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Seizures in Cats May be Caused By Weird Sounds

When my husband and I first started dating, I quickly learned that he had a bizarre superpower that was of interest mostly only to him and his roommates: he could drive cats insane by making a weird noise.


The first time I saw him in action, his roommate’s cat Spike came roaring out of the bedroom, smacked him in the head, and immediately started pulling on the carpet. Later, before I banned the noise from the house, he would try it with our own cats and they would start scratching the furniture or biting my hands. It was an annoying noise, sure, but nothing shrill or disturbing enough that any of us could figure out why cats uniformly started destroying things when they heard it.


I put it out of my mind for many years, mostly because I wouldn’t let my husband indulge it any longer, but a recent article in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery regarding audiogenic seizures in cats has me wondering if maybe there is more to it than mere annoyance.


In this article, the authors identify a new epilepsy syndrome in geriatric cats, which they name Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures (FARS). While primary idiopathic epilepsy is uncommon in cats compared to dogs, it usually shares an early age of onset, around 1-4 years of age. FARS, on the other hand, has two distinguishing characteristics that make it a unique condition: first, the average age of affected cats is much greater. Second, the majority of FARS seizures are reflex seizures, caused by an identifiable stimulus.


While cat lovers have long taken notice of the feline’s unusual sensitivity to noise, this research paper seems to be the first to actually attempt to quantify it. Researchers solicited owners via advertisements, the Internet, and through veterinarians. If the cats appeared to exhibit behavior consistent with an audiogenic seizure, data was collected via a comprehensive questionnaire for inclusion into the study.


The mean age of cats in the study was 15 years of age. Interestingly, almost a third of the cats with FARS were Birman cats, and half of those affected were reportedly deaf or had hearing impairment. Owners identified very specific trigger noises that caused seizures; most commonly noted were crinkling of tinfoil, metal spoons clanking, tapping on a glass, keyboard noises, and jingling keys. While quiet noises could trigger the seizures, as they got louder the severity of the seizure increased.


While many of the cases were non-progressive, owners who pursued treatment were often able to manage seizures successfully with medication, and few felt that the seizures affected the cat’s quality of life. This means that fortunately, no one killed their pet off by dropping a spoon.


Though this research is very preliminary, it may open the door down the road to better understanding epilepsy in people as well as animals. It certainly makes the case that some of us need to find a better way to entertain ourselves with our cats. So what does this mean for owners who delight in irritating their cats with clinking coins or howling hoots? We might actually be herding them down the line towards a full blown tonic clonic seizure. If you find yourself in my husband’s company and he offers to show you his amazing cat trick, feel free to tell him no.


Do any of you have cats with very sensitive ears? What’s their trigger?



Dr. Jessica Vogelsang



Image: Telekhovskyi / Shutterstock



Comments  11

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  • Yes
    05/08/2015 10:49am

    I have a female cat who is at least 14+ years old. About six months ago I noticed that she twitches when the computer desk's metal closures click when I close drawers or covers. Lately I get the feeling that she does not hear well, if at all. She seems a little surprised when I approach her when she is not looking at me or is sleeping. The exception are those clicks at the computer desk and sometimes when I'm eating close to where she is resting. She is not a Birman cat, she is a copper and black colored stray that I brought in after feeding at my front door. One of her absences was so long that I thought that she had died. When she returned it was sub zero weather, she was horribly thin, and I discovered that she had been declawed on all four feet. She gained weight, and her health until she had a UTI issue and an overactive thyroid that is controlled with medication. When I first noticed the twitching I thought that her thyroid medication needed adjustment, but even with the adjustment she still twitches at metallic clicking sounds.

  • 05/24/2016 04:38pm

    Yes Bliss, I read that cat's that may have a hearing problem are overly sensitive to high-pitched, repetitive sounds. Don't click a pen around her! That's what did it to mine. She howls and stays still for about 10 minutes after the seizures (luckily, she has only had 2), drools, but then she is back to normal after that. She shakes her head and then runs and gets on with what she was doing before! Good luck.

