- It’s important to remain calm — Staying calm will keep your cat safe and help them recover after a seizure.
- There is more than one type of seizure — Cats may experience different types of seizures, from intracranial or extracranial causes.
- Treatments may vary — Your vet will determine appropriate treatment depending on the type and cause of the seizure(s).
With quick and proper treatment, many cats can live long and comfortable lives after seizures. But untreated seizures can become worse over time and create long-lasting health issues and brain damage. In rare cases, seizures — particularly ongoing seizures or clusters of seizures — may be fatal for felines.
For cats, seizures can have causes originating both inside and outside of the brain. Exposure to toxins can lead to dangerous seizures, too. It’s important to know the signs of seizures to keep their cats safe and in good health, no matter the type or cause of the seizure.
🚨 If you suspect your cat is having a seizure, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
What are the signs of seizures in cats?
The signs your cat shows when it’s having a seizure vary depending on the type of seizure they’re having.
Partial seizures are more likely to lead to behavioral changes, like confusion, aggression, or excessive drooling. Generalized seizures may have behavioral changes and loss of muscle control, with symptoms including convulsions, defecation, or urination.
Seizures resulting from intracranial (inside the brain) and extracranial (outside the brain) causes tend to have different signs than partial seizures. Inflammation, a stroke, a tumor, an infection, or primary epilepsy are examples of intracranial causes of seizures. Poison, toxins, diabetes, liver disease, and kidney disease are examples of extracranial conditions that can cause seizures. Brain-related seizures typically take three forms:
1. Petit mal. You may not notice if your cat has a petit mal seizure because they are sudden and quick with symptoms that you may miss:
- Confusion. The cat may seem confused and could act strangely, like swatting at the air or chewing.
- Blank stares. The cat might start staring into space.
2. Grand mal. Grand mal seizures are easier to notice. They are short, lasting fewer than five minutes.
- Loss of muscle control. The cat could fall over to one side and begin moving uncontrollably. For example, the cat might kick its legs rapidly.
- Loss of bladder and bowel control. Along with the loss of muscle control, the cat may lose its ability to control its bladder and bowels during a grand mal seizure.
3. Focal seizure. This is a common type of seizure in cats that occurs in the outer layer of the brain, the cerebral cortex. Like most seizures, they usually last less than five minutes.
- Loud cries. The cat may cry out as if they are in distress or pain.
- Excessive drooling. The cat might drool uncontrollably.
- Inability to move. The cat may need help getting up or moving.
What causes seizures in cats?
Different causes can trigger seizures, whether inside the cat’s brain, elsewhere in the body, or from external causes. For example, if your kitty accidentally gets into your super-strength household cleaners or chews on a toxic plant, they could have a seizure. Here are some of the most common causes of seizures in cats:
- Head trauma. Head trauma is an intracranial cause of seizures and can happen if your cat’s head absorbs an impact.
- Toxins or poisons. Household cleaners, poisonous plants, and even some flea or tick medications and shampoos can be dangerous to cats.
- Tumors. Tumors are intracranial causes of seizures in cats and may require surgical removal. Tumors can also occur outside of the head, then metastasize, or spread to the brain.
- Inflammation. Virus and bacterial infections can lead to brain inflammation that causes seizures.
- Epilepsy. Cats with epilepsy experience recurring instances of seizures.
- Some infectious diseases. Some infectious diseases, such as leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), cryptococcus, or toxoplasmosis may cause seizures.
Unfortunately, some seizures may be triggered by unknown causes. A veterinarian will be able to help determine the cause and offer the best treatment options, even if the underlying cause ends up being unknown.
Potential toxins that may cause seizures in cats
Many cats can experience seizures from exposure to toxins, so pet parents should know some of the most common toxins or poisons that cats can encounter in the home. You’ll need to make sure to avoid certain medications or treatments and even houseplants to keep your cat safe.
- Flea and tick treatments for dogs — If you also have a dog at home, permethrin is one of the most common causes of tremors and seizures in cats and is usually found in topical flea and tick treatments for dogs.
- Tea tree oil — Avoid applying tea tree oil to cats and keep it out of reach of your pets. This oil is toxic to cats.
- Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs — High doses of ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may trigger seizures for felines.
- Chocolate — Theobromine is a stimulant in chocolate that can cause seizures in cats.
- Plants — If you have cats, avoid having lilies, azaleas, or sago palms in your home. Always check that your plants are safe for cats.
What to do if your cat has a seizure
If your cat exhibits signs of a seizure, which can include muscle convulsions or loss of muscle control, sudden behavioral changes, excessive drooling, or blank stares, it is important to move fast to keep the cat safe. Most seizures may last only 5 minutes or less, but during that time, the cat can be vulnerable to hurting themselves. Once the seizure has ended, you’ll need to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. For seizures lasting longer than 5 minutes, take your cat to an emergency vet clinic right away, even if they’re still having their seizure.
How to keep your cat safe
During a seizure, your cat could become injured because it may lose control of its muscles. You need to make sure the cat is in a safe place — they could experience more brain trauma if they fall off a bed or hit their head on a nearby piece of furniture.
- Move your cat if needed. If possible, move them away from anything they may hit or fall off of, and do not leave them unattended. If your cat is in a safe place, avoid moving them. Gate off any areas where the cat could hurt itself such as near stairways.
