Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force Formed to Help Better Standards in Care

An international body of vets and scientists have come together to set out unified and standardised guidelines for the research, diagnosis and treatment of canine and feline epilepsy for the first time ever in veterinary medicine.

Made up of 26 veterinary practitioner, neuropharmacology, neuropathology and neurology experts from around the world, the IVETF has produced seven ‘consensus statements’ that outline a number of recommendations and classifications on all aspects of the condition. It is the first time this many veterinary neurology clinicians and neuroscientists have formally agreed on the key aspects of canine and feline epilepsy.

Epilepsy is one of the most common diseases encountered in veterinary practice. The prevalence of the illness means there have been numerous research studies carried out over the years. But, despite a frequency in the research work carried out, there remains a lack of consistency throughout these studies.

This lack of cohesion has made it difficult for owners and professionals to communicate adequately on the issue of pet epilepsy. This is because classifications, definitions, therapeutic outcome measures, neuroimaging and neuropathological standards have differed between many of these studies, making it difficult to draw comparisons and significantly limiting their scientific impact.

This also affects the ongoing understanding of epilepsy in relation to professional guidelines which, in turn, affects clinicians when diagnosing and advising treatment options for the condition.

Professor Holger Volk, is Clinical Director of the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) small animal referral clinic and a specialist in Neurology and Neurosurgery. He established and chaired the IVETF in 2014: “Looking back over last year’s journey and finally seeing the end product of having multiple consensus statements is one of the most exciting things I have been involved with in my career” he says.

“I feel very privileged, humbled and honoured to have worked and learned from all these highly skilled, knowledgeable and prestigious colleagues. Going forward, we are looking forward to continuing the journey we have started so successfully. I have no doubt that this work will have the impact we hope and will lead to better care for our patients with epilepsy.”

The IVETF’s collaborative approach has identified a ‘chain of care’, from the animal’s breeder and owner through the first opinion practitioner to the neurology specialist and neuroscientist. Each statement aims to be a ‘user friendly’, pragmatic, reliable and valid tool that benefits all these groups. The IVETF is also building a scientific and clinical framework to manage and research epilepsy appropriately. This work will provide the foundation for an agreed common language in the area of companion pet epilepsy.

The working group was made up of veterinary and human neurologists and neuroscientists, practitioners, neuropharmacologists and neuropathologists. Professor Andrea Fischer from LMU Munich was one of those involved and is excited about the IVETF making a difference, she said: “The future of veterinary neurology lies in conducting multicenter studies throughout the world focusing on investigation of genetics, pathophysiology and treatment of epilepsy. Thus a common language and clear description of breed-specific epilepsy syndromes is urgently needed”.

Dr. Bhatti, Head of the Clinical Neurology Department at Ghent University, added: “For the medical treatment of canine epilepsy, the question ‘to treat or not’ has been mainly replaced by when to start, which drug or drugs should be used, and when treatment changes should occur. This consensus proposal aims to provide a common language in treatment planning which is essential for comparing future study results.”

Reader Dr. Rusbridge at University of Surrey and Fitzpatrick Referrals said: “Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is regarded as an important diagnostic test to reach the diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy and there is a need for a standardized veterinary epilepsy-specific MRI protocol which will facilitate more detailed examination of areas susceptible to generating and perpetuating seizures, is cost efficient, simple to perform and can be adapted for both low and high field scanners.”

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