What Are Tremors in Cats?
Tremors are shaking movements of the cat’s body that they cannot control. Sometimes these tremors look like small muscle twitches, while other times the whole body shakes and trembles.
When tremors occur it is usually due to a problem affecting a part of the brain that controls fine movement control. Movement is accomplished by different parts of the brain, nerves, spinal cord, and muscles working together. These parts are organized into three systems:
Central nervous system—the brain and spinal cord
Peripheral nervous system—all the nerves that run throughout the body
Musculoskeletal system—the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones
The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for planning movement and transmitting signals through the spinal cord to the motor neurons in the cat’s muscles and glands. These nerves then relay information back up the spinal cord to the brain stem, providing feedback to the brain. This feedback allows the cat to be aware of its sensations, and the muscles are activated to move in a specific way. Meanwhile, the cerebellum helps to fine-tune and correct any errors in movement.
In cases of tremors, there are problems with either the cerebellum or brain stem, which result in uncontrolled shaking throughout the cat’s body. If you notice your cat shaking, either mildly or severely, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms of Tremors in Cats
The most obvious symptom of this condition is uncontrollable shaking in a cat. The tremor can either be a small twitch or full-body shaking.
Causes of Tremors in Cats
Here are some factors that can contribute to tremors in cats:
Toxin exposure: Common toxins such as permethrins (found in dog flea and tick topical medications), avermectins (oral dog heartworm products), amphetamines (often found in ADHD medications), and bromethalin (rodenticide) can lead to tremors in cats.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): More common in diabetic cats who get too much insulin or young kittens that haven’t eaten in a while.
Electrolyte imbalances: Occur in cats with a blocked urethra or significant fluid loss due to vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Anxiety, Fear, Anticipation/Excitement: Intense emotions can sometimes result in tremors.
Pain or injury: Muscle tremors and shivering can occur due to pain.
Extreme body temperature: Fever or hypothermia.
Hyperesthesia syndrome: This condition involves twitching across the body that can look like tremors.
Seizures and other neurologic disorders: While seizures and tremors are technically different, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two conditions.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Tremors in Cats
If your cat is experiencing tremors and shaking at home, your vet will begin by gathering a complete history. They will want to know how often these episodes are occurring, whether you notice any patterns as to when they occur, how long they last, and how long ago they started.
Let your veterinarian know if you have noticed any other changes in your cat’s behavior or if there have been any changes to their environment:
- Did they have access to any toxins?
- Are they eating and drinking normally?
- Have they been vomiting?
- Are they excessively drinking and urinating?
- Have you recently moved or added a new addition to the household?
If possible, it is helpful to bring a video of the shaking episode on your phone to show your cat’s veterinarian.
After a thorough history, your vet will conduct a physical examination of your cat. They may recommend blood work, a urinalysis, and X-rays to screen for underlying diseases. In some cases, specialized tests like PCR or titers may be advised, and advanced imaging such as CT and MRI scans might be considered.
Treatment of Tremors in Cats
The treatment approach for tremors in cats depends on what the underlying cause is determined to be.
If the tremors are due to acute toxicity, the cat may need to be hospitalized immediately. Intravenous (IV) fluids and decontamination methods may be needed promptly. It is crucial to note that products containing permethrin are highly toxic and quickly fatal to cats. Never apply canine flea and tick products to cats. If an accidental application does occur, immediately wash off the product with Dawn dish soap and take your cat to the nearest emergency veterinarian immediately.
If your cat has an underlying congenital disease that causes tremors, treatment may focus on providing support with medications that help to reduce the frequency of the shaking episodes or simply keep them more comfortable. In some cases, no treatment is prescribed at all if the tremors are benign or if there is no specific treatment available for the condition. This is the case with cerebellar hypoplasia, where the part of the brain responsible for fine movement did not develop correctly.
If an underlying disease is detected during veterinary testing, your cat will be treated accordingly. This could involve long-term medications, specialized diets, or regular fluid therapy.
Some common types of medications that may be prescribed for primary neurological or psychosomatic issues include:
- Nerve pain medications like gabapentin
- Muscle relaxants like methocarbamol
- Antidepressant/anti-anxiety medications like fluoxetine
- Anticonvulsants like phenobarbital
While certain causes of tremors can be cured, most cases are only managed through treatment, but some conditions have no treatment available.
Recovery and Management of Tremors in Cats
The management of a cat with tremors focuses on ensuring their safety and comfort. If your cat experiences unsteadiness during shaking episodes, be sure to prevent their access to areas such as stairs or swimming pools where they could potentially hurt themselves.
If your cat has consistent tremors that are affecting their balance, consider providing a large litter box with a low entry and high sides. This will give them something to lean on while they go to the bathroom while being less likely to tip if they stumble. Use sturdy food and water bowls and place padding around high surface areas to cushion any falls. Consider using carpet runners or other flooring that provides traction to minimize the risk of slipping and falling.
Cats with chronic tremors may be better suited to indoor life to ensure their safety, especially if muscle incoordination could hinder their ability to escape from predators. Make sure that their indoor living space is enriched with lots of toys that engage the mind and prevent heightened stress or anxiety.
Cats with chronic tremors and shaking can lead good quality lives. If your cat is shaking from a sudden onset of toxicity or disease, prompt veterinary care may be able to restore them to their normal condition.
Tremors in Cats FAQs
What do tremors in cats look like?
Tremors in cats appear as shaking of either a specific body part, such as the head or a leg, or the entire body.
Are tremors painful for cats?
Tremors themselves are not typically painful for cats; however, they can sometimes be a symptom or result of underlying pain or injury.
Featured Image: iStock.com/lkermetinkursova
Help us make PetMD better
Was this article helpful?