Canine Epilepsy Project

Epilepsy is a complicated and little understood disease that can be devastating to both dog and owner. A project is currently underway to study epilepsy in dogs. This project is a joint venture between the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary School, and the University of Missouri Veterinary School. This project, known as the Canine Epilepsy Project (CEP), is funded by grants from AKC’s Canine Health Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. The NIH is involved because epilepsy is so little understood in humans, yet it is easier to do research on dogs than on humans. The more we learn about epilepsy in dogs, the more light will be shed on the disorder in humans.

Below is a Question and Answer document prepared by the CEP. It has much information about the goals of the project. Data from affected dogs is needed! In order for the test to work, blood samples from as many affected dogs of as many breeds possible is needed. Please help with blood samples of affected dogs and any family members if they are known. Every little bit helps. More information about the project and about epilepsy in general is available on the CEP website, located at

Canine Epilepsy Research

Canine epilepsy is one of the most emotionally devastating problems facing dog owners and breeders today. A consortium of researchers from the University of Missouri, University of Minnesota, Ohio Sate University, and the Animal Trust (England) are currently doing DNA research to try to locate the mutation(s) responsible for causing epilepsy in dogs. The genes controlling seizure problems in dogs are not well understood, but this project is attempting to find the marker(s) or mutation(s) responsible. When these can be identified, a blood test will tell if an individual dog is a carrier, clear, or likely to become an affected (even before symptoms begin). Using this information, breeders can choose breeding partners who will not produce additional affected puppies.

Researchers working on this project need information from affected dogs and their families. Specifically, what is needed is a 3- to 5-generation pedigree of the litter where an affected dog (or dogs) appeared, and blood samples from the affected dog(s), full siblings, parents, and when possible, the grandparents. If an affected dog has been used for breeding, the offspring and mates should also be sampled. Distant relatives are potentially useful, but the most important samples are from the affected dogs and immediate relatives. Family groups are important so that the genotype of the affected dogs can be compared to that of close relatives who are not affected, and allow researchers to decipher how these genes are inherited from one generation to the next. An affected dog with little or no family available may also be of some use. Participation in the project is confidential - the names of dogs and owners who participate in the research will not be revealed. When markers are identified, individual owners will be able to request test results on their participating dogs. Results of research are published in such a way that the identity of individual dogs is anonymous.

There is a packet of information sheets and forms for submitting samples. You may make copies and distribute them to other interested breeders and owners. The packet can be downloaded at the Canine Epilepsy Network website, or, upon request, may be faxed or mailed to you. Grants from the AKC Canine Health Foundation allow participation in this research to be opened to ALL breeds of dogs. As of October 19, 2001, samples have been received from nearly 3300 dogs representing 70 different breeds. Samples are still needed from families where epilepsy has appeared, from any breed. In addition to helping your own breed, it is hoped that information discovered in one breed may help locate mutations in other breeds as well. Please spread the word of this research to anyone who has an affected dog or a relative of an affected dog, and to veterinarians or others who may come in contact with dogs and owners who should be included. There is no cost to participate, other than a vet fee for drawing a blood sample (many vets are doing this at a reduced cost to support the research) and overnight shipping charges to the lab ($15-$35 from most places in the country via FedEx, UPS, or US Mail). If you have any questions, or need additional information, please contact project coordinator Liz Hansen via one of the methods listed below. Thank you for your interest and participation!


Is epilepsy the same in all breeds? Probably not. There have been over 15 genes defined so far which cause epilepsy in humans and a similar number in mice, and it is likely that many additional epilepsy-causing genes will be found in the future. This same assortment of genes may be responsible for epilepsy in dogs. Within some breeds, all the dogs with epilepsy appear to follow the same basic pattern. In other breeds there may be several different patterns, or no discernable pattern at all. It is possible that each breed and each different pattern has a different genetic mutation. It is also possible that several breeds who all follow the same pattern may all have the same or very similar mutations. Research is only just beginning to search for these answers.

What are DNA researchers looking for? DNA researchers attempt to find the genes responsible for various traits, both detrimental and beneficial. Like the human genome and mouse genome project, the canine genome project is trying to determine how the genes are arranged on the various chromosomes and what they do. While good progress has been made mapping the human and mouse genome, the canine gene map until recently has been very rudimentary, which makes genetic research much slower and more challenging. The goals of DNA researchers working on canine epilepsy are: (1) to identify the gene or genes responsible for the various forms of canine epilepsy; (2) to characterize the responsible mutations within the epilepsy genes; and, (3) to devise and validate DNA marker assays that can detect the epilepsy-causing mutations. These DNA marker assays should enable breeders to produce epilepsy-free puppies.

Will a DNA test be valid for all dogs within a breed or only for a limited group within that breed? Each epilepsy-causing mutation stems from a particular mutation event that has occurred in a specific ancestor. If several mutation events are contributing to the epilepsy in a breed it will take several DNA tests to completely eliminate epilepsy from the breed. Nonetheless it is likely that one or a few mutations are responsible for most of the epilepsy in a particular breed so one or a few tests would go a long way toward eliminating epilepsy in these breeds.

Has an "epilepsy gene" been found in any other breed yet? How close are researchers to finding one? Although several research groups are looking for epilepsy genes in a variety of dog breeds, we are not aware of any successes as yet. Predicting how long it will take to find the mutation(s) and develop a test is like trying to predict how long it will take to catch a fish - some days you catch a fish on the first cast, other days you may fish all day to finally catch one, and still other days you go home sunburned and try again another day. Preliminary work does look encouraging, but more research needs to be done, and more families are needed for testing. We do believe that with time and access to informative families, markers will be identified in many breeds.

Suppose the genetic test shows my dog is a carrier. Does that mean the end of his/her breeding career? If epilepsy is a recessive trait or a polygenic (2 or more genes controlling) trait, then carriers can be bred to DNA-tested normal dogs without producing offspring that will develop clinical signs of epilepsy. However, such a breeding will produce some puppies who are clear, and some who are carriers. Therefore, it is critical that the offspring from such a breeding also be DNA tested before they are bred. The key is to know the genetic status of BOTH dogs involved in any breeding. Selection of a carrier in a breeding program should be done very carefully and the breeder ethically must share this information with the buyers of the puppies from that breeding.

I have an affected dog. Can one dog be helpful? YES! The best information for research comes from families - affected, littermates, parents, and grandparents - but single affected dogs are also useful. Participation in the research is confidential - the identity of dogs and owners participating will NOT be revealed. Information sheets and sample submission forms are available to download at, or you may email your request to, or call 573-884-3712.

When the mutation(s) or marker(s) are defined for epilepsy in our breed, how much will it cost to have a dog tested for the defective gene? How old must a dog be to have this test performed? It depends on who finds the defective gene. If the gene is found at a research institution and the results go into the public domain, the test will probably cost about $35-$50 per dog. If a private organization finds the gene and patents the test, it will probably add an additional $50 to $100 to the cost of the test. The tests can be done on DNA from any age dog. Docked tails (in breeds where this is customary) are a good source of DNA if breeders keep careful track of which pup goes with which tail. Blood samples are difficult to draw from young puppies - your vet would probably recommend you wait until the pups are over 7 weeks of age.

The Canine Epilepsy Network web site was launched December 1999 to provide a resource for owners and breeders dealing with canine epilepsy. You may view the site at If you have specific questions about the research, please ask!

Liz Hansen
Coordinator of Veterinary Information
Animal Molecular Genetics Lab - Dept. of Vet. Path.
321 Connaway Hall - College of Vet. Med.
University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211

573-884-3712 (office phone), 573-884-5414 (department fax)  (email)   ACC Health Committee