Understanding seizures in cats

June 7, 2024 - 7 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Rebecca MacMillan on June 7, 2024 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

A veterinarian wearing gloves is using a stethoscope to examine a white and gray cat lying on a wooden table

Article snapshot

Cat seizures can be managed effectively with the right knowledge and care.

  • Causes: Genetic factors, idiopathic epilepsy, medical conditions (infections, brain tumors), and environmental triggers (toxins, stress).

  • Symptoms: Pre-seizure: restlessness. Main seizure (ictal phase): muscle twitching, drooling. Post-seizure: disorientation.

  • Diagnosis: Vets use exams, blood tests, and imaging (MRI, CT scans).

  • Treatment: Anticonvulsant medications, surgery for tumors, dietary changes, stress reduction.

  • Management: During a seizure, keep your cat safe and note the duration. Long-term: regular vet check-ups, seizure diary, calm environment.

  • Emergency: Seek immediate help if seizures last more than a few minutes or occur in clusters.

veterinarian holding cat

What causes seizures in cats?

If you’ve never seen your cat have a seizure, know this: It can be terrifying. Thankfully, recognizing the causes and symptoms—and getting your cat the right treatments—can make a big difference for your feline friend’s health. 

This guide will cover the causes of cat seizures, what they look like, how they're diagnosed, the treatment options available, and how to manage them at home. 

Let’s start by exploring the causes. 

Two light orange long-haired Manx kittens sitting next to each other on a beige background

Genetic factors

It is possible for cats to inherit an increased risk of seizure activity, though this is much less common than it is in dogs. Knowing your cat’s family history can give a useful insight into the cause of their seizures. 

Idiopathic epilepsy

Idiopathic epilepsy is a term used when no specific cause for the seizures can be identified. This condition (which is also fairly common in dogs) is diagnosed after ruling out other potential causes through veterinary examinations and diagnostic tests. While the exact cause remains unknown, idiopathic epilepsy can be managed with proper treatment and care.

Owners of cats with idiopathic epilepsy can focus on creating a seizure diary to log each episode, noting the date, time, duration, and any potential triggers. This record can be invaluable for veterinarians when adjusting treatment plans. Stress reduction and consistent routines may play a part in minimizing seizure frequency and improving overall quality of life for your cat.

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Medical conditions

Various medical conditions can cause seizures in cats. These include infections, brain tumors, kidney disease, liver disease, and metabolic disorders. Managing underlying health issues can often help reduce the frequency of seizures

Some medical treatments, such as certain medications or anesthesia, can also trigger seizures in pre-disposed cats. Regular health screenings and blood tests can help detect underlying conditions early, allowing for prompt treatment and better seizure management. 

Environmental triggers

Close up shot of a white and grey cat with a red collar smelling catnip on a dinning room table.

Environmental factors can play a significant role in triggering seizures in cats. Exposure to toxins, such as household chemicals, dangerous plants, or certain foods, can lead to seizures. Stressful situations, sudden changes in the environment, or loud noises may also contribute to seizure episodes in cats that have underlying seizure issues.

Another environmental trigger to be aware of is temperature. Extreme heat or cold can stress your cat's body, potentially leading to seizures. In addition, environmental enrichment, like the presence of other animals or new objects, can add to stress when not introduced properly. 

A curly-haired apricot-colored dog and a striped grey cat with striking green eyes are sitting together on a green chair, looking towards the camera with attentive expressions.

Keeping a consistent, calm, and toxin-free environment can help reduce the likelihood of seizures in cats who are prone to them.

What does a cat seizure look like?

Recognizing the signs of a seizure can help you manage the episode itself, then take quick action when it’s over.

Pre-seizure (aura)

white and orange kitten with green eyes peeks out from behind a hiding spot in a basket

Before a seizure begins, your cat might exhibit unusual behavior. They may seem restless, anxious, or more clingy than usual. Some cats will pace, meow excessively, or seek out their owners for comfort. 

Other signs of the pre-seizure phase may include changes in your cat’s appetite or sleep patterns. They might hide or become more vocal than usual. Understanding these subtle cues can provide you with a few precious moments to create a safe space for your cat, removing any potential hazards they might encounter during the seizure.

