Seizures in cats are caused when an area of the brain, specifically the cerebral cortex, functions abnormally. The body's response to this abnormal brain function is to lose voluntary function and is most often recognized when a cat's body shakes violently.
Types of Seizures in Cats
Seizures in cats are typically classified as either generalized or focal. With generalized seizures, the entire cerebral cortex is causing the seizure and typically affects the entire body. In focal seizures, a smaller localized area within the cerebral cortex causes the seizure to occur. Focal seizures are also sometimes referred to as partial seizures since they are isolated to specific parts of the body.
What Do Seizures Look Like in a Cat
Focal seizures in cats produce symptoms that are different from generalized feline seizures. During a focal seizure, your cat may cry loudly as though it is in pain, behave in an aggressive fashion, even if it is not normally an aggressive cat, salivate or drool excessively, and exhibit other atypical behavior. Sometimes a cat will lose function of a leg, will appear to be chewing and staring off, or be unable to get up. Focal seizures can also turn into a generalized seizure.
A generalized seizure causes your cat to lose consciousness during which it will may fall over and start twitching and shaking uncontrollably. The severity and length of the seizure can vary greatly. The legs may move in a paddling fashion, as though your cat is trying to swim, or they may become rigid and straight. Your cat's mouth may also open and close involuntarily. It's head may arch back, it may start rolling on the floor until it hits a wall, and it may even urinate or defecate during a seizure.
What Causes a Seizure in a Cat?
The most common cause of a seizure in a cat is toxin exposure. Flea and tick medication, sprays, dips, and shampoos can contain a chemical called pyrethrin that can cause a cat to have a seizure. This chemical is often used in over the counter flea treatments, especially ones that are designed for dogs, and can be toxic to cats. When exposed to pyrethroids, cats may initially have muscle tremors, stumble, and start seizing. Other chemical exposures may also affect a cat's nervous system and cause a seizure.
Another reason why a cat may have a seizure is due to head trauma. Cats that are hit by a car, fall from a balcony, or endure other types of injuries to their head can cause damage that results in a seizure. Various illnesses, including brain tumors, viruses, and parasites can also be at fault for causing a cat to have a seizure.
Some cats can also have epilepsy which means there is no known cause to the seizures.
What to Do When Your Cat Has a Seizure
The success of the treatment is usually dependent on the cause of the seizure. Any animal that has a seizure should be seen and examined by a veterinarian to determine the cause of the seizure. If you suspect your cat is having a seizure, first look at a clock and note the time it is starting. You'll want to record the length of the seizure activity. Next make sure your cat isn't going to hurt itself. Use a blanket to pick up your cat to avoid being accidentally scratched or bitten while your cat is unaware of what is happening. Keep any other animals in the household away from your cat during a seizure and when it stops having a seizure, give your cat some space since it may be disoriented and scared. If the seizure doesn't stop within five minutes, it has difficulty breathing, has more than one seizure in 24 hours, go to your veterinarian as soon as possible. A prolonged seizure can increase the body temperature to a dangerous level and deplete the brain of oxygen.
Treatment for Cat Seizures
If there is an unknown cause to the seizure a cat may be treated with medications to manage the frequency and severity of the seizures. A single seizure of short duration may not require treatment but seizures that repeat at frequent intervals are usually treated with a long-term course of an anti-convulsant. Seizures that occur infrequently aren't usually prescribed long-term medications since there are side effects of these medications.
If the seizures are caused by a toxicity that toxin will need to be removed from the body. This may involve bathing the cat if a topical flea medication was applied containing pyrethrin, causing the cat to vomit if it ate a toxin, or administering certain medications to counteract the effects of the toxin.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT