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.