- Be safe. Your cat cannot control their movements, including snapping jaws or extended claws. Move them away from family members and other pets for everyone’s safety.
- Stay calm. During and after the seizure, remain calm to avoid further injury to your cat, and to provide a safe, less stressful environment after your cat recovers.
What to do after your cat has a seizure
Your cat may be weak, clumsy, or confused after a seizure, so it can be difficult to tell when it is over. If the seizure appears to last longer than five minutes or your cat experiences repeated seizures over five minutes, take them to the vet immediately. Otherwise, check that your cat is stable, and make a call to see the vet as soon as possible. Even for one small seizure, it’s important to determine the possible cause and start treatments. Untreated seizures can lead to serious or even fatal brain damage.
What to bring to the vet
Your cat’s vet will need to know more about the animal’s health history and any changes in diet or routines that contributed to the seizure. Make sure you note details of each seizure, from the length of the seizure to any symptoms your cat exhibits. Here’s what else your vet might want to know:
- Age. Note the cat’s current age and, if this is not the cat’s first seizure, the age of the cat when you first noticed a seizure.
- Frequency and time length of seizures. If your cat is having a seizure, note the time it starts and ends. Also, keep notes of any repeated seizures.
- Medications. Provide information about the cat’s existing medications, including any new medicines they’re taking.
- Behaviors. List any behaviors your cat exhibited during the seizure. You may also want to describe your cat’s typical behaviors and how they acted before and after the seizure.
- Diet. Include information about the cat’s diet, including any treats or supplements.
- Exposure to toxins. There are many potentially toxic products that your cat may have been exposed to, such as essential oils, household cleaners, or house plants. Note any potential toxic exposures to the vet.
Diagnosing seizures in cats
To diagnose seizures in cats, the vet may need to do different tests. Blood and urine tests are often used to determine extracranial causes. More advanced procedures include x-rays or spinal fluid testing. For intracranial causes, your cat may need to see a vet specialist who will perform an MRI or CT scan, which can help identify brain tumors or other potential issues that led to the seizure. Tests may determine that the cause is unknown, but there are still treatment options for a cat who has seizures without known causes.
How are cat seizures treated?
After a seizure, a vet may prescribe different medications for your cat based on the type and causes of the seizure. When and how much medication your cat takes will depend on the cat, the type of seizure, the cause, and the frequency. If the cause of the seizure is a tumor, your cat may need surgery or additional treatments to remove or shrink the tumor.
For seizures caused by toxins, you may need to remove toxins or supplements from your home and change your pet’s diet. Your vet may prescribe cat anticonvulsant medication for unknown causes or untreatable cases. Many medications prescribed by veterinarians are covered by pet insurance.
Preventing seizures in cats
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to prevent seizures in cats. There are many causes both in the cat’s brain and body and external forces that can trigger a seizure. But keeping your cat healthy with proper foods and vet visits can help monitor their health and alert you and your vet to any changes.
A healthy diet — Keep your cat in good health with a proper diet rich in omega-3s and antioxidants. Talk to your vet about the best diet for your pet.
Avoid OTC meds — While you may be tempted to give your pet over-the-counter medications to save money on a vet visit when they aren’t feeling well, it’s best to get professional advice. Some medications or doses are risky for a cat’s health, and it’s best to have a vet prescribe any new medications or even dietary supplements.
Regular check-ups — Some things, like tumors or diseases, can cause seizures. Regular vet visits will catch any health issues early, which could help prevent seizures related to these health issues.
Keep toxins out of reach — Safely store cleaners and other products that are toxic to cats, and make sure Fluffy is put away in another room if you do need to use these products. Also, allow cleaners to completely dry before letting your kitty back out. Check that any houseplants you bring home are cat-safe.
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Frequently asked questions
What can trigger a seizure in a cat?
Cat seizures may be caused by intracranial or extracranial causes. Head trauma, infectious diseases, brain inflammation, epilepsy, or exposure to toxins or poisons may all lead to seizures. Sometimes, a cat may have seizures with unknown causes.
What should I do if my cat has a seizure?
Remain calm. Only move the cat if they are in a place where they could be injured or injure other pets and people during the seizure. If you have to move the cat, pick them up carefully with a thick towel to avoid being scratched or bitten. Make a note of the start and end time of the seizure and any behaviors exhibited, then see your vet as soon as possible.
What are the symptoms of a cat having a seizure?
Cats may fall to one side and convulse during a seizure, but seizure symptoms are not always as noticeable. The cat may have slight changes in behavior. They could become aggressive or confused. Cats may drool, stare into space, or paw at the air during a seizure. Cats may also lose bladder and bowel control and could urinate or defecate during a seizure.
How long can a cat live with seizures?
The majority of cats who have had a seizure or seizures can still live a long life with proper care and medication. But longer seizures and cluster seizures can be more dangerous for cats, and some seizures can be fatal.
Does crinkling aluminum foil cause cats to have seizures?
Feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS) are a rare condition in cats. Cats with this condition may have seizures caused by high-pitched noises, such as crinkling aluminum foil, hitting a metal spoon against a hard surface, or jangling your house keys.