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What You Need To Know About Seizures in Cats

7 min read

Updated - Dec 27th, 2022

Key Points

  • Seizures are a result of electrical disturbances in a cat’s brain and can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
  • Some seizures affect only a portion of a cat’s body, whereas others affect their entire body.
  • Your vet can determine the cause of your cat’s seizures through various diagnostic tests such as a physical exam, blood test, spinal tap, or MRI.
  • Cats with seizures can still live a happy, full life with a healthy diet, exercise, and anti-seizure medication.

Witnessing your cat seizing is a frightening experience. If this has happened to you, we’re here to help.

We’re walking through common symptoms, causes, and typical treatments for seizures in cats. While we’re here to provide the facts, it’s imperative that you get in touch with your vet sooner rather than later. They’ll be able to examine your kitty closely, and rule out underlying health conditions.

Symptoms 

Seizures are abrupt, involuntary electrical disturbances in the brain. They may cause your cat to lose consciousness, convulse, or experience other types of uncontrollable muscle activity. While seizure symptoms may look painful, this doesn’t necessarily mean your cat is in pain. 

There are several types of seizures, with each one presenting slightly different symptoms. A petit mal or focal seizure partially affects a cat’s brain, causing only a certain portion of the body to exhibit visible signs. Author and veterinarian Dr. Debra Eldredge (DVM) explains, “These seizures are easy to miss, as they usually involve just one part of your cat’s body and are often very short in timing. For instance, your cat might have one particular ear that twitches nonstop.”

Other common symptoms can include: 

  • Excessive meowing 
  • Drooling
  • Abnormal head twitches 
  • Twitching in the eyelids or face 
  • Sudden changes in behavior

A grand mal or generalized seizure impacts a cat’s entire body, and can last a couple of minutes. Dr. Eldredge states, “Grand mal seizures have the greatest potential to be dangerous, especially if they stop, then restart during ‘cluster seizures.’ Recurrent seizures can raise a cat’s temperature to potentially deadly levels – so it’s important for cat owners to take action immediately.”

Symptoms can include:

  • Lack of responsiveness 
  • Urination and defecation 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Twitching throughout the body
  • Salivation
  • Paddling movements
  • Rigid limbs  
  • Confusion or disorientation

Causes 

Simply put, seizures happen because of brain damage. However, there are both internal and external reasons why they affect your cat, ranging from disease and physical injury to poisoning. Some causes of seizures include:

  • Diseases like feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Brain tumor 
  • Liver or kidney disease 
  • Exposure to toxins like pyrethrin 
  • Head trauma
  • Low blood sugar 
  • Low calcium or sodium 
  • Genetic abnormality in the brain 
  • Parasites, such as toxoplasmosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Lethargy
  • Heatstroke 

Diagnosis  

Seizures can have extracranial (outside of the brain) or intracranial (inside the brain) causes. To determine the exact cause of the seizure, cat owners must schedule a consultation, where their veterinarian can conduct the following diagnostic tests:

  • Physical examination: A physical exam can help spot any hidden injuries or head trauma that might be contributing to your cat’s symptoms.
  • Blood test: Blood work can help your vet come to a more conclusive answer, as it can measure lead or test for an infectious disease.
  • Spinal tap: During a spinal tap, your vet collects cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) to check for possible inflammation in the brain.
  • MRI: An MRI helps rule out external causes by assessing a cat’s brain structure. If there are abnormalities, a genetic factor may be at play. 

Treatment

If you witness your cat having a seizure at home, whatever happens, you must not attempt to pick them up or physically stop them with your hands. This can cause them to accidentally bite or scratch you, as they’ll be too disoriented to act rationally.

During a seizure, make sure to surround your cat with pillows and soft objects, and keep them away from any stairs or tall edges. The biggest concern is that they hurt themselves by hitting their head on a hard surface. Secondly, keep other pets and family members away; they can also sustain possible injuries if they’re too close.