Ictal phase

Close up of a furry grey cat looking lethargic, laying on a wooden floor

The ictal phase is the actual seizure event. During this time, your cat might experience muscle twitching, jerking movements, or stiffening of the limbs. They may fall over, lose consciousness, or exhibit paddling movements with their legs. Drooling, vocalization, and involuntary urination or defecation can also occur. This phase can last from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.

During the ictal phase, it’s crucial to avoid touching your cat, as this can lead to accidental injury to both you and your pet. Instead, focus on keeping the environment safe by moving objects out of the way. Keeping the room quiet and dimly lit can help reduce sensory stimulation that might prolong the seizure.

Post-ictal phase

Cat laying on the floor

After the seizure, your cat will enter the post-ictal phase. They may appear disoriented, confused, or unsteady on their feet. This phase can last from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the severity of the seizure. Your cat might be lethargic, unresponsive, or exhibit unusual behavior as they recover.

During this recovery period, it’s helpful to keep a close eye on your cat without overwhelming them with attention. Offering a quiet, comfortable space where they can rest undisturbed will aid in their recovery. Monitor their behavior for any lingering effects or signs of distress, and be prepared to provide gentle reassurance if needed.

Diagnosing seizures

he veterinarian weighs an overweight pet on a scale, fat cat

Accurately diagnosing your cat’s seizure will help you determine the appropriate treatment and care plan.

Veterinary examination

The first step in diagnosing seizures in your cat is a thorough veterinary examination. Your vet will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam to look for any underlying conditions that might be causing the seizures. 

Providing your vet with information about your cat's behavior before, during, and after the seizures can be extremely helpful.

Diagnostic tests

To pinpoint the cause of the seizures, your vet may recommend several diagnostic tests. These can include blood tests to check for metabolic disorders, infections, or organ dysfunction. Advanced imaging techniques, such as MRI or CT scans, can help identify brain abnormalities or tumors. 

An electroencephalogram (EEG) may also be used to measure the electrical activity in your cat's brain.


Ongoing monitoring is crucial. Keeping a seizure diary can help track the frequency, duration, and severity of seizures, as well as any potential triggers. 

This information can be invaluable for your vet in adjusting treatment plans and making informed decisions about your cat's ongoing care.

Treatment options

Exploring various treatment options can help manage your cat's seizures effectively and improve their quality of life.


Medication is often the first line of treatment for managing seizures in cats. Anticonvulsant drugs can help reduce the frequency and severity of seizures. Your vet will prescribe the appropriate medication based on your cat's specific condition and monitor their response to the treatment. 

Your vet may consider:

  • Phenobarbital: A commonly used anticonvulsant that can help control seizures.

  • Levetiracetam: Another option that may have fewer side effects compared to other medications.

  • Diazepam: Often used for emergency seizure control to provide immediate relief.

  • Monitoring: Regular blood tests to check medication levels and liver function, ensuring the treatment remains safe and effective.

And don’t neglect ongoing check-ups. These exams help your vet monitor your cat for improvements and side effects, which lets them make any necessary dosage adjustments or medication changes.


Some cats may require surgical intervention to help with their condition. Cats that suffer from brain tumors may require surgery to remove the mass, alleviating their symptoms. The longer-term prognosis for these cats depends on which type of tumor is present.

Diet and lifestyle changes

Grey senior cat eats dry food from a green bowl against a white brick wall. An adult pet with green eyes at a plate of cat food. Ten year old pet

Adjusting your cat's diet and lifestyle can also play a role in managing seizures. A balanced diet with the right nutrients can support overall brain health. In some cases, a vet might recommend a special diet designed to help control seizures. Plus, making changes to your cat’s daily routine and environment can significantly impact their well-being.

Consider the following strategies:

  • Special diets: Prescription diets designed for brain health often include ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and specific amino acids to support neurological function.

  • Consistent routine: Keeping feeding and activity times regular helps reduce stress and maintain stability, which can potentially  lessen the likelihood of seizures.

