SCARBOROUGH — Nancy Floris, a nurse from Amesbury, Mass., has learned when something scary is about to happen with her standard poodle, Spencer.

“He is like in a trance almost,” she said about the distant stare Spencer makes before a seizure that causes him to vomit, clench his jaw, fall over and lose body functions for a minute or more.

Spencer, a 5-year-old, 88-pound bundle of friendliness, is now part of a national field study with local input at the Maine Veterinary Referral Center on Technology Drive.

Drs. Alan Potthoff and Danielle Eifle are screening dogs from throughout northern New England as part of a field study of medicine to combat seizures caused by idiopathic epilepsy.

Research indicates as many as 780,000 dogs are diagnosed with the condition annually, and there is evidence the epilepsy has hereditary factors in breeds including beagles, border collies, Bernese mountain dogs and golden and Labrador retrievers. Potthoff said seizures often first occur in dogs 1 to 5 years old, and often occur early in the morning.

“The sleeping brain seems to be the most sensitive,” he said.

Floris said the seizures are frightening and unpredictable.

“I’ve had dogs all my life, and never had one with a seizure disorder,” she said. “It seemed like forever, even it was just a minute or two.”

Potthoff, who has operated the clinic in Scarborough since 2007 and been in practice in the Portland area for more than 20 years, said he could not name the pharmaceutical company conducting the study for data to refer to the federal Food and Drug Administration. But he said more dogs are needed for the study through early next year.

The study is being conducted in 14 states with stringent guidelines for participation. The efficacy of the pills is best determined from as large a sample size as possible, Potthoff said.

Dogs at least 4 months old, weighing 3.3 pounds, not lactating, pregnant or suspected of being pregnant, can be screened if they have a history of seizures. Dogs must be evaluated within seven days of their most recent seizure.

Dogs meeting initial qualifications are given physical and neurological exams, blood and urine tests, and an MRI exam. The screenings and tests are free, and dog owners can be reimbursed up to $150 for travel expenses. Visits to the Maine Veterinary Referral Center are outpatient, Potthoff said, and can be scheduled seven days a week.

Two thirds of the dogs in the study receive medication; the remainder get a placebo, and Potthoff and Eifle do not know what is being administered.

“The client is very involved as well,” Potthoff said. “They must document administering pills and show medicine has properly been dispensed.”

In day-to-day practice, the Maine Veterinary Referral Center provides advanced care for animals, based on referrals.

“We do not do general practice work,” Potthoff said.

He said his practice was sought out for the field study.

“They were looking for neurologists around the country and there are not a lot of us,” Potthoff said.

To be considered for the study, dog owners can contact the national field study organizers at 888-598-7125, ext. 207 or visit the study website.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

Dr. Alan Potthoff of the Main Veterinary Referral Center in Scarborough, which is participating in a national field trial of a drug to combat canine epilepsy.

How to become part of the study

The study is open to dogs of all breeds. To qualify, dogs must:

  • Be at least 4 months of age.
  • Have received no more than 7 days of prior treatment with an anti-seizure medication.
  • Weigh at least 3.3 pounds.
  • Have no previous history of seizure clusters or status epilepticus.
  • Not be lactating, pregnant, or suspected to be pregnant.
  • Meet all other study requirements (which will be explained by the investigator when the dog is evaluated).

For more information, call 888-598-7125, ext. 207, visit or ask your veterinarian.

Facebook comments

filed under: