What are Seizures?
If your cat is displaying symptoms of a seizure, it’s important to stay calm. Remove other pets that could harm your cat from the room and call a veterinarian right away.
Seizures are characterized by sudden, violent movements of the body, disorientation, and uncontrollable twitching, among other symptoms. Cats may have a single seizure, or experience multiple seizures in a matter of minutes. Although treatment is usually not given until your cat has experienced multiple seizures, you should still take him to a vet after the first episode.
Symptoms of Seizures in Cats
There are two main types of seizures that your cat may experience: partial and generalized seizures, although the former is more common in cats. Partial seizures only affect one part of the body, while generalized seizures affect the entire body. Each of these types has a different set of symptoms, including:
- Facial twitching
- Sudden, strange neck, limb, or head movements
- Dazed or confused appearance
- Urination or defecation
- Violent shaking throughout the whole body
Causes of Seizures in Cats
Unfortunately, the cause of most seizures is unknown. However, some seizures can be caused by health conditions that affect the brain, called intracranial causes, including:
- Head trauma
- Brain tumors
- Infectious diseases, including leukemia, immunodeficiency virus, and cryptococcosis
- Congenital disorders
Other seizures are caused by conditions that occur outside of the brain, known as extracranial causes, including:
- Low blood sugar levels
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Liver disease
- Thiamine deficiency
Diagnosis of Seizures in Cats
It’s important to provide your veterinarian with as much information as possible to facilitate the diagnosis. Be sure to talk about your cat’s behavior immediately preceding and following the seizure. Cats often display odd behavior before and after a seizure, so this will help the vet understand exactly what was going on. The vet should be able to determine your cat is having seizures based solely on the information you provide, but to properly diagnose and treat the cat’s condition, the cause of the seizure must be discovered.
The vet will do a complete blood count test, blood chemistry profile and urinalysis to try to determine the cause of the seizures. The complete blood count test is done to see if there is an infection in the body based on the number of white blood cells present in the sample. A blood chemistry profile will give the vet insight to the cat’s liver health, and will also show calcium, sodium, and potassium levels. Finally, the urinalysis will help the vet determine if the kidneys are functioning properly. If something turns up on any of these tests, further tests may be required to pinpoint the exact cause of the seizures.
However, if nothing turns up, the vet may perform an MRI or CT scan to take a closer look at your cat’s brain. This will help the vet diagnose intracranial causes of seizures.
When a vet is confident your cat is having seizures but cannot identify a cause, he will issue a diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy, meaning the cause is unknown.
Treatment of Seizures in Cats
If there is an underlying cause for the seizure, such as low calcium levels or another diet deficiency, these need to be treated. But in general, treatment does not cure this condition, rather controls it. Cats are often treated with anticonvulsant medication to reduce the number and severity of seizures. The most common anticonvulsants prescribed to cats include phenobarbital and potassium bromide. Your cat may experience side effects including fatigue and unsteadiness on his feet, but these should subside after he gets used to the medication.
Cat owners will be responsible for administering this medication to their cat at home, and it’s very important they follow the vet’s instructions closely. If a dose of medication is missed, the cat may begin to have severe seizures. Even if the cat does not experience any other seizures, the vet will still ask that you bring your cat in frequently to test his blood while he is on the medication.
Recovery of Seizures in Cats
Your cat may need to be on anticonvulsant medication for the rest of his life unless otherwise instructed by the vet. In some cases, the vet will allow you to discontinue the medication if your cat has not had a seizure in over a year. But, it’s important to wean your cat off of the medicine instead of ending it abruptly. Speak to your vet about how to do it if you are told to discontinue the treatment.
Doses of medication may be adjusted over time. For example, if your cat’s body has gotten used to the level of medication, he may begin to experience seizures again and need a higher dose to control his condition. On the other hand, if your cat has not had any seizures, the vet may try to lower the dose.