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Just like humans, cats can have seizures due to neurological issues. Seizures look the same in cats as they do in humans, with uncontrollable twitching, shaking, and spasms, lasting up to several minutes. A seizure can happen only once in your cat's life, or they can be recurring.
Having seizures can be traumatic for your cat, so it's important to get them to a vet as soon as possible for treatment. This article will help you understand what a seizure is, why cats have seizures, and what to do if your cat has a seizure.
- What Is A Seizure?
- Why Do Cats Have Seizures?
- What To Do If Your Cat Is Having A Seizure
- Seizure Treatment
What Is A Seizure?
A seizure occurs due to neurological problems in cats. In most cases, the cat will collapse to the ground and go stiff before going into convulsions. These convulsions are uncontrolled muscle contractions that look like jerking movements. Additionally, your cat may empty their bowels and bladder during the seizure because they lose control of muscle function.1
Seizures in cats can last a few seconds up to several minutes, with severe cases lasting a few hours. Cats can also suffer from epilepsy, which means they can have repeated, recurring episodes. Additionally, seizures due to epilepsy can occur at irregular intervals and vary from days to years.
Symptoms of seizures in cats require immediate veterinary attention to ensure that the seizure was not caused by a life-threatening medical condition. Cats can also suffer from different types of seizures called generalized and partial seizures.
Generalized seizures are the most commonly recognized as they're characterized by collapse, loss of awareness, and shaking, along with loss of bowel and bladder control. These types of seizures last up to a few minutes, and some cats may suffer from one season after another with a short recovery period in between.2
Before a generalized seizure occurs, the cat may exhibit behavioral changes, such as growling and pacing. Recovering from this type of seizure can take up to a few hours, and your cat might be disoriented during that period.
Partial seizures are more common in cats than they are in dogs. Only a part of your cat's body is affected by a partial seizure. Because only a part of the cat is affected, they are harder to recognize and can accompany symptoms such as drooling, facial twitching, whining, and abnormal limb movements. Partial seizures can turn into generalized seizures and frequently occur throughout the day.
Why Do Cats Have Seizures?
Seizures in cats are most commonly caused by disease or injury within the cat's brain. The most common disease-related causes are inflammatory diseases.3 Additionally, toxoplasmosis, FIP, FeLV, and FIV are a few rare causes of recurring seizures in cats. Other causes of seizures in cats include:
- Poisoning: If your cat eats something that's poisonous to them, their brain can quickly become affected and lead to a seizure. Cat poisoning can be fatal, so if you believe your cat has been poisoned, it's important to get them to a vet as soon as possible.
- Head trauma: Head trauma is another type of problem that can cause seizures in cats because it can damage their brain and lead to neurological problems.
- Brain tumors: Brain tumors can also lead to neurological problems in cats and may cause seizures, disorientation, and even loss of brain function.
- Liver and kidney problems: The liver and kidneys filter out toxins from your cat's body, and if they're not working properly, the toxins can reach the brain and cause seizures.
- Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia is common in young kittens and may occur in cats with diabetes. If your cat has low blood sugar and their blood sugar level drops below a normal level, they can have seizures that can end up being fatal.
- Epilepsy: Epilepsy is a medical condition that causes recurring seizures in humans and cats.
Seizures in cats can be either intracranial(inside the brain) or extracranial (outside the brain). Intracranial seizures are caused by changes to the brain, such as the result of a brain tumor. Epilepsy, for example, is a brain disorder.
Extracranial seizures happen due to factors outside the body, such as toxins. One of the most common causes of seizures in cats is toxin exposure.
What To Do If Your Cat Is Having A Seizure
If your cat is having a seizure, you need to know what to do to help them remain calm during the process. There's nothing you can do to stop a seizure, but you can ensure your cat has a calm recovery period.
1. Stay Calm
Seeing your cat have a seizure can be scary, but you should remain calm. Panicking can put your cat in unnecessary danger while they're seizing, which can lead to further trauma.
2. Check The Area For Safety Hazards
When your cat has a seizure, they can hurt themselves because they don't have control of their muscle function. For example, your cat can have a seizure and fall off their cat tree or bang their head on something sharp nearby. If you notice your cat is having a seizure, ensure there are no safety hazards around, and your cat cannot fall downstairs, off the couch, or off their cat tree. If you have to, try to carefully pick your cat up to prevent them from falling. Additionally, you can move furniture away from them to ensure they can't hurt themselves. If you have any other cats in the home, remove the cats from the room so they can't interfere with your cat's seizure.
