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 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.
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.
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.