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Cat Epilepsy: Signs, Triggers, and Life Expectancy

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Watching your cat have a seizure is a scary experience. They may drool, convulse, and even lose consciousness. Here's what you should know about seizures and epilepsy in cats.

Can Cats Get Epilepsy?

Like humans and dogs, cats can be diagnosed with epilepsy. It's a chronic condition characterized by recurring seizures. A seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Seizures can differ in duration and severity. Some happen quickly with signs you may not even notice. Others can last a few minutes with more frightening symptoms, including convulsions and collapse.

Typically, the brain is able to reset itself and return to normal functioning. However, it can take a while for the cat to feel like themselves again.

Causes of Cat Seizures

It's not always possible to determine the cause of seizures in cats. However, some common reasons for cat seizures include:

  • Trauma to the head, for instance, if a cat falls from a high window or gets hit by a car
  • Brain tumor, infection, or parasites, such as toxoplasmosis
  • Ingestion of human medications, such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen)
  • Exposure to flea or tick medicine made for dogs but not safe for cats

gray tabby cat being petted while cuddling with human

What Does a Cat Seizure Look Like?

There are two types of cat seizures, which have different symptoms.

Partial or Focal Seizures

Partial seizures, also called focal seizures, impact a specific area of the brain. They can have subtle symptoms that you might not even notice. These can include drooling, facial twitching, growling, and abnormal posture or movements.

Generalized or Grand Mal Seizures

A generalized or grand mal seizure happens when there is abnormal electrical activity throughout the brain. Symptoms can include:

  • Shaking
  • Drooling
  • Rigid limbs
  • Vocalization
  • Convulsions
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Loss of consciousness

A generalized seizure can last from around one to five minutes. They can also occur in clusters where one happens immediately after another or with a short period of recovery in between them. After these seizures, cats may appear wobbly, blind, confused, and exhausted.

Stages of a Seizure

The first stage of a seizure is known as the aura or pre-ictal phase. During this period, your cat may seem nervous or restless. They might shake, salivate, or vocalize. Cats also tend to hide when they aren't feeling right, so you may not see your cat during this time. The aura can pass within minutes or last for a few hours.

The second phase is called the ictal stage, which is the main part of the seizure. This is when you would see the most noticeable symptoms. Once the ictal phase ends, your cat will enter the post-ictal stage. This phase is characterized by confusion, disorientation, and sometimes temporary blindness.

What to Do During a Cat Seizure

If your cat has a seizure, stay calm and wait it out. You can't snap them out of it, and you could get nipped at or scratched if you try to intervene. Remember that most seizures stop on their own after a couple of minutes.

Avoid touching your cat unless they're at risk of getting hurt. For instance, you may need to gently move them away from the top of the stairs or block them from falling off a couch. Make sure they can't knock anything over on themselves too.

Once the seizure is over, you should contact your veterinarian, even if it passed quickly. If your cat has a seizure that lasts more than five minutes or multiple episodes with little recovery in between, you should take them to the veterinarian immediately. This can be a life-threatening situation. Wrap your cat up carefully in a towel or blanket to transport them safely.

Feeding your cat an appropriate diet can help them stay healthy and avoid conditions that might lead to seizures. Learn about cat nutrition trends.

Cat Epilepsy Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will ask you about your cat's seizure activity. You'll want to be ready to answer questions including:

  • When did your cat have the seizure?
  • What were the symptoms?
  • How long did it last?
  • If there were multiple seizures, how many were there?
  • Was there any recovery time in between seizures?
  • Has your cat had seizures before?

If you have your phone handy during a seizure, you can take a video to show your veterinarian. This can help them more accurately diagnose your cat.

Your veterinarian will also need to know about your cat's health history and potential exposure to toxins. They'll likely conduct diagnostic tests, such as a urinalysis, blood work, or MRI, to try to determine the cause.

white cat with turquoise eyes lying on her back

Treatment of Epilepsy in Cats

Treatment of seizures is focused on managing the underlying condition if it can be diagnosed. In any case, your veterinarian may recommend medication to help reduce the risk and severity of seizures.

Be sure to follow your veterinarian's dosage instructions carefully. If you change the dose amount or stop the medication suddenly, the seizures may resume and even get worse.

Do you need to give your cat a pill? You can try hiding it in their regular food or use a pill pocket, which is a treat with a hollow center that can hold a pill.

How to Prevent Seizures in Cats

Since the cause of seizures is often unknown or due to things out of your control, like a tumor, it's not always possible to prevent them. But you can help make sure your cat is safe from head injuries or toxic exposure. For instance:

  • Check that the window screens in your house are secure so your cat can't lean on them and tumble to the ground. This could cause a head injury and result in a seizure.
  • If your cat likes to hang out on a balcony, ensure that they can't fall off. You can use sturdy mesh to cover larger openings that your cat could slip through.
  • Store human medications out of paw's reach. Avoid leaving them on low nightstands or countertops where your cat could knock them over.
  • If your cat gets fleas, ask your veterinarian for a safe treatment. Flea products made for dogs can contain a chemical that causes seizures in cats.
  • Take your cat to the veterinarian for routine exams. This can help them detect health issues early before they worsen and potentially lead to seizures.

You should be aware of common household dangers that can harm your cat, including pesticides, antifreeze, cleaning supplies, and toxic plants.

Cat Epilepsy Life Expectancy

Fortunately, most cats recover quite well after a seizure. In some rare and tragic cases, cats can die during a seizure. This is usually due to injuries that happen during the incident. Frequent, repeated seizures can put your cat at greater risk for getting hurt and possibly cause damage to the brain.

It's important to follow your veterinarian's recommendations to manage the condition and treat any underlying illness. With proper care, cats who have been diagnosed with epilepsy can live a long and happy life.

Pet Insurance and Epilepsy in Cats

If your cat has a seizure or is diagnosed with epilepsy, pet insurance can help you manage the costs of veterinary care. It can cover diagnostic tests, like X-rays, MRI, urinalysis, and bloodwork, and anti-seizure medications. It also includes coverage for injuries, which would come into play if your cat got hurt during a seizure.

Find out if pet insurance is worth it for you and your feline family member.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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