Getting a Handle on Canine Epilepsy

An app being developed by a Cummings School faculty member will help track the disease in dogs—and help researchers learn more, too
a veterinarian examining a dog
Ane Uriarte, a neurologist at the Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals, visits with Rudy, a Labrador retriever who was in the hospital for another procedure. Photo: Anna Miller
May 13, 2019

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Dogs, like humans, may experience seizures for a variety of underlying conditions. But while many different medications and treatment plans exist to manage human seizures, veterinarians don’t have the same arsenal of options, said Ane Uriarte, a neurologist at the Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals.

That is because veterinary medicine lacks the same quality of diagnostics and seizures classifications as human medicine, said Uriarte, who is also a Cummings School assistant professor of clinical sciences. When people have a seizure, typically they will undergo a video-EEG (electroencephalogram) to capture their brain waves and map them to the physical movements observed during a seizure. As a result, “doctors often can tell what kind of disease you have just by looking at what kind of seizure you had,” said Uriarte, “and know kind of medication will work better for you.”

Dogs, however, typically have seizures while they’re sleeping at night, so veterinarians almost never observe a patient mid-seizure. “We must rely on owners to tell us exactly what a seizure looked like,” Uriarte said. And since video-EEGs on dogs is not commonly feasible, veterinarians still have no idea if the type of seizure a dog has is related to a different disease process or response to medication.

To improve diagnostics and care for epileptic dogs, Uriarte is working with Tufts engineering students to develop a free iPhone app called My Dog’s Epilepsy. Owners will be able to record notes and receive reminders about, veterinary appointments, and medication. The app also will allow them to record seizures and upload the videos to a cloud-based database. By collecting footage of thousands of epileptic dogs, Uriarte hopes to finally give veterinary researchers the data they need to start classifying canine seizures and creating more targeted treatments.

Tufts School of Engineering seniors Donna Chen, Meet Patel, and Jeremy Su spent this past year helping Uriarte develop the app as their capstone project. The students devised information architecture for the app and set up the backend systems with a goal of creating a product that will be user-friendly for dog owners, while also storing data that’s easily searchable and exportable for Uriarte’s research. A $10,000 seed grant from Tufts will fund the final build of the app, for release on the Apple Store this summer.

Genevieve Rajewski can be reached at genevieve.rajewski@tufts.edu.