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Seizures and Convulsions in Cats

 

It can be very upsetting to see your cat have a seizure. Fortunately a single seizure is usually of short duration, and your cat is unconscious while convulsing. Seizures happen when abnormal electrochemical activity occurs in the brain. They can occur as a single event, as a cluster of seizures over a short period, or on a recurring basis every few weeks or months.

 

What to Watch For

 

A seizure usually starts by the cat collapsing onto the ground, going stiff, and then going into convulsions -- uncontrolled muscle contractions, which may make your cat look like he’s jerking his body, paddling his feet, snapping his jaw, and similar movements. Your cat may even empty his bowels and bladder during the seizure. Typically, a seizure only lasts a minute or two.

 

Sometimes a cat will exhibit behavior changes shortly before a seizure (called an aura or pre-ictal behavior), such as pacing, circling, yowling or vomiting. After the seizure (post-ictal), your cat will be disoriented, may show temporary paralysis in one or more legs, seem blind, vomit, or show other behavior changes. These changes are usually short-lived, although it may take several days before your cat seems completely “normal” again.

 

Primary Cause

 

Most seizures in cats are the result of previous damage to the brain, from which the cat has recovered and often has no other symptoms. Some seizures seem to occur spontaneously with no discernible cause. These are both forms of epilepsy.

 

Immediate Care

 

When your cat has a seizure, your primary goal is to keep him from hurting himself. Most seizures last only a few minutes at most, which means he will probably be over the seizure before you can get him to your car, let alone your veterinarian. Even so, he should still be taken to the vet. You can do the following to help your cat:

 

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Remember your cat is unconscious and making uncontrolled movements, including snapping his jaw. Be very careful not to get bit or scratched.
  3. If possible, move your cat to a safe place, away from stairs, furniture, etc. Sometimes other animals in the house will attack a seizuring animal; they will certainly be curious or upset, so keep them away for everyone’s safety.
  4. When the seizure stops, your cat will be disoriented and may not recognize you. This could result in your cat attacking you or running away.
  5. If the seizure doesn’t stop, or he’s having cluster seizures, your cat needs to go to your veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment to stop the seizures.

 

Veterinary Care

 

Diagnosis

 

If your cat is seizuring when you bring him in, he will be given injectable diazepam, or possibly phenobarbital, to stop the seizure before any examination. Diagnosis is primarily based on the information that you provide, plus direct observation of the seizure.

 

Most diagnostic tests are to determine the cause of the seizure. These would include blood and urine tests and possibly X-rays. Testing the cerebrospinal fluid or performing MRI imaging may also be recommended. Electroencephalograms (EEG) are rarely done.

 

Treatment

 

If your cat seizures while at your veterinarian’s office, he will be given injectable diazepam or phenobarbital. If seizures are severe enough, general anesthesia may be needed. If something other than epilepsy is determined to be the cause of the seizure, that underlying cause will be treated.

 

A single seizure of less than 5 minutes duration that is determined to be epilepsy is usually not treated beyond stopping the initial seizure. Long-lasting seizures, cluster seizures, or seizures that recur every 2 months (or less) are usually treated long term or even life-long with anticonvulsants. The most common medication for this is phenobarbital. If this is not providing sufficient control, another medication, like diazepam or gabapentin, is added on to the treatment plan.

 

Other Causes

 

Hypoglycemia, kidney disease, liver disease, meningitis, tumors and various infections can all potentially cause seizures.

 

Living and Management

 

In most cases, if a cat has one seizure he is likely to have another eventually. However, not every cat that has recurring seizures will be put on long-term medication. Because of the stress on the liver that long term anticonvulsant use can cause, the medicine is usually not given to cats whose seizures are more than two months apart.

 

If your cat is on long-term medication, he will need regular checkups and blood tests to ensure the medications are not causing other health problems.

 

Prevention

 

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent your cat from developing epilepsy. And even if your cat has been diagnosed with epilepsy and is on medication, that may not completely eliminate seizures. Sometimes the best that can be done is to minimize their severity and try to limit them to a predictable schedule.

