Cat seizures have many causes, and can often occur quite suddenly. Find out what you can do to make the experience less stressful for you and your pet.
Cat seizures can be a symptom of many different diseases, but are one of the more unusual cat illness symptoms as they are not very common. It can be alarming the first time your cat has a seizure, but by following the advice in this article you can have the confidence to remain calm and seek veterinary advice when necessary.
What are cat seizures?
Cat seizures are a sign of abnormal brain functioning, and not actually a disease diagnosis in itself. During a seizure, there is sudden, abnormal electrical impulses that disrupt the normal processes within the brain. This can result in nerve stimulation elsewhere within the body, and the unusual behaviours that are often associated with seizures such as collapse, twitching, chomping the teeth and tremors. There are different categories of seizure, and often an episode will be considered generalised or partial. A generalised seizure involves both halves of the brain, whereas a partial seizure will involve a specific brain region.
Cat seizure symptoms
The signs of a cat seizure will vary depending on the cause and type of episode. General seizures typically have a sudden onset and last up to three minutes. They can be alarming to watch as you might see symptoms such as shaking, losing consciousness, twitching or urinating.
Compared with dogs, seizures in older cats (and cats of all ages) are more commonly partial rather than general. Depending on the affected region of the brain the symptoms can vary significantly and may be very subtle.
The symptoms of a partial seizure in cats can include:
- Unusual movements
- Facial twitching
- Tail chasing
- Loud vocalisations
- Aggressive behaviour
In certain cases, it can be difficult to distinguish the symptoms of cat seizure from other behavioural causes. At times an episode can go unnoticed because the signs are so slight. Keep an eye out for symptoms such as excessive thirst, tiredness or constant pacing, as these changes can follow a seizure. If you suspect there is something unusual about your cat’s behaviour, make sure you check these symptoms with the vet.
If possible, make a quick note of the time that the seizure starts. If your cat’s seizure lasts for more than 5-10 minutes, it is called status epilecticus and it is considered a medical emergency. Make sure you call your vet immediately for emergency care. You should also contact a vet for advice if it is your cat’s first seizure, they have not been seen by a vet for this problem before, or they have more than one seizure close together, regardless of how long the episode lasts.
What is causing cat seizures in older cats?
Cat seizures can be a symptom of many different health problems and the causes are often categorised as intracranial (within the brain) or extracranial (due to disease elsewhere in the body).
Examples of intracranial causes include brain inflammation, tumours and trauma. Extracranial causes can include ingestion of toxins, kidney disease, liver disease, heart arrhythmias, disrupted blood sugar regulation and more. Older cats are more likely than younger cats to have a concurrent health problem such as those listed here.
A seizure may otherwise be ‘idiopathic’. This is more commonly diagnosed in younger cats and is when an underlying cause is not identified with the seizure occurring due to a malfunction within the brain that affects neurotransmission.
What to do when your cat is having a seizure?
If you notice your cat starting to have seizure, here are a few things you can do to help your pet:
Keep an eye on time
You want to make sure you know how long the cat seizure lasts. This can vary from a few seconds up to 10 minutes or more, and this is useful information for a vet to know. However, our perception of time can be distorted during stressful circumstances, so making a quick note of the start and end time is very helpful if possible. You can start off a stop-watch on your mobile phone if you have this handy. A seizure that hasn’t stopped after five minutes is cause for concern and you should call for emergency veterinary advice. If the seizure has stopped after three minutes or less, you should still book an appointment with your vet, especially if this is the first time you have noticed it in your cat.
Turn off lights, but make sure you can still see safely by leaving a lamp on, or keeping the door ajar to a light in a next door room. Anything noisy such as a television or radio should be switched off and anyone present should talk quietly and calmly, and give your cat plenty of space.
Don’t move or touch the cat
It is tempting for a loving cat owner to want to help their pet in those moments, but you should avoid touching your cat during the seizure, unless absolutely necessary. If they’re in danger of hurting themselves by falling or hitting a hard surface, you should move your pet to a safer place. Make sure you use a blanket to avoid being bitten or scratched, as these behaviours can be very common during a seizure even in a pet that is normally very docile.
Call the vet if the seizure doesn’t stop
A prolonged cat seizure lasting more than 5 minutes should prompt the cat owner to call for emergency care. You should do the same if the seizures are frequent or if you notice the cat is struggling to breathe
What is the treatment for cat seizures in older cats?
The treatment and management plan will depend on any underlying cause of seizure. Although idiopathic epilepsy is a very common cause of epilepsy in cats, this is less likely in an older individual and is generally diagnosed through a process of excluding other causes.
A vet will need to perform a thorough health check of the cat, and will recommend what diagnostic tests are necessary. Usually this will involve blood tests, which may be followed by ultrasound, x-ray or referral for advanced imaging depending on the findings.
Depending on the diagnosis, the vet will recommend what treatment options are available. In some cases, the underlying cause cannot be cured, but can be effectively managed. Medication will often be specific to your cat’s illness; however, the vet may also suggest anti-convulsants, either as a preventative or to use if a prolonged seizure occurs. Many of these require long-term monitoring and check-ups.