"We have a ticking time bomb" : a qualitative exploration of the impact of canine epilepsy on dog owners living in England
Background: Idiopathic epilepsy is a common neurological condition in dogs. Previous research has focused on clinical aspects of seizure management in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy with little attention given to the emotional and logistical challenges for their owners. The current study aimed to explore the impacts of owning a dog with idiopathic epilepsy on owner quality of life and lifestyle, using qualitative methods. Methods: Owners of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy living in England were recruited via social media and word of mouth, and then selected using purposive sampling to participate in face-to-face semi-structured interviews. Epilepsy management was explored through in-depth accounts of owner experiences and influencing factors. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and thematic analysis was used to construct key themes. Results: Twenty-one interviews were completed. Almost all owners had made lifestyle changes in order to care for their dog, including substantial modifications to routines and, in some cases, employment. Many owners discussed a very emotionally close dog-owner bond, and described experiencing frequent feelings of fear, stress and uncertainty regarding their dog's health. Friends, family and colleagues did not always understand the magnitude of commitment required to care for a dog with idiopathic epilepsy. This, combined with a fear of leaving their dog unsupervised, had social implications in some instances and lead to increased use of the Internet and online groups for peer support. Conclusions: The commitment required to care for a dog with idiopathic epilepsy, and the lifestyle changes made by their owners, may be far greater than previously estimated. Further consideration of these factors by veterinary professionals and the friends and families of owners of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy could improve owner quality of life, and facilitate the provision of additional support.