 

Image via Shutterstock

Comments  24

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  • 07/08/2012 06:12pm

    I found this information to be very useful. My cat suffered a seizure today and appears to have some memory loss. She's had about 3 in the last 4 months, but today's was the worst. It is definitely a horrifying experience for any pet owner to witness.

  • 09/12/2012 11:11am

    Our cat developed seizures 9 months after we adopted her and she requires medication twice a day. Last night she had a breakthrough seizure her first in almost 10 months. It wasnt long but it kills us to watch her go through this. we love her very much and do everything possible to make sure she is happy and as healthy as she can be.We certainly know how you feel.

  • 08/10/2012 11:17pm

    I know how you feel. My cat has had two seizures today and it is horrifying to watch. Thankfully they are not long but still it hurts me to see her going through that. I am also thankful for this information and now I have some idea of what is happening and what I can report to the vet. I hope your kitty is doing okay.

  • my 17 yr old had seizures
    08/13/2012 06:24pm

    I started giving my 17 yr old cat some "CATS MILK" by Whiskas, because she was a finicky eater. Then she had a seizure, and 2 the next week, so off to the vet we went. He did the usual tests, etc. and we got the usual meds. Then it got to be most every day. Then a vet expert told me they may be caused by gluten, soy, or casein, a protien in milk. We immediately stopped ALL milk, and the seizures stopped, but her general health had gone downhill in the 2 months since the first seizure, and in another month, we had to put her to sleep. I wish the milk hasd a warning, or that info was more readily available, so I'm posting it here, hope it helps someone.

  • 01/11/2014 10:54am

    Thank you for this information. My wife had been giving our 18 year old cat a product called Cat-Sip for about the past two months because the cat is a picky eater and my wife wanted to supplement her diet. Cat-Sip is supposed to be lactose free real milk for pets. About a month ago, the cat began to have seizures, which were increasing in intensity and frequency. We did not make the connection and just assumed that she was at the end of her life. I found this post and we immediately stopped the Cat-Sip. The cat has returned to normal and the seizures have stopped. Thank you again.....it has probably saved her life.

  • 02/04/2014 09:23am

    im so sorry your cat had to be put to sleep I cant believe there wasn't a warning on the milk... the company is to blame once again im so sorry about your cat:(

  • Sudden seizures
    10/23/2012 06:21am

    My cat had a three seizures today and each of them lasted about less than a minute. It was a frightening experience for me because he was perfectly fine two hours before it happened. His appetite is still there but he vomits after eating his food. I sent him to the vet for an examination. They did some blood tests on him and found negative results for possible infection. I was wondering how vets detect any possible serious diseases like meningitis or tumors? I am getting a bit worry of my cat's well-being.

  • seizure treatment
    11/03/2012 04:06pm

    All my cat's tests came back negative, the vet said they could do more like x-rays, etc, but the treatment is the same, so save the $, they don't do EEGs or brain surgery on cats. Mine got phenobarbital, which made her drowsy, and something for vomiting. It's a very scary thing, I'll be praying for your strength and that your cat gets better. Also, try changing to food with NO milk, wheat, or soy. I hope this helps.

  • 04/25/2014 01:03am

    hi, I seen your post. I was wondering what food you put your cat on to help seizures ? my cat is 6 months old and has 3 a day. she will jump from a sleep run in circles and shake her head scares me so much. shes on med now but it doesn't seem to be helping . I would love for your advice .

  • food
    12/06/2012 09:33pm

    i believe its food related somehow. im sure its a big part. food people feed to their cats these days is complete junk. filled with polluted soy + chemicals and fake vitamins that are slowly killing our pets. watch what you feed your cats and take them off grains asap. that means no sweet potatos and rice as well! do your research on healthy cat food. dont be blinded by nice commercials and packages and make sure that the product is made in usa.