The seizure itself needs to conclude on its own, so it's important not to restrain your cat. Ultimately, as long as you've removed any safety hazards, your cat can't hurt himself when having a seizure. Instead, you can sit quietly next to your cat so you can be there to comfort them once the seizure ends.
3. Keep Note Of Symptoms & Duration Of The Seizure
While you're comforting your pet during the recovery from their seizure, try to take notes of symptoms and the duration of the episode. Giving your vet as much information can help your vet determine what type of seizure your cat is suffering from so they can find the best treatment.
If your cat has a seizure for longer than three minutes or continues to have seizures with or without recovery, seek veterinary care immediately. You might need to pick your cat up and take them to the vet as soon as possible to prevent brain damage, coma, and death.
4. Contact Your Veterinarian
You should always get to the vet as soon as possible after they've had a seizure so your vet can help determine the best course of treatment to ensure your cat's health and wellness. If seizures are a recurring problem, a vet will likely recommend an action plan for what to do when your cat has seizures.
Veterinarians will come up with treatment plans and schedule regular check-ins to ensure the treatment is working. You may be able to use telemedicine for vet services for follow-up visits that allow you to talk to your vet without going to the clinic, which can help reduce your cat's anxiety about seeing a doctor. Additionally, you can get cat medication online easily after you have a prescription from your vet.
Treatment for seizures will depend on the cause of the seizures. Your vet will examine your pet and take blood tests to rule out underlying medical conditions, such as liver and kidney disease, diabetes, and more. If your cat's tests come back normal, your vet may recommend further testing.
If your cat has a seizure at the vet's office, they will be given diazepam or a similar medication, and in some cases, your cat might require general anesthesia.1 If your cat has recurring or long-lasting seizures, they will be treated long-term with anticonvulsants, with the most common medication being phenobarbital.1
The most important thing you can do after your cat has had their first seizure is get them to an emergency vet as soon as possible to help determine the cause. For example, if your cat has ingested a poison, you might not know about it until after they've started seizing. A vet can help determine the causes of the seizure and find the best treatment plan, no matter what it is.
Additionally, your vet will send you home with a treatment plan that you are responsible for following, especially if your cat has recurring seizures. Depending on your vet's treatment plan, you might need to give your cat medication at scheduled intervals to prevent future seizures. Additionally, you might have to remove potentially dangerous items from the home to ensure your cat can't get hurt if they have a seizure while you're away.
Seeing your cat have a seizure can be scary because you want to do everything you can to help them. However, the most important things you can do are stay calm and make the environment safe so your cat can't get hurt during the duration of the seizure. Remember, having a seizure is scary for your cat, who doesn't understand what's happening to them, so they might have anxiety or fear afterward. Staying calm can help your cat stay calm after a traumatizing event. If you can, try to take note of what's happening during the seizure, when it starts, and how long it lasts.
Providing your vet with as much detail as possible can help them determine the severity of the episode and diagnose the cause of the problem. If possible, you can also take a video on your mobile phone to show your vet what happens during the seizure, which can be incredibly helpful for them to understand exactly what happened during that time.
It's important that you get your cat to the vet as soon as possible after a seizure so your vet can determine the cause and diagnose your cat with any underlying illnesses before coming up with a treatment plan. If your cat continues to have a seizure or is having multiple seizures, get them to the vet as soon as possible. You might have to get someone to help you ensure your cat is safe in the backseat of your car so you can safely get them to the vet while they're seizing.Dutch offers telemedicine for pets services to help cats suffering from seizures get the quality care they need from the comfort of their own home. While Dutch does not offer emergency care, veterinarians can help in the treatment of seizures and underlying illnesses while recommending medication for pets.
“Seizures and Convulsions in Cats.” PetMD, 29 Sept. 2016, https://www.petmd.com/cat/emergency/common-emergencies/e_ct_seizures_and_convulsions#:~:text=are%20rarely%20done.-,Treatment,underlying%20cause%20will%20be%20treated.
“Seizures/Epilepsy in Cats.” International Cat Care, 7 Sept. 2018, https://icatcare.org/advice/seizures-epilepsy-in-cats/.
JM, Parent, and Quesnel AD. “Seizures in Cats.” The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Small Animal Practice, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 26 July 1996, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8813751/.