Seizures in cats are caused when an area of the brain, the cerebral cortex, functions abnormally. The abnormal function may be the result of disease within the brain itself or it may be caused by the effects of a disease that originates outside of the brain. The seizure may be caused by previous damage to the brain.
Types of Feline Seizures
Seizures in cats may be either generalized or focal.
- In generalized seizures, the entire cerebral cortex is involved in causing the seizure. Generalized seizures can occur from metabolic diseases or from poisonings. They also occur in idiopathic epilepsy—recurrent seizures for which the cause is unknown.
- In focal seizures, a smaller localized area within the cerebral cortex causes the seizure to occur. Focal seizures may occur because of congenital abnormalities within the brain. They can also occur due to brain tumors and infections as well as other diseases that can disrupt the structure of the brain. Focal seizures are also sometimes referred to as partial seizures.
What Do Seizures Look Like in a Cat
In cats, seizures are often focal in origin, although generalized seizures can be seen as well. This is somewhat different in dogs where the majority of seizures are generalized.
Focal seizures in the cat produce symptoms that are different from generalized feline seizures.
During a focal seizure, your cat may:
- Cry loudly as though he is in pain
- Behave in an aggressive fashion, even if he is not normally an aggressive cat
- Salivate or drool excessively
- Exhibit other atypical behavior
A generalized seizure causes your cat to lose consciousness for a minute or two, during which:
- He will probably fall on his side and may have muscles that twitch repeatedly. Some cats jerk violently while they are having a seizure.
- The legs may move in a paddling fashion, as though your cat is trying to swim, or they may become rigid instead.
- The mouth may open and close involuntarily.
- Your cat may urinate or defecate on himself.
It is possible for focal seizures to develop into generalized seizures.
Cats usually have seizures that occur more frequently than those in dogs. However, treatment is often successful even for seizures that occur frequently.
What to Do When Your Cat Has a Seizure
The success of the treatment is usually dependent on the cause of the seizure. Any animal that has a seizure should be seen and examined by a veterinarian immediately to determine the cause of the seizure.
- Be cautious about handling your cat during the seizure. He is making uncontrolled movements and may scratch or bite you.
- Keep any other animals in the household away from your cat during a seizure.
- If your cat isn't in a safe place (near stars or on furniture), move him to a safe place.
- Your cat may be disoriented when the seizure stops and not recognize you. He may attempt to run away.
- If the seizure doesn't stop or he has repeated seizures, go to your veterinarian as soon as possible. If he is seizing when you reach the vet's office, he'll be given an injection to stop the seizure
- You'll be asked for information about your cat's behavior, and the vet will recommend tests to determine the cause of the seizure, possibly including urine tests, blood tests, X-rays or MRI imaging.
Treatment for Cat Seizures
A single seizure of short duration may not require treatment. Seizures that repeat at intervals of two months or less are usually treated with a long-term course of an anticonvulsant such as phenobarbital. Seizures that occur less frequently than two months usually aren't given regular medication because the long-term anticonvulsant puts a strain on the liver. Any cat that receives medication must have regular checkups and blood tests in case the meds cause other health problems.