  • Computer Games
    05/08/2015 11:45am

    The first time I realized we had a problem was when I was playing a computer game and clicking really fast, my cat who was on a cat tree near my desk, started having a seizure and fell off the tree, after that any clicks or bag crinkle or anything in that range started causing him to shake and finally had to put him on phenobarbital.

  • Shame!
    05/08/2015 05:56pm

    "So what does this mean for owners who delight in irritating their cats with clinking coins or howling hoots?"

    Shame on anyone who causes pain of any kind, including seizures, for their own amusement.

  • 05/09/2015 07:50am

    please tell me different affections of Nrevous disorders in cat
    [url=www.fvtm.bu.edu.eg]Fac Vet Med[/url]
    Benha Univ

  • 05/09/2015 07:52am

    many cases have nervous signs without apparent cause
    [url=www.fvtm.bu.edu.eg]Fac Vet Med Benha Univ[/url]


  • This just happened l
    07/13/2015 09:26pm

    Cali is an older cat. We don't know here exact age but we think about 13 or 14 years old. My husband just (within the last 15 minutes) opened a small bag of Fritos corn chips and it sent her into a fit. She has been having fits regularly for the past year and we couldn't figure out why. I have seen her twitch but then not fit over certain sounds like plastic water bottles expanding or crackling and the sound of our roommates electronic mobility scooter. I never put two and two together about the sounds until today. I jumped on Google to see if there was a correlation and found several articles. I guess a trip to the vet and some epilepsy meds are in order because although she rebounds in a day or two, to see her go through this is heartbreaking.

  • 08/12/2015 03:43pm

    My cat too... the first time I noticed it was when I was typing on the computer and she was nearby. She jerked her head, then fell down and went into a grand mal seizure! I thought she was dying, because she has never had anything like this happen before. In a few minutes, she was fine except for looking dazed. Then she wailed for about a minute, which I read could be because she had a headache following the seizure.

    Next time (2 weeks later), it was the clicking of a pen. I googled it and found out about FARS. Just yesterday it was provoked by the clanking of a ceramic dish on a ceramic plate, but she just jerked her head a couple of time, no seizure. This morning, the dropping of a pill bottle made her twitch. Then again when I started to wind up a music box.

    Yikes, dos this get more sensitive as time goes on, or am I just not paying attention to what I do to bother her. I am trying to be VERY careful around her. Thanks for any advice.

  • 08/12/2015 04:02pm

    She just turned 16 y/o in July. i have read that this is common in cats that have hearing problems. I always suspected that she might have had them because she vocalizes very loudly, but why would this be? Seems like an OVER-sensitivity to sound.

  • Frightening!
    05/24/2016 01:20pm

    I just witnessed my beloved exotics first seizure! He just turned five years old and is the owner of my heart. I had been kissing on his cheek while raising his head and he suddenly fell over on his side and froze. His eyes were dilated and i knew immediately he was having a seizure. After about 30 seconds he seemed to recover and I gently placed him on the floor. He stumbled around for about a minute and has since appeared to be better though not completely back to normal. Instantly I was concerned that perhaps I had to put his head too far back? When I was kissing him I was making little smooch sounds and now that I've read about FARS I feel a little relief. Maybe it isnt my fault? Maybe the smooch sounds, not the head/neck position are the cause? I'm still shaking and worried and undecided if I need to persue vet advice?

  • 05/24/2016 04:45pm

    It's not your fault. My cat, Molly, had 2 seizures before I knew what the cause was. I knew it was happening because she twitched her head like the noise hurt her, so I stopped, but not before she started the seizure. I didn't connect the noise and the seizure until the second one. She is not on an medication and is doing fine as long as I'm careful not to make repetitive noises. So kiss away, just don't making a "smooching" noise! :-)

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