  • 07/07/2014 03:15pm

    I too believe it is food related, i took in a stray cat 14 yrs ago an a day or two later it started fitting. i took it to the vet and they said basically she was a ferel cat and it was due to stress of being in a house and that she was about 6 yrs old already and not around the 6 months i had thought, she continued to have the odd fit, anyway i started looking on the internet about fitting cats and i kept coming across an ingredient called taurine that apprently helps cats that fit and is more so found in dry food rather than wet and so she was put onto tesco cat biscuits with the taurine and the fits did stop, this could have been as she begin to settle in the house. any way 14 years later shes still going strong but she did have a fit today after all these years, cant be stress now as there is no cat more settled or laid back, then it dawned on me two weeks ago my 19 yr old son did some shopping and came back with different more expensive cat biscuits because the box said for senior cats, when i looked at the box today they did not contain taurine, so it was straight back down for the tesco biscuits with taurine, and although a little dazed still she has not stopped eating her tesco biscuits, so fingers crossed normality will be resumed ...

  • 07/13/2014 04:17am

    update ... nearly a week now back on her tesco biscuits and no more fits

  • i agree
    02/05/2013 10:03pm

    My kitty Ellie is two and a half years old.Last month she had her first seizure and not even 1 month later her second one.I took her to the vet had a fecal, blood draw done tests all negitive!She's a over all healthy cat but i think i might have gave her some human food that caused the seizures.I didn't realze how bad human food is to cats until i started reading up on it tonight!Avoid giving your cats any human food!I believe that's what started my kitty ellie/s seizures!

  • 02/06/2013 11:00am

    Our cat has never had HUMAN FOOD so I can rule that out as a cause of her epilepsy. She is doing well on her Phenobarb but still occasionally has breakthrough seizures that break my heart. Fortunately her mental status clears very quickly now as compared to when she first developed the seizures.Good luck with your cat...we consider ourselves blessed to have ours in our lives.

  • 07/18/2014 12:28am

    We adopted our cat LaLa at 6 wks old. She never eats or has eaten human food. She is almost 4 now and developed seizures that we recognized about a year ago. We took her to the vets and all tests were normal. She was diagnosed with epilepsy. There is no reason for the seizures and she is on phenobarbital to control them. Our vet explained there is no cure for her seizures and all we can do is attempt to control them so that she only has one a month. We cannot leave her over night without having someone to keep an eye on her. It is something we just accept and learn to live with.

  • 08/14/2013 07:37am

    I have three cats of various ages. My oldest, who is 14, had a seizure this morning, right in front of me on the bed. His legs locked up and contorted in every possible direction and the look on his face was as if he was on another planet. It was like the feline version of The Exorcist. It lasted less than a minute, and the old man seems fine now. My youngest cat, who is only 2 1/2, watched the whole thing. It really freaked him out, but he's ok now. I know the Old Man has had health issues in the past, even long before I adopted him. I guess he's just getting to that age where these things can happen, but I sure as heck don't like watching him go through it. There's nothing you can do but try to love and comfort them through it, I suppose. Time to go check on him. Peace, animal lovers of Earth!

  • 08/31/2013 07:11pm

    Very useful. I was wondering why my cat would get really scared of my other cat right after a seizure. They love each other very much usually, so when he seemed like he thought she was going to kill him and he freaked out really bad, I was worried. But it seems that's normal for cats with seizures.

  • 08/31/2013 10:06pm

    Yes, sometimes they don't understand what has happened, or why, and seem to think someone or something else has caused it. All you can do is try to keep them from injuring themselves and let them know you are there, trying to be calm and soothing to them.

  • 09/04/2013 06:11pm

    My cat had a seizure last night after I gave her a bath. She started digging into the wall after I was done drying her off, and after I pulled her away, she started having it. My mom came in and dealt with her and made sure she was alright, but she had some foam and water coming out of her mouth, so we think she might of swallowed some water down the wrong hole when I wasn't looking. It only lasted about 30 seconds but it felt like forever because I was in the other room crying, thinking I had killed my cat. But she came out of it, and shes fine now. Post-seizure, she was walking around confused, meowing very loudly. About an hour later, she was fine, acting like nothing happened. This is the first time I've ever had a cat that had a seizure, and I was wondering if her swallowing the soapy water could have anything to do with it? If not, I still wont ever give any animals a bath again. I couldn't handle killing an innocent animal...