By the time you take your cat to the vet, it’s likely that they’ve stopped seizing, as most seizures only last a few seconds to minutes. “During your vet visit, your cat may be in the ‘post-dromal’ or ‘post-ictal’ period. This is when their brain is recovering. The amount of time varies, but your cat may be ‘out of it’ or simply exhausted,” explains Dr. Eldredge.

However, if your cat is still exhibiting symptoms, your vet may provide emergency medications like diazepam to interrupt the seizure cycle. When a seizure lasts for more than ten minutes, it’s referred to as status epilepticus. If left untreated, it can leave your cat with prolonged brain damage.

Recovery and care

If your cat is suffering from external factors like toxins, the vet’s first priority will be to remove them from their body. If not, they’ll most likely prescribe oral anticonvulsant medication like phenobarbital. However, the dosage and type of medicine will vary, as it takes a bit of time to find a solution that works well for each individual cat. Your vet may adjust your cat’s prescriptions with time.

While many cats eventually recover, some may have to stay on anticonvulsant medication for the rest of their lives. Although this sounds discouraging, consistency and effort goes a long way – and it can help your cat live a long, fulfilling life. 

Prevention

Dr. Eldredge recommends, “Try writing down everything you can during your cat’s seizure, and what might have led up to it. If you’re able to identify possible triggers, like an unexpected, stressful event, you can try to limit these.” Keeping an ongoing journal may also help your vet in the long run. 

If your cat’s seizures are caused by toxins, the best preventive measure you can take is to keep harmful chemicals out of sight. Some common examples include permethrin, fluoroquinolone antibiotics, diphenhydramine, and amitriptyline. 

Your cat can also suffer from nutritional deficiency. Your vet can help recommend food products that provide your pet with all the necessary nutrients to keep them healthy. 

What to expect at the vet’s office 

Wondering what to expect during your cat’s vet visit? For one, your vet will conduct a thorough physical and neurological exam to determine the cause of your cat’s seizures. If symptoms continue, they may resort to an MRI or a spinal fluid tap. They may also ask the following questions to narrow down your cat’s health issues:

  • How old was your cat when the seizures began? 
  • Was your cat exposed to any toxins? 
  • Are the seizures consistent in severity, or becoming worse? 
  • How long is each seizure? 
  • What type of diet do you maintain for your cat? 

After getting a possible diagnosis, your vet may continue to work with you to ensure the seizures lessen in frequency and duration.

The bottom line

As independent animals, cats tend to hide their pain or discomfort from their owners. But when you notice strange, off-character behaviors, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and seek a vet’s opinion.

Seeing your cat suffer such unpredictable symptoms can cause a lot of worry. But when you’re equipped with more knowledge about their seizures and how to prevent them, you’ll feel more confident in protecting them and providing them with the care they deserve. 

Whether your cat needs to avoid certain toxins or take prescribed anticonvulsant medications, your continuous efforts will go a long way – and they will appreciate living a long, happy life alongside you and their fur-ever family. 

FAQs 

What type of diet can help manage my cat’s seizures?

Any balanced diet with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial for your cat. However, if you want a more extensive list of healthy cat foods, it’s best to consult with your vet. 

Are cat seizures curable?

Depending on the cause, some cat seizures will go away in time. However, prolonged symptoms may be a sign of a more serious underlying health condition.

Should I continue to give my cat prescribed medication when it doesn’t work? 

Unless your vet says otherwise, it’s best to continue giving your cat their set dosage; medication takes time to work. If you suddenly decrease their dosage, it can later cause more harm than good. 

Does pet insurance cover seizures in cats?

While it varies from provider to provider, Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans help cover eligible vet bills for unexpected accidents and illnesses like seizures. 

Did you know?

  • Cat seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes.
  • While they are associated with various physical symptoms, cat seizures don’t always cause pain. 
  • Although many symptoms get resolved, some cats require lifelong doses of anticonvulsant medication to manage their seizures.


Shi-won Oh

Shi-won is a copywriter and an enthusiastic dog aunt to Maltese and Shih Tzu puppies.
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