy in this study was 7 years. This is significantly shorter than the median age at death of 10 years recorded for pure- and mixed-breed dogs without epilepsy in another study. The median number of years a dog lived with epilepsy (from onset until death/euthanasia) was 2.3.  There were no significant differences between treated and untreated dogs in age at death or in number of years with epilepsy. Owners were generally able to manage monthly seizures and, for a period, weekly seizures, but were less likely to accept cluster seizures, status epilepticus, and adverse effects of antiepileptic drugs. Owners strongly influenced the decision of when euthanasia was a prudent course of action, and thus influenced the time of death. Quality of life for the dog as well as for the family factored in to the decision. Many owners were motivated to forego euthanasia as an alternative when medical information/counseling and support were available when needed.

COMMENTARY: Owners have conveyed that having a dog with epilepsy has a profound effect on their day-to-day activities. The dog's quality of life is an ongoing concern. This study documented that support from, regular contact with, and easy access to clinical staff were key to managing owners' anxiety and motivating them to continue to opt for treatment versus euthanasia. Open lines of communication (about types of epilepsy, prognosis, handling dogs during a seizure, and options for treatment) helped owners to manage the situation at home. While euthanasia may be the only alternative in some cases, maintaining an open dialogue with all owners, especially those of pets with long-term illnesses, would help guide owners to appropriate diagnostics and treatment options, and away from euthanasia.

Premature death, risk factors, and life patterns in dogs with epilepsy. Berendt M, Gredal H, Ersboll AK, Alving J. J Vet Intern Med 21:754:759, 2007.