The Low Down on Seizures in Cats

Seeing your cat having a seizure can be truly scary and distressing, especially if it is the first time. Convulsions occur because of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The cat will twitch, shake, or fall into convulsions or spasms. As crazy as it may sound, this is not the time to panic. The best thing you can do for your poor little kitty is observing and take notes. It will be invaluable to the vet.

We’ll tell you more about seizures or “fits” in cats, what causes it, and what you should do. We will also share a few terms your vet might mention so that you don’t get lost along the way.

 

What happens when a cat has a seizure?

When a cat has a seizure, it could affect a section of the body or a specific area. This is also known as a focal or partial seizure. The cat could also experience a generalized seizure: it affects the entire body, and the cat would lose consciousness. Generalized seizures affect the entire cerebral cortex, and the cat would have the following typical symptoms:

  • Total loss of consciousness.

  • The cat could fall with the body stiff or arched, begin twitching or shaking uncontrollably, or she would start to move her legs in a paddling fashion.

  • Involuntary opening and closing of the mouth.

  • Foaming in the mouth and sometimes drooling.

  • Loss of control of the bowel or bladder, or both.

  • Involuntary rolling on the floor until something stops it.

 

During a focal or a partial seizure, the cat may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Partial loss of consciousness. The cat seems conscious but is unaware of your presence and is unresponsive.

  • The cat may cry out loudly as though it is in pain.

  • Excessive drooling.

  • Lose control of a limb.

  • Involuntary jaw movements.

  • Twitching or fluttering in the eyelid, cheeks, or ears.

  • A sudden burst of atypical behavior like aggression, or tail-chasing.  

A focal seizure can develop into a generalized seizure. Focal seizures in cats are short-lived and could go unnoticed.


Photo by Manja Vitolic on Unsplash

How long do seizures last?

Whereas the severity and length of a seizure can vary greatly, the cat will typically go through two phases:

  • The Pre-ictal phase is also known as an aura - the change in behavior before the actual seizure. During this phase, the cat may be nervous, seek attention or turn its head uncontrollably. 

  • The Post-ictal phase is the abnormal period after the fit. The cat might be overly sleepy, wobbly, pacing, or eat and drink excessively. The post-ictal phase could last for a day or two.

Our Fit Pets tells us that cat seizures could be isolated events or occur in clusters (the cat experiences more than a single seizure in a day). A typical generalized seizure will last 1-3 minutes. If the fit continues and lasts for more than 5 – 10 minutes, the cat is said to be in status epilepticus. Cats in this state require urgent medical attention.

 

What to do when your cat has a fit

If the seizure happened within 12 hours of the cat coming into contact with a known toxin, contact the nearest clinic and get advice from a veterinarian urgently. 

A seizure can be scary and distressing, but try not to panic. Get a hold of yourself, and remove any object that may hurt the cat. Avoid moving the cat, but if you must, protect yourself (and her) using a blanket and move her to a safer location. Remember to place her in an easy-to-breath position and observe how the cat behaves. Record a video of the incident on your phone or smart device. It will provide invaluable information to your veterinarian.

Here’s more information you can provide to help the vet diagnose and possibly treat the condition:

  • The age at which the seizures began and if they were getting worse.

  • If the fits are intermittent, or they occur in regular intervals?

  • The frequency and duration of fits.

  • Any associations: could be with sleep, excitement, feeding, etc.

  • Any other signs of sickness like poor appetite, excessive drinking, lethargy, etc.

It is crucial to tell the vet if you recently administered any medicines, vitamins and/or supplements, over-the-counter deworming medicines, or flea-control products. Also, let the vet know if you suspect exposure to poisons or toxins.
 

What causes seizures in cats?

Some cats have epilepsy - a congenital neurological disorder - that causes seizures. Vets call it Idiopathic Epilepsy. The real cause is not known, but the signs begin to show when the cat is young. Cats can also experience fits due to head trauma or brain ailments and tumors. In such cases, the cat experiences a fit when brain activity is changing. For instance, when excited (feeding times), when sleeping, or waking up.

In some cases, the cause of the seizures could exist outside the head or extracranial seizures. Some of the causes include malfunctioning organs causing polycythemia (a thickening of the blood), viruses, parasites, and low blood sugar levels. But the most common cause of seizures in cats is exposure to known toxins, medicines, supplements, and grooming products. For example, flea products containing Permethrin (meant for dogs) are a common cause of seizures in cats. Medicinal products containing Mirtazapine and Ibuprofen can also cause fits. Supplements containing Alpha-lipoic acid can cause seizures when taken in high doses. Contact with Bromethalin (a commonly used neurotoxic rodenticide), can also cause fits in cats.

You must contact a vet as soon as possible and schedule an appointment soon to address the fit. If it is extracranial, the vet will perform a physical exam and some blood tests to determine the source of the fit and treat it. If it is intracranial (from within the head), the vet will eliminate possible head trauma. Then he or she will perform CT scans and advice on the appropriate treatment.

 

A final word on cat seizures

Seizures are a common neurological disorder in felines affecting 1 in 50 cats. It can be a distressing experience, but you should try to stay composed and gather information. The episode will last about 3 – 5 minutes. When the cat has recovered, reach out to the vet for help.

 

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