FAQ's On Cat Seizures and Epilepsy
Wed, April 21, 2021

FAQ's On Cat Seizures and Epilepsy



Also known as a convulsion or fit, a seizure is defined as a “sudden surge in the electrical activity of the brain,” said Ernest Ward, DVM and Rania Gollakner, BS DVM, of VCA Hospitals, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. This causes twitching, tremors, spasms, shaking, and convulsions. On the other hand, epilepsy describes repeated bouts of seizures. 

This means that seizures can be single or possibly occur in clusters. When your cat has epilepsy, seizures can be infrequent and unpredictable, occurring at regular intervals. Idiopathic epilepsy has no detectable cause, which is an inherited disorder in dogs. However, idiopathic epilepsy is rarely diagnosed in cats. Unlike dogs, seizures and epilepsy are much less common in cats than in dogs. In felines, seizures and epilepsy are usually signs of disease within the brain.


Survival in 76 Cats With Epilepsy Caused By An Unknown Case (2017)

A. Szelecsenyi and colleagues of PMC, a biomedical and life sciences journal portal, said that a total of 226 cats were presented with seizures to the Vetsuisse Clinic Zürich during the 15-year study period (1997 to 2012). However, only 76 cats were considered to have EUC and thus were included in the study. Outcome questions consisted of records of survival from time of discharge initial and subsequent clinical features of seizures and owner-perceived general health status of the cat at the time of follow-up.

Other parameters that were recorded included initial and subsequent clinical features of seizures, owner-perceived general health status of the cat at time of follow-up. Of the 70 felines with EUC and available semiology information, 33% had generalized seizures. 67% of cats had focal seizures. 78% of felines with focal seizure onset reported progressing from focal (motor, autonomic and/or behavioral signs) to secondary generalized seizures. The median time of follow-up of surviving cats with EUC (68%) was 3.2 years (range one to 11 years).  During the study period, only 32% of cats died, with the median survival time being one year (range 0.1 to 12 years). The cause of death among 21% of cats appeared to be epilepsy-related while 11% died due to other causes. 82% of cats started treatment with AED therapy during and/or after hospitalization.

Phenobarbital was administered in all treated cats either alone or in combination with diazepam (6) or levetiracetam (12) and at the time of the follow-up, only 65% of felines were still alive. Treatment was effective in 71% of cats and complete remission with AED therapy was achieved in 34% of felines. The latter had a median follow-up of 4.3 years (range 1 to 11 years). Partial remission was reported in 37% of cats with AED therapy, with 15 cats alive at the time of the follow-up (median time of 2.5 years; range 1 to 11 years) and eight cats dying after a median survival time of 1.5 years (range 1 to 8 years).

The remaining cats (29%) showed no remission with AED therapy and 13 died at the time of the follow-up. The median time was 2.6 years (range 1 to 12 years). 79% of cats had complete remission without AED therapy, with a median time of follow-up of 3.2 years (range 1 to 12 years). Overall, 42% of cats became seizure-free with or without AED, as well as 14 animals primary generalized tonic-clonic seizures, five with isolated focal seizures, and ten with focal seizures and secondary generalization.



Why Is My Cat Having An Epileptic Seizure?

Causes can be found in the brain (intracranial causes) or outside the brain (extracranial causes), said International Cat Care, the ultimate resource on feline health. For example, extracranial causes consist of poisons and metabolic diseases.  The brain is healthy but your cat ingests or if someone applies a toxin to it, its brain will react by seizuring. A change in blood composition resulting from a metabolic problem, high blood pressure, or abnormal heart rhythm can also lead to seizures.

Intracranial causes are categorized into primary and secondary epilepsy. In secondary epilepsy, epileptic seizures are a symptom of a structural disease in the brain, which might be a brain tumor, encephalitis, or more. In primary epilepsy, no disease is present in the brain; however, epileptic seizures are caused by a functional problem. An example of a functional problem is a chemical imbalance between the excitatory and inhibitory messengers of the brain. If your cat has primary epilepsy, it tends to experience its first seizure when it becomes a young adult.



How Can Epilepsy and Seizures Be Diagnosed?

Many diseases can contribute to seizures, so your veterinarian needs to perform diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the seizures. Oftentimes, a range of tests are done before your veterinarian can perform a final diagnosis. Initial tests may include blood and urine samples to identify extracranial causes. X-rays, evaluation of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and other advanced testing methods may be recommended by your veterinarian. These procedures will require your cat to undergo a general anesthetic. Further, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computer-assisted tomography (CT) can be used to examine the brain’s structure directly.

How Are Seizures Prevented and Treated?

Treatment depends on the nature of your cat’s underlying disease. If your cat experiences more than one seizure every six to eight weeks, it is advisable to have it receive treatment even if the cause of the seizures is not understood. Seizures can cause further brain damage and increase the chances of having more severe seizures and complications.

If the cause is unknown or untreatable, seizures will need to be treated using anticonvulsant medication. The treatment plan will vary for each cat and its specific needs. Hence, it may be necessary to adjust the dose, frequency, and/or even the type of drug a couple of times before determining the most optimal treatment plan. For owners, this could be frustrating. This is understandable but finding the right treatment for your pet is helpful to ensure its long-term health. Although it may not be possible to prevent seizures after your cat undergoes treatment, there are many cases that help reduce the onset of seizures to improve its quality of life.


Owners should follow the instructions on the drug, including the frequency and dosage. They should also observe the frequency of the seizures so that owners could take their cats to the veterinarian immediately.