Physiological reactivity to spontaneously occurring seizure activity in dogs with epilepsy and their carers

Packer, R M A and Volk, H A and Fowkes, R C (2017) Physiological reactivity to spontaneously occurring seizure activity in dogs with epilepsy and their carers. Physiology & Behaviour, 177. pp. 27-33. ISSN 0031-9384

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Abstract

There is a complex bidirectional relationship between stress and epilepsy. Stressful stimuli and subsequent cortisol release act as a trigger for seizure activity in some individuals with epilepsy, and seizure activity itself may act as a stressor to the affected individual. Epilepsy is the most common chronic neurological condition in domestic dogs and requires chronic management by their human carers, impacting upon the quality of life of both dog and carer. Seizures occur unpredictably and may be stressful for carers to witness and manage. In the present study we investigated the role of seizure activity as a stressor, measuring the effect of spontaneously occurring seizure activity in dogs with epilepsy upon their own cortisol levels and that of their carers. Furthermore, we tested whether individual differences in HPA reactivity were associated with owner personality characteristics and the quality of the dog carer relationship. Saliva samples were obtained from sixteen dog carer dyads in the home setting 20 and 40 minute post-seizure, and at time-matched points on the following (non-seizure) day. Significant differences in cortisol levels were found in dogs at 40 minute post-seizure (265.1% increase), and at 20 minute post-seizure in their carers (40.5% increase). No associations were found between cortisol reactivity and the strength of the dog-carer bond. Carers with higher neuroticism scores exhibited higher cortisol levels at both post-seizure sampling points. As there was a gender bias in the carer sample (15/16 were female), and there are known sex differences in cortisol reactivity in response to psychological stress, the conclusions of this study may be limited to female carers. These findings are the first to objectively demonstrate the acutely stressful effects of seizures in dogs with epilepsy and their carers.