Handling Seizures in Cats

Witnessing a seizure in your beloved pet can be truly alarming. As an owner, your responsibility is to react quickly to increase your cat’s chances of survival. Understanding the causes and characteristics of seizures can help save your cat's life.

What does a Feline Seizure Look Like?

Cats can live perfectly happy lives, following a seizure, when medicated correctly.

A classic seizure is a sudden burst of uncontrolled movement that may include one or more of the following behaviors: champing and chewing, foaming at the mouth, collapse, jerking of the legs, and loss of urine and stool. The cat may completely lose consciousness.

A psychomotor seizure is slightly different in nature: the cat may exhibit sudden bizarre and erratic behavior. This can include aggression, licking and chewing at themselves, and attacking their owner.

Causes of Feline Seizure.

There are many reasons for cat seizures. These can include: 

  • Poisoning
  • Head Injury
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic Disorder
  • Epilepsy 

It's important to note that after a head injury, the first seizure may not occur until some weeks later. 

Common toxins that may induce seizures in cats include: antifreeze (ethylene glycol), lead, insecticides (chlorinated hydrocarbons, organophosphates) and rat poison. Poisoning with insecticides is normally accompanied by muscle twitching and drooling. 

In older cats, seizures can occur where there is kidney and liver failure and damage. When these organs are compromised, toxins build up in the blood, which can lead to seizures and in some cases, coma. 

Epilepsy in Cats 

The main reason for recurrent feline seizures is the condition known as Epilepsy. This originates in the brain and can be caused by outside influences, such as trauma, which is acquired epilepsy, or from a defect in neurochemicals in the brain. This is known as Idiopathic epilepsy and always has symmetrical signs. It is not particularly common in cats but, once diagnosed, tends to be fairly manageable. 

Should you suspect your cat has epilepsy, you should consult your veterinarian. A history of similar, recurring episodes and behavior are seen in epilepsy diagnosis so it is important to keep a log of your cat’s behavior before and after seizures, including when the seizures occur and for how long.

Managing a Cat During a Seizure.

The main aim of intervention is to keep your cat safe. If your cat is in danger of falling down stairs or into harm’s way, cover them with a towel or blanket and move them to a safe place. One should be careful to avoid getting scratched or bit, this best accomplished by picking them up from behind as most while seizing are not conscious of their behavior. If your cat is safe (better to not cover and risk suffocation) stand aside until the animal stops moving. Cats cannot swallow their tongues while having a seizure, so, don’t worry about that. Never place your fingers in the cat’s mouth nor try to wedge something between its teeth, as this could result in serious bite wounds. Once the cat is no longer seizing, it would be good to take your cat to the veterinarian so they may (not always possible to) determine the cause of the seizure.

Feline Seizure Treatment Options.

Post seizure, especially when a seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, it’s best that your cat has a full veterinary examination including: blood chemistries, a neurological exam, and, if available and within budget, an MRI or CT scan.

Lengthy seizures (continuous seizures or status epilepticus) are very dangerous and must be stopped to prevent permanent brain damage. So get them to a clinic where most veterinarians administer valium to stop continuous seizures.

While there is no cure for recurrent seizure disorders or idiopathic epilepsy, medication can usually be used to control the condition. Drugs similar to those used in humans are also used in cats. These include: potassium bromide, phenobarbital, and diazepam (Valium). However, the incorrect dose of these medications can be quite toxic to the cat. Always work closely with your veterinarian to ensure the dose is suited to the cat and the condition. Blood tests should be done twice yearly to monitor levels of medication and proper dosage levels, as well as effects on body systems. It is also wise for owners to track seizure activity on a calendar so that potential patterns might be observed.

For acquired epilepsy or seizures due to other causes, the inciting cause should be treated to avoid the seizures. This may involve extensive investigation by the veterinarian or a referral to a specialist