It can be terrifying to see our cats suffering or in pain, but it’s extra scary when we don’t know what the cause of their discomfort is! Sometimes cats will start exhibiting strange symptoms, this may include twitching, convulsions, disorientation, or even violent tremors or collapsing. When this happens, we may not know what this means, why it’s happening, or how serious these symptoms may actually be. These could be symptoms of seizures in cats, and if your cat is experiencing them, it’s important to talk to a vet immediately.
In this article, we'll discuss what cat seizures are, what the difference between seizures and epilepsy are, which cats are most prone to seizures, potential cat seizure treatments and how to prevent these episodes to begin with.
We may have some idea of what a seizure is as it relates to humans, and understand they come in different forms, for different reasons, with different levels of severity and concern level. The same is actually true for cats.
A seizure is simply a sudden burst of electrical activity occurring within the brain. “This abnormal activity can lead to an array of abnormal body movements, ranging from violent convulsing to mild tremors,” says Amber LaRock, a licensed vet tech and veterinary consultant at catpet.club. Some seizures will only occur on one side of the brain, while some will involve both hemispheres.
A seizure is the abnormal activity within the brain itself, while epilepsy refers to the presence of seizure episodes. “Epilepsy will often range in severity from cat to cat,” says LaRock. Some cats will only ever experience one seizure throughout their lives, while others will have multiple episodes a year.
There is no definitive cause of epilepsy in cats, and it is much less common in cats than epilepsy in dogs. "Epilepsy is often thought to be a hereditary condition when referring to dogs, but is more mysterious in our feline friends," says LaRock.
It’s also hard to predict how long a seizure will last once it happens. "Seizures can last for a few seconds or minutes, but some may last for hours," says Dr. Michelle Burch, DVM of Safe Hounds Pet Insurance. The good news, says Dr. Burch, is only 2% of cats will develop seizures, so the odds are in your cat’s favor they won’t have to deal with this.
There is no set breed that is more prone to seizures, but seizures are more common in senior cats. "Seizures in older cats are not usually due to epilepsy, but rather complications from other underlying health conditions," says LaRock.
We tend to think of seizures as violent and uncontrolled tremors, but this is not always the case. "Most cats actually experience partial seizures more than generalized seizures, meaning only one side of the brain is involved," says LaRock.
According to LaRock, some of the most common signs of seizures in cats include:
Shaking of one or more limbs
Loss of consciousness
Urinating/defecating on themselves
Hallucination, such as swatting or biting at things that are not there
So, the symptoms can really vary a lot. That’s why it’s always so important to pay attention to any behavior or physical changes in our pets so we can let our doctor know.
Because seizures can happen for so many different reasons, it goes to show there’s also a lot of different causes for them. "Seizures in cats can be caused by idiopathic epilepsy, head trauma, brain tumors, hypoglycemia, kidney disease, toxicities, and other health disorders,” says LaRock. Your veterinarian will often perform specific diagnostics based on the concern in question, ranging from blood work to diagnostic imaging.
If your cat is having seizures, you should typically expect your veterinarian to perform a full panel of bloodwork to search for any metabolic cause. If bloodwork does not offer any answers, they may suggest a visit to the neurologist, or even chalk it up to idiopathic epilepsy.
The treatment for seizures in cats will vary based on the underlying cause, and that means sometimes if the underlying cause isn’t clear, there can be an issue finding an effective treatment. It’s kind of a catch-22, in a pretty nerve-racking way. If your cat is experiencing seizures due to a specific condition, your vet must resolve the underlying issue in order to treat the seizures.
"If your cat is diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy, they may be prescribed daily medications that help to prevent seizures," says LaRock. Your vet will suggest frequent checkups to monitor their progress, as well as follow up diagnostics to make sure they are responding well to their medication.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to prevent something when the cause is sometimes not entirely certain. But if it’s toxins related, then environmental changes are generally the best solution. "Prevention of single-event seizures can best be achieved by ensuring no known toxins are within reach of your cat and keeping your cat indoors only,” says Dr. Burch.
Unfortunately, due to the other causes of seizure, it is difficult to nearly impossible to prevent seizures from occurring in your cat. "I recommend routine physical examinations with baseline blood work to monitor for organ function changes that may increase the risk of seizure activity," says Dr. Burch.
As always, it’s best not to make any guesses when it comes to health. If anything seems off or wrong, make a point to contact the vet as soon as you can!