Your Pet, Our Passion.
Older cat sleeping on sofa.

Cat Seizures and Epilepsy – Symptoms and Treatment

6 min read

Cat seizures have many causes and can often occur quite suddenly. Find out what you can do to make the experience less stressful for you and your pet.

Cat seizures can be a symptom of many different diseases but are one of the more unusual illness symptoms in cats. It can be alarming the first time your cat has a seizure, but by following the advice set out in this article, we hope you’ll have the confidence to remain calm and seek veterinary advice when necessary. Keep reading to find out more about cat seizures and epilepsy.

What are cat seizures?

Cat seizures manifest as unusual behaviours such as collapse, twitching, gnashing of the teeth and tremors. During a seizure, there are sudden, abnormal electrical impulses that disrupt the normal processes in the brain. This can result in nerve stimulation elsewhere in the body, resulting in the unusual behaviours that are often associated with seizures.

Seizures in cats are a sign of abnormal brain functioning and are not actually a disease diagnosis in itself. However, seizures can also be caused by problems other than brain abnormalities. Kidney problems, liver disease or low sugar levels can also lead to seizures in cats.

There are various categories of seizure, and often an episode will be considered generalised or partial. A generalised seizure involves both halves of the brain, whereas a partial seizure will involve a specific brain region.

What is cat epilepsy?

Cat epilepsy is a condition characterised by seizures that happen repeatedly and are caused by disruptions in brain activity. If your pet has experienced a single episode in their life, they are unlikely to be diagnosed with cat epilepsy.

Epilepsy in cats should not be confused with the genetic condition called idiopathic epilepsy which usually affects both dogs and humans, but is a fairly rare illness in felines. Idiopathic epilepsy also manifests through seizures, but in this case, no abnormalities can be detected in the brain or anywhere else in the body.

Cat seizure symptoms

The signs of a cat seizure will vary depending on the cause and type of episode. General seizures typically have a sudden onset and last up to three minutes. They can be alarming to watch as you might see symptoms such as shaking, loss of consciousness, twitching, or urination.

Compared with dogs, seizures in cats of all ages are more commonly the partial rather than general type. Depending on the affected region of the brain, the symptoms can vary significantly and may be very subtle.

The symptoms of a partial seizure in cats can include:

  • Unusual movements
  • Drooling
  • Facial twitching
  • Tail chasing
  • Loud vocalisations
  • Aggressive behaviour

In certain cases, it can be difficult to distinguish the symptoms of cat seizure from other behavioural causes. At times, an episode can go unnoticed because the signs are so slight. Keep an eye out for symptoms such as excessive thirst, tiredness or constant pacing, because these can precede a seizure. If you suspect there is something unusual about your cat’s behaviour, make sure you check these symptoms with your vet.

If possible, make a quick note of the time that the seizure starts. If your cat’s seizure lasts for more than 5–10 minutes, the condition is referred to as status epilepticus and is considered a medical emergency. Make sure you call your vet immediately for emergency care. You should also contact a vet for advice if it’s your cat’s first seizure, they have not been seen by a vet for this problem before, or they have more than one seizure episode close together, regardless of how long the episode lasts.

What causes epileptic seizures in cats?

Seizures in cats can be a symptom of many different health problems and the causes are often categorised as intracranial (within the brain) or extracranial (due to disease elsewhere in the body).

Examples of intracranial causes include brain inflammation, tumours, and trauma. Extracranial causes can include the ingestion of toxins, kidney disease, liver disease, heart arrhythmias, and disrupted blood sugar regulation, among others. Compared to younger cats, older cats are more likely to have a concurrent health problem such as those listed above.

A seizure may otherwise be ‘idiopathic’. This is more commonly diagnosed in younger cats and this diagnosis is made when an underlying cause is not identified and the seizure occurs because of a brain malfunction affecting neurotransmission.

What should you do when your cat is having a seizure?

If you notice your cat starting to have seizure, below we’ve listed a few things you can do to help your pet.

Keep an eye on time

You want to make sure you know how long the cat seizure lasts. This can vary from a few seconds up to 10 minutes or more, and this is useful information for a vet to know. However, our perception of time can be distorted during stressful circumstances so, if possible, making a quick note of the episode start and end time is extremely helpful. If your mobile phone is handy you could start a stopwatch to help you with this. A seizure that hasn’t stopped after 5 minutes is cause for concern and you should call for emergency veterinary advice. If the seizure stops after 3 minutes or less, you should still book an appointment with your vet, especially if this is the first time you’ve noticed seizures in your cat.

Reduce stimulation

Turn off the lights, but make sure you can still see safely by leaving a lamp on or keeping the door ajar with a light on in an adjacent room. Anything noisy such as a television or radio should be switched off and anyone present should talk quietly and calmly and should give your cat plenty of space.

Don’t move or touch the cat

It is tempting for a loving cat owner to want to help their pet in those moments, but you should avoid touching your cat during the seizure, unless absolutely necessary. However, if they’re in danger of hurting themselves by falling or hitting a hard surface, you should move your pet to a safer place. Make sure you use a blanket to avoid being bitten or scratched, as these behaviours can be very common during a seizure even in a pet that is normally very docile.

Call the vet if the seizure doesn’t stop

A prolonged seizure lasting more than 5 minutes should prompt the cat owner to call for emergency care. You should do the same if the seizures are frequent or if you notice your cat struggling to breathe. 

What treatments are there for seizures in older cats?

The treatment and management plan will depend on the underlying cause of the seizure. Although idiopathic epilepsy is a quite common cause of epilepsy in cats, this is less likely in an older individual and is generally diagnosed through a process of excluding other causes. 

A vet will need to perform a thorough health check of the cat and will recommend what diagnostic tests are necessary. This will usually involve blood tests which may be followed by an ultrasound, x-ray, or referral for advanced imaging depending on the findings.

Depending on the diagnosis, the vet will recommend what treatment options are available. In some cases, the underlying cause cannot be cured but can be effectively managed. Medication will often be specific to your cat’s illness; however, the vet may also suggest anti-convulsant drugs, either as a preventative option or for use if a prolonged seizure occurs. Many of these treatments require long-term monitoring and check-ups.

Unfortunately, one of the most common causes of seizures in older cats are brain tumours. Here’s what you need to know about cancer in cats, including the symptoms, causes and possible treatments.