  • 21 Year Old Cat
    02/26/2014 12:07pm

    Hi there, we had a very loving 21 year old cat! Today her back legs went, then she started to walk into walls. So i did my best to calm her down by stroking her, she started to settle then suddenly she woke up turned her head (as if she saw a fly) then she fell to the floor and stated to have a fit. I had to then hold her down till it settled. I have got to say it was one of the worse things i have seen. Once she was calm i wrapped her up in a blanket and took her to the Vest. Once she was there she has hissing at the vet, which is unlike her. As she was a great age of 21 we had no choice but to put her down. If she was a few years younger we may of took her back to see if she could recover but i could not stand the thought of not being there if it happened again.

  • LaLa has seizures
    07/12/2014 07:54pm

    Our cat LaLa is almost 4 and was diagnosed with a seizure disorder last Oct. She had been having seizures for a yr or so but they were far and few between and we thought it was stress causing her to foam at the mouth (she has no convulsions early on. She then got worse and was having full blown convulsions. One of the worst things I have ever witnessed. She is on meds to control them and has been doing well. They have been limited to about 1 a month. Today she has refused to eat anything but a temptations treat. This is so abnormal as the med gives her a huge appetite and I had to limit her food intake. I am so upset and concerned that there is something seriously wrong and am just looking for some support at this point. It is not a pleasant trip to the vets as she has to be sedated to have her bloodwork done. Yes, she is THAT bad. My oldest son will be taking her there tonight. I cannot even witness the event, because i feel guilty that she thinks it is my fault she is there.... We adopted LaLa when she was 6 wks old, and she has been the princess of the house. I have also tried to change her food to an all natural food.....even when i do it very slowly; however she apparently has colitis and different food kicks that issue into play. She runs through the house and poos everywhere! I am falling apart and feel helpless. I just need to make a connection with others that are dealing with this same issue. I love her to death and we have 3 kids with the youngest being 12. He is not going to handle anything happening to LaLa. Thanks to anyone who can offer me some support through this site. I know no one that has had this issue with their cat. Thank you again.

  • 07/17/2014 02:08pm

    I feel the same way about my girl kitty cat, she's 15 yrs old and has seizures about every 2-6 months, I know what I do to keep my cat as calm as possible, I keep her large litter box immaculate and feed her only Wellness Core canned ocean fish, she loves it, no treats or grains of any kind, I give her supplements I got from an alternative vet and she has several comfy beds around the house. She is 15 yrs old and has had a lot of medical treatment for unrelated issues but she is very healthy and happy and adorable. Just keep trying I know the more thought you put into it the more you will notice a difference. Best of luck!

  • 07/18/2014 12:20am

    Thank you so much for your comment. I am going to look for the food that you give your cat. LaLa has been doing well and all test results came back "normal". Go figure. I do believe she decided that she no longer liked that particular food and I changed it up. It did not occur to me that that could happen; as she is a creature of habit. The vet put her on an appetite stimulant that also had a sedative side effect and so she was getting twice the effect because her phenobarbital makes her sleepy as well. I took her off the appetite stimulant in the morning and that afternoon she had a small seizure. I am hoping it was because of her coming off of the that medicine. For now she is comfortable and truly living a princess's life. I welcome all suggestions. (I am not sure LaLa will eat the food you suggest. She seems to want nothing to do with fish, but I am going to try),

  • Any advice?
    07/29/2014 10:44pm

    Hi i have a 12 yr old all indoor female cat. Yesterday was the first time i witnessed what i think may have been a seizure. She was walking to the back of the house and her hind legs were kinda of not working and almost were a little floppy. I thought at first there was something under her paw, and she was sliding on the hard wood floors. She then got to the area rug and either laid down or fell, im unclear what ine it was. Then she started making a cry that i have never heard before, wasnt a standard cat meow it wAs almost a deep moan. She was drooling and looked dazed. She then kinda stumbled into the closet, when she did that i noticed she lost control of her bowels. I called the vet and took her in, they said most likey it was a seizure. Her blood work came back good. Fast forward a day and she was on the bed, i heard the same notice and again she urinated on the bed, again in a daze. I called the vet and they put her on meds. They said to monitor her, and the next step would be neuro testing. Here's where im confused, all that i have read, pretty much describes the cat shakes during a seizure. What would your next step be? Should i do more testing?

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