Written by Dr Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS of All About Cats
Cats can have a seizure or fit for many reasons and causes can either be within the brain or outside the brain. Causes that occur within the brain include epilepsy, infection or inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissue, tumours, and stroke. Brain trauma, dietary deficiencies, and abnormal brain development are other examples. Many causes originate elsewhere in the body but affect the brain, and some examples are organ failure, low blood sugar, high blood pressure, and various poisons.
If your feline fur-baby suffers from seizures, it can be very stressful and distressing. The worry that a seizure could occur at any time makes it hard to leave them unsupervised and witnessing a fit can be incredibly upsetting. But what might make you suspect that your cat is about to have a fit? What are the first signs of a seizure?
Just like in humans, there is a recognised period immediately before a cat has a seizure, where its behaviour changes. This period is called the pre-ictal phase, prodromal phase, or aura. People who have seizures have described experiencing symptoms like confusion, a strange smell or taste, tingling, jerking involuntary movements, or hearing unusual sounds during this phase. Symptoms vary from person to person. Of course, your cat companion cannot explain how they feel, so the exact pre-ictal symptoms cats experience are unknown. However, we describe pre-ictal behaviour changes caused by the symptoms below.
How to Recognise That Your Cat May Be About to Have a Seizure
The pre-ictal phase in cats can vary in length from seconds to minutes or even hours. A cat’s symptoms in this phase also vary but can include acting anxious or nervous, hiding or withdrawing, or acting confused or disoriented. On the other hand, rather than hiding away or being quiet, some cats actively seek their owner, act restless or vocalise excessively. Some owners have also reported dribbling and shaking. If you notice your cat acting unusual in any way, it is sensible to ensure they are somewhere safe, away from stairs, furniture, or anywhere they are likely to fall or injure themselves.
How to Recognise a Seizure
Following the pre-ictal phase, when a seizure begins, cats will often fall onto their side, become rigid and unresponsive to you, and tremor or paddle their legs. They often salivate and can pass urine or faeces. Once a seizure has started — although it is distressing to see — try not to touch your cat as they can accidentally bite or scratch and cause injury.
If you are able, timing and filming the episode will help your veterinarian later. As long as the seizure lasts only a couple of minutes, wait for it to finish before contacting your veterinarian or attempting to move your cat. It is important to be aware that cats can remain disorientated or aggressive for some time after a seizure, known as the post-ictal phase.
Check out the video below where Dr Pete Wedderburn, DVM of All About Cats, explains the causes, symptoms, and treatment of seizures in cats.
How Would I Know If My Cat Has Had a Seizure?
If you suspect that your cat may have had a seizure while you were out, there might be some clues around the home to help determine what happened. Evidence that your cat might have had a fit include moved or damaged furnishings or rugs and puddles of urine, foam, or saliva. You might also notice faeces on the floor when your cat is normally house trained.
Other clues that might suggest a seizure has occurred might include a scruffy appearance to your usually well-groomed puss and sections of fur are contaminated with dribble, urine, or faeces. If the seizure was recent, you might notice strange behaviour like wobbliness, appearing drunk or disorientated, or hiding away.
My Cat Has Never Had a Seizure Before. What Symptoms May Lead Them to Develop Seizures?
There is sadly no way to accurately predict ahead of time which cats will develop seizures and which won’t. However, some symptoms might make it more likely that your cat could have a fit in the future. Changes in eye movement, pupil size, and symmetry could be the first indication of a condition affecting the brain. Similarly, tremors (shaking) or episodes of confusion or disorientation may also be precursors to seizures. It is also worth paying attention to any changes in mobility, including walking into things, circling, or walking sideways. If you notice any of these signs, or your cat just doesn’t seem right, it would be sensible to contact your veterinarian for advice.
Seizures are scary and unpleasant to see, but knowing the signs that might suggest they could happen in the future or are about to happen, can help you keep your cat safe from injury and get veterinary advice promptly.
About the Author: Hannah graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2011. She has a passion for soft tissue surgery and canine and feline dentistry, completing additional training in both areas. Hannah works in a small, independent practice close to home in Wales in order to devote more time to her other love — writing comedy fiction. She hopes to be a published author soon.