Feline seizures and epilepsy

Seizures, whether due to known conditions or suspected epilepsy, are caused by the misfiring of neurons in the brain. Under normal conditions the neurons transmit impulses in a uniform and coordinated fashion. But during seizures, neurons become over-excited and start transmitting random uncoordinated signals. When that happens, the cat may lose consciousness or become unaware of her surroundings. Seizures are often associated with rapid uncoordinated body movements, which in severe cases can turn into painful convulsions.

It can be very upsetting for an owner to watch a cat having a seizure; especially a severe seizure. Fortunately, seizures and epilepsy are relatively uncommon in cats and when they do happen, they are usually mild. Although seizures with are generally associated with epilepsy, it is important to make a clear distinction between these two terms. Epilepsy results in seizures but not all seizures are due to epilepsy. For example seizures can often follow head trauma, infection (often viral), drug overdose or toxins. Metabolic disorders, for example diabetes, kidney or liver failure may also induce seizures.

Some poisons also induce seizures, the classic example of this being strychnine poisoning. Strychnine is often used as a rat and mouse poison. If a cat accidentally ingests any of this, the reaction can be violent. Characteristic symptoms of the poison are intensely painful seizures that last about a minute. During these the cat throws its head back, can't breathe and its skin turns blue.

If there seems no other reason for the seizures, then epilepsy should be suspected. Epileptic seizures are often referred to as 'idiopathic', meaning 'of unknown cause'.


Seizures will very in intensity from very mild to severe. Mild seizures may manifest themselves by a blank stare sometimes accompanied by the cat giving a cry. Some cats may start running and bumping into things. These type of seizures last for about a minute and can often be missed by the owner since, when theyfeel like it, even healthy cats are masters of the blank stare. Moderate-intensity seizures (which are the most common typein cats) are characterised by a cat falling to one side, urinating or defecating uncontrollably, paddling the paws as if swimming, frothing at the mouth, possibly accompanied by crying. This cat will be unaware of what is going on around, and this may continue for several minutes. Finally, and rarely, there are very severe seizures. The symptoms resemble those in moderate-intensity seizures but may last for hours in which multiple seizures are interrupted by a brief periods of consciousness. These prolonged seizures result in a rapid increase of internal body temperature with a consequent risk of multi-organ failure and death. Although most seizures can be managed successfully, the prognosis in the case of prolonged severe seizures is poor.


If your cat has had a moderate to severe seizure, or had more than one seizure within 24 hours, consult your vet immediately. It is important to pay close attention to the symptoms during the seizure, because your vet will not have seen them at first hand and will rely on your description to make a diagnosis. Most vets will preform a complete physical and neurological examination, including blood tests to reveal potential infection or organ failure. If brain tumours are suspected, the vet may suggest brain scans, such as magnetic resonance imaging or a CAT (here standing for 'Computerised Axial Tomography') scan.


Treatment will depend on diagnosis. If there is an underlying condition, the first step is to treat that. If the treatment is successful the seizures will stop as well. So for example, if a brain tumour is surgically removed, (some brain tumours are operable) there is good chance that the seizures the tumour was causing will stop as well. If however, epilepsy is suspected, this is hard to cure, but the seizures can be kept under control with anticonvulsant drugs. The main function of these drugs is to slow down the rate at which signals are transmitted by the brain. The drug is not recommended for mild seizures in case of side-effects, but it is necessary for more severe seizures. It is important to adjust the dose of medication for each individual cat, using the minimum to prevent seizures.

Note: This information is for guidance only. It is not intended to replace consultation with a licensed practitioner.

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