Seizures can occur in cats and have many different causes. Uncovering the underlying cause of your cat's seizures can help you and your vet find out the best treatment options. However, in many cases, treating the underlying cause of feline seizures may not be possible. Your cat may suffer from a disease or condition for which treatment is not possible or practical. Your cat may also suffer from idiopathic epilepsy, meaning all known causes for seizures have been eliminated.
Cats with frequent recurrent seizures may need to be treated with anticonvulsant medications. However, there are a few things to consider before starting your cat on an anticonvulsant.
Should Your Cat Be Treated for Seizures?
The decision to start medication will be based on several factors:
- How often does your cat have seizures? If the seizures are occurring infrequently (less than once every four to six weeks), it may not be necessary to treat your cat for the seizures.
- How severe are the seizures? If your cat's seizures are especially severe, regardless of how frequently they occur, it may be advisable to start treatment.
- Has your cat suffered from status epilepticus, a single seizure lasting more the 5 minutes or multiple seizures without fully recovering in between? Or has she had cluster seizures (more than two seizures in a 24 hour period)? If so, then your cat should be started on treatment to prevent further seizures.
Managing Seizure Medications for Your Cat
Understand that once your cat starts on an anticonvulsant medication to treat his seizures, he will probably need to receive that medication for the rest of his life.
Discontinuing an anticonvulsant medication suddenly can be quite dangerous for your cat. Never stop giving the medication or change the dosage without checking with your veterinarian first. When anticonvulsant medications need to be discontinued, it is best to withdraw the medication in a slow and gradual manner, weaning your cat off the meds.
Medications Used to Treat Feline Seizures and/or Epilepsy
Phenobarbital is generally considered to be the first choice in treating feline seizures or epilepsy. Currently, it is the most commonly used anticonvulsant drug for cats.
Levetiracetam (Keppra) has been used in cats to control seizures and epilepsy. It is a newer anticonvulsant medication that may be an alternative for those cats that do not respond well to phenobarbital and/or diazepam. Some veterinarians are now using levetiracetam as a first choice drug rather than phenobarbital because they believe it may have fewer side effects. However, it has not been studied as thoroughly as phenobarbital.
Zonisamide is another seizure medication that is being used more commonly in cats. Research into the use of this medication in cats is newer, but so far show that it appears to be reasonably effective and safe. It also has the benefit of only being given once a day in cats.
Diazepam (Valium) used to be used to treat seizures in cats but is no longer recommended. While rare, it can cause a severe, fatal reaction in the liver of some cats. Due to the availability of newer, safer medications, diazepam is not recommend.
Potassium Bromide is not recommended for use in cats. While it is used with some frequency in dogs and tolerated well, in cats it can cause severe lung disease.
Medications such as chlorazepate, pregabalin, and gabapentin have not been well-studied in cats. Though some veterinarians do use them to control seizures and epilepsy in cats, there is not a lot known about how these medications affect cats on a long-term basis and what types of side effects to expect. As research continues with these drugs, they may become more widely recommended for cats with seizures and epilepsy. For now, they should be reserved for refractory cases of epilepsy where seizures are not well controlled with more traditional medications.
Note: This article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Seizures In Cats. The Drake Center for Veterinary Care, 2020
Anticonvulsants Or Antiepileptic Drugs. Veterinary Manual, 2020
Barnes Heller, Heidi et al. Serum Levetiracetam Concentrations And Adverse Events After Multiple Dose Extended Release Levetiracetam Administration To Healthy Cats. Journal Of Veterinary Internal Medicine, vol 32, no. 3, 2018, pp. 1145-1148. Wiley, doi:10.1111/jvim.15129
Zonisamide. Bush Veterinary Neurology Service, 2020