Veterinarian Reviewed on June 20, 2012 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Cat seizures, or epilepsy, are much like those that occur in humans. Neurons in the brain begin firing randomly rather than in coordination like they normally do. This can affect multiple areas of a cat’s body.
There are a variety of causes of epilepsy. It can be inherited or occur as a result of Cat Kidney Disease or Cat Liver Disease or failure. Metabolic diseases like Cat Diabetes can also be the cause. Head trauma, infection, exposure to toxins or drug overdose may also be to blame.
Despite the many potential reasons behind epilepsy, the veterinarian may not be able to detect a cause. This is true of many cat seizures. This is idiopathic epilepsy, but most veterinarians just say epilepsy when diagnosing it.
Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms can vary depending on the type of epilepsy the cat has. With a petit mal seizure, the cat may shake a single leg, have a blank stare or simply cry out in pain. The seizure is generally over quickly, within a minute, so it’s not unusual for it to go unnoticed.
Grand mal seizures last longer, up to five minutes, but are much more apparent. Falling to one side, frothing at the mouth, crying out and losing control of urine or bowel movements are common. The cat may also paddle their legs as if they are swimming. During the seizure, the cat will not be aware of what is going on around it.
The most severe form of cat seizures is status epilepticus. It appears similar to the grand mal type, but with one distinct difference. Where grand mal seizures are over within five minutes, status epilepticus seizures can last for an extended period of time, as much as several hours.
Feline epilepsy typically begins around two to three years of age. It rarely occurs in the very young. Grand mal seizures are the most common. Status epilepticus is the most serious form as long periods of convulsing can raise body temperature to harmful levels.
Since the veterinarian most likely will not see the cat in the throes of a seizure, it’s important for owners to carefully observe their cat while the seizure is occurring. This information can be helpful in getting a proper diagnosis.
The veterinarian will usually run a variety of tests to see if they can determine a cause. Blood tests are common. In cases of a suspected tumor causing the cat seizures, an MRI or CT scan may be done.
If there is an underlying cause behind the seizures, treating it may relieve the epilepsy. However, in the case of idiopathic epilepsy, this may not be an option. If the cat has frequent seizures or those lasting longer than thirty minutes, an anticonvulsant may be prescribed. It is not a cure, though, only a method to reduce how often seizures occur as well as lower their intensity.
In the case of a cat with status epilepticus, it may be necessary to seek the attention of a specialized veterinarian. Sedatives or other medications may be given to stop the seizures and help reduce the amount of damage done to the cat’s body.
Cat seizures are rarely life-threatening. With medication, most cats are able to live full lives.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan