A seizure is a sudden and
uncontrolled burst of activity that may include one or more of the following
signs: champing and chewing, foaming at the mouth, collapse, jerking of the
legs, and loss of urine and stool. An altered level of consciousness is
followed by a gradual return to normal.
Some seizures are atypical. Instead of the classic convulsion, the cat
exhibits strange and inappropriate behavior, such as sudden rage
or hysteria. Cats may lick and chew themselves, scratch or bite their owner or
another cat. This is called a psychomotor seizure.
When summer comes around, many pet parents eagerly open windows to enjoy the weather. Unfortunately, they are also unknowingly putting their pets at risk. Unscreened windows pose a real danger to cats, who fall out of them so often that the veterinary profession has a name for the complaint-High-Rise Syndrome. During the warmer months, veterinarians at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital see approximately three to five cases a week. Falls can result in shattered jaws, punctured lungs,...
Most classic seizures in cats are caused by acute poisoning. Seizures after head
injury may occur at the time of the accident, but in most cases appear several
weeks later as a result of scar tissue on the brain. Stroke, metabolic
disorders, and epilepsy are other causes of seizures.
Common poisonings that induce seizures include strychnine, antifreeze
(ethylene glycol), lead, insecticides (chlorinated hydrocarbons,
organophosphates), and rat poisons. Organophosphates characteristically produce
seizures that are preceded by drooling and muscle twitching. A history of
exposure to an insecticide (spray, dip, or premise treatment) suggests this
Kidney and liver failure, accompanied by the accumulation of toxins in the
blood, can cause seizures and coma.
Epilepsy is a recurrent seizure disorder that originates in the brain. It
can be caused by outside influences, such as trauma, which is acquired
epilepsy, or from a defect in neurochemicals in the brain, which is idiopathic
epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy always has symmetrical signs. It is far less
common in cats than it is in dogs.
To establish a diagnosis of epilepsy, the attacks must be recurrent and
similar. Toward this purpose your veterinarian will ask you to provide a
complete description of your cat’s behavior before, during, and after the
Narcolepsy-cataplexy is a rare condition in which the cat suddenly falls
asleep and drops to the ground. The cat may have one or dozens of such attacks
in a day, lasting a few seconds or up to 20 minutes. The attacks can be
reversed by petting the cat or making a loud noise. The cat is completely
normal when awake.
There are a number of conditions that, while not true seizures, can easily
be mistaken for them. Bee stings, for example, can cause shock and collapse.
Fainting spells associated with advanced heart or lung disease may look like
A cat who has suffered from a seizure should have a complete veterinary
workup, including blood chemistries, a neurological exam, and, if available, an
MRI or CT scan.
Treatment: If your cat is having a classic seizure, cover the cat with a
blanket and stand aside until the animal quiets down. Do not put your fingers
in the cat’s mouth or try to wedge something between the teeth. Cats cannot
swallow their tongues while having a seizure, and this will simply result in
you being badly bitten. Then take your cat to the veterinarian so they can
determine the cause of the seizure.