Dogs help children with a rare and severe form of epilepsy

Although Lafora disease only affects about 50 children worldwide, it is a deadly form of epilepsy that is common in Wirehaired Dachshunds.


(photo is not a Wirehaired Dachshund but it is cute!)

Many Wirehaired Dachshunds suffer from Lafora, and because the disease is the same in children as it is in dogs, veterinarians and human neurologists have teamed up to study the disease.

Dr. Clare Rusbridge, Reader in Veterinary Neurology at the University of Surrey and Chief Neurologist at Fitzpatrick Referrals, have been working with specialists of Lafora in children at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and have identified a canine gene mutation that causes Lafora in dogs.

They were able to study the progression of the disease in dogs so that they could identify its early stages in children. By understanding the progression of the disease, scientists will be better able to identify it sooner in children and eventually find a cure.

The plus side of these studies is that over the past five years, with the help of the Wirehaired Dachshund Club and Dachshund Breed Council, breeders have tested breeding stock and as a result, have reduced the number of litters that are at risk of having Lafora from 55% to under 5%. Hopefully the continued research will benefit humans as well.

Myoclonic epilepsy in dogs and Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy in humans share a common gene

Myoclonic epilepsy in dogs is very similar to juvenile myoclonic epilepsy in humans. Veterinarian researchers have identified a specific gene that is linked to this type of epilepsy.


Myoclonic seizures are brief shock-like jerks of either a single muscle or a muscle group. In humans the person is typically awake and can think clearly.

In dogs the seizures usually occur by the time the dog is six months old and when they are resting. It appears that some of the seizures can be triggered by light.

The good news is that researchers have identified a gene that is connected to this form of seizure. The gene, DIRS1 is unique to this type of epilepsy and has not been linked to any neurological disorder before. The good news is that the DIRS1 gene is similar to those found in humans.

Researchers have developed a genetic test for dogs which will help veterinarians and breeders identify dogs who have this gene and enable them to modify breeding programs. It seems that  that the Rhodesian Ridgeback is especially susceptible to this form of epilepsy, but it has been found in many other breeds as well.

While more research is needed to further understand the connection between the gene and epilepsy, it is a breakthrough. Once the role of the gene is understood then researchers can develop a cure or treatment for this form of epilepsy.

Again, veterinarian research has the potential to help humans. Dogs are indeed our best friends.