What are Epileptic Seizures?
During a grand mal epileptic seizure, your cat will likely fall on his side, his leg muscles shaking with convulsions. He may salivate and he might urinate or defecate unknowingly. A petit mal seizure does not result in convulsions, but your cat may just suddenly collapse into a brief unconscious state. Grand mal seizures are more common in cats than petit mal seizures. Your cat will not feel pain during these seizures.
An epileptic seizure is a symptom of a brain disorder or malfunction. Epileptic seizures are often the result of neurotransmitters in a part of the brain firing uncontrollably. There are generally two types of epileptic seizures in cats: grand mal and petit mal. Seizures can also occur in a cat who does not have epilepsy, but is rather the result of other causes.
Symptoms of Epileptic Seizures in Cats
Seizures in cats often occur while the pet is sleeping or at rest, usually at night or in the early morning. Symptoms and signs of epilepsy in cats are often first seen when your cat is 1-4 years old. There are a few symptoms that can help you detect when your cat is going to have or is having an epileptic seizure, as seizures usually occur in phases.
- Aura: In this phase that occurs just moments before a seizure, your cat may seem fidgety, hide or salivate. She may seek you out for comfort.
- Ictus: At this point your cat may run in circles, throw up, collapse and have convulsions lasting up to 5 minutes. His head may be thrown backwards, his legs shake as though trying to swim.
- Post-Seizure: Now in recovery, your cat is disoriented, confused, uncoordinated and may be temporarily blind. This phase can last just a few minutes to a few days.
Causes of Epileptic Seizures in Cats
Seizures in cats can be the result of several different factors. If your cat has a seizure, your veterinarian should be immediately notified in order to determine the cause. Some causes of seizures in cats include:
- Genetic trait
- Ingested toxins
- Brain tumor
- Inflammation of the brain
- Head trauma
- Primary Epilepsy: a misfiring of brain neurons
Diagnosis of Epileptic Seizures in Cats
A veterinarian will be able to diagnosis whether or not your cat's seizures are being caused by epilepsy. The vet will listen to the symptoms you will describe and conduct certain tests to come to a conclusion about the diagnosis.
A diagnosis of epilepsy will be the result of first eliminating metabolic and structural causes, both within and outside of the cranium. Diagnosing the causes of epileptic seizures due to toxin exposure can be found with a blood test and your remembrance of toxins around the home. In older cats, high blood pressure can often be the cause of late-onset seizures.
Brain disease can cause seizures and the vet will test for this with the following procedures:
- Physical examination: A complete physical and neurological exam will be performed.
- Blood tests: Blood work is performed to determine whether any underlying diseases are the cause of seizures.
- MRI scan of the brain: MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It is an invaluable tool for investigating neurological issues, such as causes of seizures due to brain tumors, encephalitis or stroke. Your cat will be placed under anesthesia during these tests, not because the scans are painful in any way, but because your pet will need to lie perfectly still during the tests.
- CT scan of the brain: CT stands for computed tomography. This is an X-ray performed along with a computer to provide cross-sectional images of the brain.
- CSF analysis: CSF stands for cerebrospinal fluid. The fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord is collected from the back of your cat's neck or her lower back. This is also known as a spinal tap.
Treatment of Epileptic Seizures in Cats
As a pet owner, here are best things you can do for your cat if you observe a seizure in progress:
- Stay calm; do not overreact
- Do not place anything in your cat's mouth
- Remove any heavy or sharp objects that may cause injury
- Place your cat on the floor, as a fall can cause injury
- Observe your cat carefully and note how long the seizure lasted
- Call your vet immediately if the seizure has lasted for more than 3 minutes, or if another seizure occurs right afterward
If convulsions are found to be the result of an underlying disease, your vet will treat that issue with the appropriate drug or surgery, such as removing a tumor. If your vet, however, diagnoses epilepsy as a cause, anticonvulsant drugs can be prescribed.
A couple of medication options used to treat epileptic seizures in cats are phenobarbital and potassium bromide (KBr). These drugs can be given orally on a daily basis and prescribed for use either separately or in combination with one another. Blood levels of the drug(s) must be checked every so often, especially if dosages are raised, as these anticonvulsants can affect your cat's liver function. Liver function testing is a cautionary procedure, but liver damage is a rare risk factor.
Once the anticonvulsant drugs have been started, it is important that your cat not be taken off them suddenly or skip doses, as these actions can lead to further seizures.
Recovery of Epileptic Seizures in Cats
If you cat has epilepsy and is placed on medication, follow-up visits to the vet are important so proper dosages can be monitored. Since epilepsy is a chronic disorder, the drugs will likely need to be taken for the life of your pet. It may take time to achieve the lowest possible proper dosage to control the seizures, but once the correct minimum dosage level is achieved, your cat may be able to live seizure-free.
Epileptic Seizures Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My 15 year old cat has had many seizures in last year and it’s now coming back and it’s worse. Yesterday she started flipping in her bed and seemed stunned or paralyzed. It happened again about 15 minutes ago and she seemed like she had distorted vision or went bling for a short period of time adding on to what happened the day before. I can’t take her to a vet because we already know that they want an mri which is $1000- $2,000 and that’s something we can’t afford
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my cat is getting a seizure every month but for the last 2 months its been in the middle of the night. I dont want to loose my baby can you please help. He starts screaming every loud and the seizure last about one minute. And he starts foaming out the mouth and he sometimes pee's himself. After he gets stiff but comes back to normal. Hes a little dysfunctional after.
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My cat Oops had a seizure this morning around 10 today and ever since then she been weird she hasn't had one in about a month cause she had kittens, she had her 1st one in November and another one in January, but now she is tense and she drank a whole bowl of water and my brother filled it up again and she started to act funny
If you are noticing that Oops is having seizures; it is best to note the next time: duration, eye position, limb rigidity, eye position, behaviour before (if noticed), if responds to name or sound. This information will be useful to your Veterinarian to determine the type of seizure and treatment if any. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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