Introduction | Causes & Prevention | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Test | Treatment Options

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Introduction

A seizure is the clinical manifestation of excessive electrical activity in the cerebral cortex of the brain. It is commonly referred to as a "convulsion." The location and extent of this abnormal electrical activity determines how the seizure is seen clinically.

How Seizures Affect Cats

Seizures can occur in cats of any age, sex or breed. Seizures involve any combination of uncontrollable, involuntary, excessive or reduced motor activity, alteration in consciousness or other physical disturbance. The abnormal electrical activity in the brain causes a loss or derangement of consciousness, altered muscle tone, jaw chomping, excessive salivation and involuntary urination and defecation. Seizures in cats are often characterized by distress meowing, muscle stiffness, loss of bladder and bowel control and paddling of the legs. The episodes can last from seconds to minutes; the length of time a seizure lasts depends upon the severity and type of seizure the cat is experiencing.
Owners of cats suffering from seizures live with the constant fear that at some point their pet will have another "episode." Chronic seizure conditions can be managed with medication, but from time to time a pet may still have a seizure despite medical therapy.

Causes & Prevention

Causes of Seizures in Cats

Feline seizures can be caused by metabolic disorders (hypoglycemia, hypocalcemia, hypertension, hepatic encephalopathy), toxins, congenital malformation within the brain, cancer, inflammatory or infectious diseases, trauma and vascular disorders, among other things. Feline encephalopathy is a common cause of seizures in cats and is a syndrome of acute cerebral cortical dysfunction caused by vascular infarctions, especially in the middle cerebral artery. This disorder is especially prevalent during the summer months in outdoor cats living in the northeastern United States.

Preventing Seizures

There is no single recipe for prevention of seizures. Anticonvulsant drugs are available for cats with severe seizures or with seizures that occur frequently. Administration of these drugs must be followed religiously and requires strict owner compliance.
Stress can exacerbate seizures in cats who are predisposed to seizure episodes. While it may be difficult to manage your cat's environment, it is important to do what you can to keep your cat in as calm and stress-free of an environment as possible. Keep in mind that stress is not always caused by harmful factors. Stress can be caused by a number of things, including environmental changes, excitement, fear, new situations or people and many other things. Additional seizure triggers include quick changes in temperature and exposure to strong scents or chemicals.

Special Notes

Seizures are somewhat common in cats, but should be taken seriously. Sometimes, other neurological conditions can cause clinical signs similar to those caused by a seizure. These should be attended to, as well. If your cat exhibits any of the clinical signs of seizures discussed above, please consult with your local veterinarian.

Symptoms & Signs

A seizure is the clinical manifestation of excessive electrical activity in the brain. Seizures in cats are often characterized by distress meowing, muscle stiffness, loss of bladder and bowel control and paddling of the legs. The length of time a seizure lasts often depends upon the severity and type of seizure the cat is experiencing.

Symptoms of Seizures in Cats

Cats of any breed, age or sex can be affected by seizures. Most affected cats have localized seizures which present as twitching of the facial muscles, eyelids, whiskers and ears. Sometimes, the cat's whole body may tremble or shake, and it may inadvertently bite its tongue. One of the first signs of seizures in cats commonly is a distressful and loud meow, with the cat crying out as if it is in pain. The cat may fall over, stare into the distance or jerk uncontrollably. Affected cats may lose control of their limbs; their legs may become stiff and outstretched, and the cat may also begin to paddle the legs as if trying to swim. Saliva may gather in the lip folds around the mouth, and the cat may not respond when called. It may also breathe or pant heavily, and it may lose control of its bladder and bowels.

Mild seizures may last a few seconds to a minute, while more severe seizures can last for hours.

Seizures involve any combination of uncontrollable, involuntary, excessive or reduced motor activity, alteration in consciousness or other physical disturbance. Seizures are transient and start and stop abruptly. They tend to start with a far-away look in the cat's eyes, and affected cats may appear needy, agitated and nervous – as if they do not understand what is happening in their surroundings. The cat may tremble and appear to lose awareness of its environment. Once the trembling progresses, the cat may fall on its side, paddling and convulsing. Some cats chomp their teeth and have facial muscle twitching. They may become temporarily blind, vomit or salivate excessively. Affected cats may also urinate or defecate inappropriately. The episodes can last from seconds to minutes, and in some cases to hours.

In the time following a seizure (called the post-ictal period), the cat will recover. She may still experience temporary blindness and some post-seizure convulsions. This typically lasts for about an hour, but could last for several days. She may still appear disoriented and sleep heavily for a long time following a seizure.
Seizures are somewhat common in cats but should be taken seriously. Sometimes, other neurological conditions can cause clinical signs similar to those caused by a seizure. These should be attended to, as well. If your cat exhibits any of the clinical signs of seizures discussed above, please consult with your veterinarian.

Treatment Options

When a cat experiences a seizure, their owners are often scared, confused, and overwhelmed. Watching a cat go through a seizure can be a heartbreaking moment, but fortunately treatment options are available. Even better, progress in treating seizure disorders in cats is leading to newer medications that have reduced side effects.

Treating Seizures in Cats

The treatment that is used when a cat is suffering from seizures depends on why the seizures are occurring. Cats can experience seizures due to a number of reasons including: allergic reactions, fever, reactions to poisons, injury, physical problems inside the brain, or a disorder such as epilepsy. In order to treat the seizures effectively, it is important to find out why they happened in the first place.
Treating seizures in cats can be as simple as changing the diet, reducing a high fever, treating a poisoning event, or waiting for the cat to heal after a traumatic injury. However some seizure conditions need to be treated using medications. These medications are normally used if the cat is experiencing more than one seizure a month, is experiencing grand mal seizures, has been diagnosed with epilepsy, or if the cat is experiencing cluster seizures which occur multiple times in a 24 hour period.
Cats that experience grand mal seizures, epilepsy, or seizures of unknown origin are often placed on phenobarbital and/or potassium bromide; how much and how long depends on the severity or history of the seizures. Potassium bromide is often used with phenobarbital if the seizures cannot be controlled by either one of the medications alone; if phenobarbital is causing liver damage in the patient potassium bromide is administered without phenobarbital. Valium is often administered if a cat is suffering from cluster seizures, or if the cat is experiencing seizures due to an injury which needs time to heal. A newer type of anti-seizure medication in humans, Neurontin, has been used to treat seizures in cats with very good results and reduced liver side effects. All of these medications require prescriptions and supervised treatment by a veterinarian.


What to Do if You Witness a Seizure

If you witness a seizure, use a watch or clock to time the seizure, and record it. Don't attempt to grab the tongue. Pets will not swallow their tongues, though infrequently they will catch it between teeth and cut it. If you place your fingers near the mouth, you are very likely to get bitten.
If the pet has gone down on a hard surface such as ceramic tile, as the pet thrashes, prompt placement of a pillow between the head and floor may help to minimize trauma. The animal generates heat while in the seizure, so do not wrap them up in layers of warm blankets afterwards even if the pet is shivering a bit. Shivering is not due to a low body temperature. If the pet is hitting a chair or other object with feet or legs, try to move them out of the way, but otherwise, there is no need for intervention.
Sometimes a pet will show behavior changes prior to the fit (pre-ictus). If you think a seizure is pending, try to lead them to a soft place such as their cat bed so that when they seizure, they have good padding.

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