Cat seizures: What they look like and how you can help

16 November 2023 - 3 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Kirsten Ronngren DVM MRCVS on 3 November 2023 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

cat with green eyes having focal seizure. stands on top of brick red colored shiny floors.

The sight of your fur baby spasming or twitching uncontrollably can leave you feeling helpless. If you're like me, thoughts like these are running through your head:

  • Is it a seizure, or are they just stressing out a little about their catnip toy?

  • What am I supposed to do?

  • Can cats die from a seizure?

  • How are cat seizures treated?

  • Wait, is my cat going to have seizures for the rest of their lives?

So many questions. Take a breath with me, and let's get into it.

How to recognise a seizure in your cat, and types of seizures

At a glance, recognising a seizure in your cat can be confusing. Seizures can range from overt to subtle, with symptoms such as cat spasming, cat twitching, or even a sudden bout of unprovoked aggression or frantic circling.

Here are some basic types of seizures in cats, based on research:

Focal or partial seizures

These seizures affect only a specific part of the brain, leading to localised body effects. Symptoms may include twitching of the eyelids, lips, ears, or abnormal limb movements. Cats may remain conscious during focal seizures, although they might appear dazed​.

Generalised seizures also known as grand mal seizures

Generalised seizures lead to a loss of consciousness and total body function, causing convulsions or tonic-clonic, stiff or twitchy movements. During such seizures, cats might drool, urinate, or defecate due to the loss of normal body function​.

Psychomotor seizures also known as complex partial seizures

These seizures cause unusual behaviours like growling, violent chewing at the tail or skin, loud vocalisations, or random racing spurts without affecting consciousness. A well-known example is a “fly-biting” seizure, where a cat might abruptly start chomping their mouth at the air as if trying to catch flies​.

Remember, epileptic seizures in cats can have a range of clinical signs and might not fit neatly into the boxes above. Understanding seizures and epilepsy in cats is evolving with ongoing research and veterinary practice—yet another reason to see your vet right away.

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When cat seizures strike: how to take action

When a seizure strikes, the immediate instinct may be to comfort your cat, but caution is key. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure safety for both of you:

  1. Keep calm. Panic can exacerbate the situation. Maintain a cool head to think and act clearly.

  2. Safety first: Move any objects that may harm your cat during the seizure. Create a safe space by placing cushions or soft blankets around them.

  3. Keep your distance: As heartbreaking as it is, avoid touching your cat during a seizure, as it may trigger more spasms or even a bite reflex. Just try to make sure they're safely on the floor with nothing surrounding them, if possible.

  4. Document the seizure. Note the duration and symptoms of the seizure. Seriously, use your phone to time the seizure and write it down. This information will come in handy when your vet asks questions.

  5. Call your vet: Once the seizure subsides, contact your vet for further instructions. You could also call while the seizure's occurring, but it can be hard to remember to do that.

Can cats die from a seizure?

While it hasn't been studied extensively, a single seizure doesn't commonly kill cats. It's usually related to an underlying cause or condition—for instance, toxic poisoning. In rare cases, prolonged or continuous seizure activity that lasts for more than five minutes may be associated with a poorer prognosis. Cats in this state, status epilepticus, require treatment immediately.

What's more clear is that it's important to get your cat seen and treated by your vet as soon as possible. One study featuring 76 cats with epilepsy suggested that "the age at the time of seizure onset and remission were significant independent predictors of survival."

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Causes of seizures in cats

The types of seizures in cats are typically classified based on their manifestation and the area of the brain they affect. Here are some common types, per 2014 research that's still commonly referenced:

  • Primary epilepsies: These are seizures that occur without an identifiable structural brain abnormality or metabolic cause, similar to idiopathic epilepsy in humans​.

  • Structural epilepsies: seizures in this category are a result of identifiable brain abnormalities such as tumours, inflammation, infectious diseases, or congenital anomalies​.

  • Reactive seizures: These seizures are reactions to metabolic issues such as hypoglycemia, liver disease, or exposure to some toxins.

How are cat seizures usually treated?

Epilepsy, liver disease, or even certain types of poisoning can trigger seizures. That's why the treatment of ongoing seizures in cats will hinge on identifying the underlying cause.

Your vet may propose several tests, including blood tests, urine evaluations, and sometimes an MRI, to pinpoint the root cause of the seizures in your cat. From there, there could be a few courses of action they'll recommend:

  • Anti-seizure medication like phenobarbital or levetiracetam is commonly prescribed to manage seizures in cats. These medications, under the vigilant eye of your vet, can significantly ameliorate the frequency and intensity of seizures, granting your feline companion a chance at a more comfortable life.

  • Some owners may wish to explore holistic approaches alongside conventional treatment. Nutritional supplements, a balanced diet, acupuncture, and a serene environment can work in tandem to foster a conducive atmosphere for managing seizures. It’s important to be aware that while reports of success may be anecdotal, often these therapies still lack research to prove their safety and efficacy. Always make sure to get any holistic treatments reviewed by your vet first.

Armed with knowledge and a solid action plan, the ominous clouds of seizures can be less daunting.

Together with your vet—and possibly with a great cat insurance plan to help cover vet bills, you can forge a path towards managing this condition, ensuring your cat continues to purr, play, and prosper despite the occasional storm.

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Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.