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What are the symptoms of epilepsy in cats?

Epilepsy is a condition seen in cats, dogs and people that is characterized by recurrent seizures. In today's blog, our Seattle veterinary team explains some of the signs of epilepsy in cats as well as the causes and treatments for this condition.

Epilepsy, Seizures & Your Cat's Health

Epilepsy is a condition in cats that is characterized by recurrent seizures, which means that if your cat only experiences a single seizure they do not have epilepsy.

Idiopathic epilepsy is a relatively common inherited condition in dogs, but inherited seizures are not typically seen in cats. Idiopathic epilepsy is a diagnosis sometimes given for cats when there is no apparent structural cause for the pet's seizures.

Causes of Cat Seizures

Seizures in cats tend to be much more rare than seizures in dogs, and rather than being caused by an inherited condition, seizures in cats typically stem from disease or injury within the cat's brain (intracranial), or external factors such as toxins (extracranial causes). Seizures in cats also fall into one of a number of different categories.

Intracranial Causes

  • Some of the most common causes of seizures from within a cat's brain are structural diseases such as a tumor, inflammation of the brain, an infection (encephalitis), brain malformation, stroke or head trauma. If your cat is experiencing seizures due to intracranial causes they may also show other symptoms such as circling, restlessness or lethargy.

Primary Epilepsy

  • A diagnosis of primary epilepsy means that your cat's seizures are due to functional problems in the brain rather than structural issues. Which means that there is a chemical imbalance within your cat's brain between the excitatory signals and inhibitory signals. Cats with primary epilepsy will often begin to have seizures while they are in young adulthood.

Extracranial Causes

  • If the cause of your cat's seizures is diagnosed as stemming from a condition outside of the brain (extracranial), either poisons or metabolic diseases are typically the cause.

Reactive Epileptic Seizures

  • If your cat's brain is healthy, seizures may be caused due to a reaction to poisons and toxins, or due to changes in blood composition stemming from metabolic conditions such as diabetes or liver and kidney disease. If the cause of your cat's seizure is due to exposure to a toxin, there will typically only be a single seizure.

Epilepsy in Cats Symptoms

Seizures in cats generally only last a couple of minutes although in some cases animals can experience cluster seizures where there are multiple seizures over the course of a few hours or a few days. The symptoms of epilepsy in cats that you may notice will depend upon whether your pet's seizure is generalized or partial. 

  • Signs of a partial seizure include strange behavior, abnormal posture, unusual vocalizations, drooling or twitching.
  • Generalized seizures often (but not always) begin with behavioral changes followed by symptoms such as convulsions, loss of consciousness, chewing, twitching, salivating, defecation or urination.

Diagnosing & Treating Epilepsy in Cats

Diagnosis is essential when it comes to seizures in cats, due to the many possible causes. Diagnostic testing may include blood tests, urinalysis, spinal fluid testing, x-rays, MRI or CT scans. 

The goal of testing and diagnosis is to pinpoint the underlying cause of your cat's seizures in order to determine the best possible treatment for your cat's condition. If no cause can be determined for your pet's seizures the diagnosis may be idiopathic epilepsy. That said, idiopathic epilepsy is rarely diagnosed in cats

Treating seizures in cats is important because recurrent seizures can lead to further brain damage, more severe seizures or other health complications. When treating cats with seizures the primary focus is on the underlying cause of your cat's condition. In cases where there is no treatment available for the underlying cause, or the cause remains unknown, anti-convulsant medication may be prescribed by your vet.

Patience is essential when beginning treatment for cats with epilepsy since it can take some time to determine the best medication and the best dosage for your cat.

Treatment is considered successful when there is a reduction in the number of seizures, and their severity rather than a complete absence of seizures. Total prevention is rarely achieved, however even with occasional seizures your cat can go on to have a good quality of life.

Ongoing Treatment of Cats With Epilepsy

If your cat is diagnosed with epilepsy they will need to continue taking medication for life, and it's important that pet parents follow a few key rules:

  • Always follow dosage and timing instructions on your cat's medications. The timing of medication is an important element in the successful treatment of seizures in cats.
  • Do not run out of medication. The sudden withdrawal of these medications can lead to uncontrollable seizures. 
  • Keep these medications in a safe place where children and other animals cannot reach!
  • Consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any other medications or supplements in order to avoid any drug interactions.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat experiencing seizures? Contact our Seattle vets to book an examination for your feline friend. 

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