  • Stress reduction: Creating a calm environment with minimal changes can lower your cat's anxiety levels, helping to prevent stress-induced seizures.

  • Hydration: Making sure your cat has constant access to fresh water is vital for overall health, as dehydration can exacerbate neurological issues.

There are often no cure-alls when it comes to seizures, but these changes may make a difference in reducing frequency and severity.

Alternative therapies

Some pet owners explore alternative therapies to complement conventional treatments. Just be sure to discuss any alternative treatments with your vet to make sure they’re safe and compatible with your cat's current medication and health condition.

Options include:

  • Acupuncture: Some believe acupuncture may help promote overall neurological health, though evidence of its effectiveness is limited.

  • Herbal supplements: More research is needed to confirm the benefits of these. They are no substitute for traditional medications.

  • Massage therapy: Helps in relaxation and stress reduction, which can be beneficial for managing seizures, though its direct impact on seizures is not well-established.

When dealing with a medical condition as serious as seizures, alternative therapies certainly shouldn’t be your first line of defense. But with realistic expectations and the right information, they may be additional tools in your arsenal. Always introduce them under the advice and supervision of a vet, who may even directly administer some treatments.

Managing a seizing cat at home

A close-up of a fluffy cat with a tabby and white coat, looking to the side. The cat has green eyes and is lying down, bathed in sunlight.

It's important to understand both immediate steps for handling a seizure and long-term strategies for managing your cat's condition. Knowing what to do can make a big difference.

Immediate steps

When your cat has a seizure, stay calm and follow these steps:

  1. Keep your cat safe: Move any objects that could cause injury away from your cat. Cushion their head with a soft object, if possible.

  2. Dim the lights: This can help reduce seizure intensity

  3. Avoid restraint: Don’t try to hold your cat down or put anything in their mouth. Let the seizure run its course.

  4. Time the seizure: Note the duration of the seizure. If it lasts more than a few minutes, seek emergency veterinary help. Even shorter seizures should be reported to your vet for further guidance.

  5. Stay with your cat: Stay calm and offer comfort and reassurance as they come out of the seizure.

Long-term care

Managing seizures in the long term involves creating a supportive environment for your cat. Regular veterinary check-ups, keeping consistent medication schedules, and monitoring seizure activity are all critical.

When to seek emergency help

Certain situations require immediate veterinary attention. Seek emergency help if:

  • The seizure lasts more than a few minutes.

  • Your cat has multiple seizures in a short period.

  • Your cat does not fully recover between seizures.

  • There are signs of injury or severe disorientation post-seizure.

Quick action in these situations can make a significant difference in your cat's recovery and overall health.

The impact of seizures on quality of life

A senior woman is getting cozy with her fluffy and cute older ginger cat cat

Seizures can shake up your cat's health and happiness in very big ways. Understanding these impacts can help you make sure your feline friend lives their best life.

Physical impact

Seizures can take a toll on your cat's physical health. Frequent seizures can lead to muscle strain, fatigue, and injury. Over time, repeated seizures may affect your cat's overall vitality and mobility. In severe cases, seizures can result in permanent brain damage or be life-threatening.

Emotional impact

Seizures can also affect your cat's emotional well-being. The disorientation and confusion that follow a seizure can cause anxiety and stress. Cats may become more withdrawn or exhibit changes in behavior.

The importance of support systems

Having a strong support system is crucial for both you and your cat. This includes your veterinary team, who can offer medical advice and treatment plans, as well as friends and family who can provide emotional support. 

Joining a community of pet owners who have similar experiences can also be a great source of comfort and practical tips.

Insuring your cat’s well-being

If you’re concerned about your cat’s health and want to be prepared for unexpected medical expenses, consider getting cat insurance. Insurance can help cover the costs of diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care for seizure disorders, so your cat gets the best possible care without the financial strain. 

Just remember, it's wise to get insurance while your cat is young and healthy, as pre-existing conditions like seizures may not be covered if they develop before your cat is insured.

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Curious cats get into tricky situations. Insurance can help reimburse you for unexpected accidents and illnesses.

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David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.