Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder and cats with epilepsy experience repeated seizures during their lives. It's important to know, though, that a variety of factors could explain a cat having just one seizure, and that single seizure alone does not necessarily indicate epilepsy. Less than 2 percent of cats are living with epilepsy.
An epileptic seizure will result in “excessive, abnormal electrical activity in the brain,” according to the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM).
Symptoms of Epilepsy in Cats
So what does “excessive, abnormal” brain activity look like? Epileptic episodes can last anywhere from minutes to hours, and typically result in the following symptoms in pets:
- The arrival of an epileptic episode can be signaled by behavioral changes such as repeated pacing and licking or unusual salivating or vomiting.
- The seizure itself will cause involuntary muscle movements lasting from seconds to minutes. This is called the ictal period.
- Following this, in the post-ictal period, cats may be disoriented and weak, temporarily lose vision, experience extreme changes in thirst and appetite, be aggressive or nervous, hide, want extra love and affection, or exhibit out of the ordinary urinating or defecating--all of which usually will dissipate after time.
- Animals with partial seizures often experience many symptoms all of a sudden and without losing consciousness.
- Convulsive seizures are the most common type in animals; cats lose consciousness and their limbs go stiff or immobile.
Any cat that experiences a seizure should see a veterinarian as soon as possible. If a single seizure lasts more than 10 minutes, or a pet has multiple seizures in a row without regaining consciousness, this is an emergency and your pet needs to be taken to a vet or animal emergency care center right away.
If your cat is diagnosed with epilepsy, they may go long periods of time without experiencing any seizure activity, and that’s normal.
Other conditions that can mimic seizures are syncope (a condition characterized by fainting spells), obsessive compulsive disorders, rapid eye movement in sleep, and inner-ear problems. These can all result in symptoms similar to those of epileptic seizures.
Causes of Epilepsy in Cats
Epilepsy in cats is caused by irregularities in the region of the feline brain that controls thinking, memory, the senses, and voluntary muscle movement. But just what is responsible for these cerebral glitches? While they could stem from head injuries, tumors, or metabolic issues, a common type of the disease is called "idiopathic epilepsy." This means there’s no detectible reason for the underlying symptoms. Cats with idiopathic epilepsy are usually otherwise in good health.
Treatments for Epilepsy in Cats
If your pet has seizures, set up an appointment with a vet as soon as possible to discuss a treatment plan that best suits your animal’s needs. You may be asked to keep a log of your cat’s symptoms and share these with your vet for the first appointment and for follow-up visits. An MRI, cerebrospinal fluid tap, and EEG are some of the procedures that may need to be done to assess your cat’s condition. Different causes of epilepsy require different treatments.
The good news is that this condition can typically be kept in check with proper medication administered daily, but that doesn’t mean seizures will be gone for good. What will likely happen is a drop in the frequency and intensity of the seizures. Less than one seizure a month is a sign of good management of the disease. Regular checkups are recommended to ensure the best management of your pet’s epilepsy. Surgery may be an option--though probably not if a cat has idiopathic epilepsy--to get at the underlying cause.
More on Cat Care
How Much Do Cats Sleep?
How to Choose a Cat Litter Box and Kitty Litter
5 Common Cat Medications
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.