Neurological Disorders in Cats

A cat sleeping
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Nothing is quite so frightening to a cat owner than to see her cat suddenly go into a seizure, or even fall unconscious, particularly when the cat may have had no known history of serious illness. Neurological disorders in cats present with a variety of symptoms, stemming from a variety of possible causes, from injury to hypertension to parasitical invasion. Diagnosis is not always exact, but your veterinarian can offer treatment to help control the symptoms of these disorders.

This overview is very basic in regards to the kinds of neurological disorders that can affect cats, and their symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. For more information on specific conditions, see the Neurological Disorders section on this site.


Seizures (or epilepsy) in cats are more of a symptom of an underlying condition than a medical condition. Seizures fall into two basic categories:

  1. Secondary, related to another underlying condition.
    • Feline Hypertension
    • Brain Tumors
    • Inflammatory diseases, including FIV, FeLV, or FIP
    • Parasitical invasion, such as toxoplasmosis​
  2. Idiopathic (primary) epilepsy, with an undetermined cause. Primary epilepsy is relatively rare in cats but can be congenital.

My cat, Shannon, who was FIV+ had an apparent seizure once when he stopped in mid-stride, with one foot raised in the air and a blank stare. He did not respond when I waved my hand in front of his eyes but continued in this posture for almost one minute.

The night I regretfully had him euthanized, he had an evident seizure while I was giving him soft food with a syringe  - treating him for suspected hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease). I was afraid I had choked him with the food, but the frightening yowl he made was not caused by gagging. By the time we were rushed to the vet by a neighbor friend, he was calmed down.

However, the vet agreed that it had likely been a seizure, and assured me that Shannon was ready to go. He was 19 at his passing and my best friend for many years.

Diagnostic Tools for Seizures in Cats:

Modern veterinary offices utilize a number of tests and diagnostic procedures for ruling out possible causes of seizures unless something such as an accidental injury presents an obvious cause.
One or more of these diagnostic methods may be used, depending on the history of the cat and the results of other tests, given more or less in the following order:

  • Complete physical exam
  • Blood Tests
  • EKG
  • CT Scan
  • MRI
  • CSF (Cerebral Spinal Fluid) Tap and Analysis

Treatment for Neurological Disorders:

Treatment will naturally be specialized toward the diagnosis or combination of diagnoses of the underlying medical condition(s) while giving anticonvulsant drugs such as phenobarbital to control seizures. Treating cats with one or more conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension may involve days or weeks of experimenting with dosages to attain a stable level of disease control, while still controlling the seizures.

Other Causes of Neurological Disorders in Cats:

Panleukopenia aka Feline Distemper
An often fatal viral infection which can result in lifelong ataxia (lack of balance) in cats who are infected as kittens, a condition known as CH (cerebellar hypoplasia).

Panleukopenia can be prevented by vaccination. Cerebellar Hypoplasia is not uncommon. You can learn more about it from the CH Kitty Club, an information and support group for caregivers of CH cats.

Toxic substances include household cleaning products, garden sprays, and pest killers. Certain plants, when ingested, also adversely affect the central nervous system. Other cat toxins include human medications, house plants, essential oils, and certain human foods.

Although a relatively rare result of this parasite, central nervous system damage can result, producing blindness, ataxia, and other symptoms of CNS damage.

Feline Hyperesthesia aka "Rippling Skin Disorder"
This condition is so rarely recognized, but so commonly found that it deserves special mention. Cat owners surely must breathe a sigh of relief to find a name for the crazy list of symptoms that sometimes make their cat seem almost "possessed."

  • Running crazily in circles
  • Loud meowing, often at night
  • Rippling skin on the back
  • Excessive and manic grooming
  • Frequent mood swings

As with other illness in cats, careful observation and an intimate knowledge of your cat's normal health and behavior can give you a head start in identifying and treating many of these neurological disorders. As always, working in close partnership with your veterinarian is a must, for optimal health for your cat.

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. Your veterinarian should always be your first source for a sick cat, regardless of the nature of the illness. This article is meant only to give you a starting place to do your research so you can make an informed decision, should it ever become necessary.