Epilepsy in Cats

As a stimulus generation and stimulus conduction organ, the brain plays an important role in the coordination of movement sequences, perception, and all vital functions. If these functions of the brain are disturbed due to structural or functional damage, the nerve cells can become overloaded and overstimulated. The imbalance between nervous activity and inhibition then causes an epileptic attack, which can be characterized by unconsciousness and convulsive movements. If two epileptic seizures occur at least one day apart, the disease is referred to as epilepsy.

How Does Epilepsy Develop in Cats?

The activity of the brain is controlled by three substances in particular. Glutamate and aspartate stimulate the nerve cells, while the so-called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) has an inhibitory effect. Researchers assume that an imbalance in both factors can overwhelm the brain and lead to epileptic seizures in cats. Epilepsy in cats can develop idiopathically (for no reason) or through stimuli and diseases:

While some cats have a hereditary predisposition to epilepsy, other cats get sick, for example, as a result of insufficient oxygen supply (ischemia) to the brain or damage to nerve tissue. The following changes are particularly possible:

  • Inflammation, such as inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or meningitis, caused by bacterial or viral infections
  • Congenital or acquired malformations of the draining and supplying vessels
  • Cancer (tumors)
  • Injuries (trauma)

But the seizures do not always have to originate in the brain itself. If a cat gets epilepsy caused by changes outside of the brain, this is known as extracerebral epilepsy. Possible causes can include the following complaints:

  • Metabolic disorders (e.g. diabetes mellitus)
  • Poisoning (e.g. from medication)
  • Vitamin and nutrient deficiency (e.g. thiamine = vitamin B1)

How Do I Recognize Epilepsy in Cats?

Cats can develop epilepsy at any age. Every epileptic seizure is divided into four phases, which differ greatly in their symptoms:

  1. The prodromal phase takes place hours to days before the actual epileptic seizure and manifests itself in the cat’s strong restlessness.
  2. During the aura, many cats show a greater need for closeness to the owner. However, some cats exhibit other behaviors, such as shyness or aggression.
  3. The ictus describes the actual, visible epileptic seizure.
  4. The postictal phase is called the recovery phase. During this time, the sick cats are very exhausted and sleep a lot.

In the ictus itself and possibly also in the other phases, the following signs of illness occur in epileptic cats:

  • Sudden falls and tonic (tense muscles) as well as clonic (twitching muscles) cramps all over the body
  • Stretching of all limbs
  • unconsciousness
  • Involuntary discharge of urine and feces
  • Hallucinations, which can be recognized by increased meowing, tail-biting, or running around
  • Chewing movements and increased saliva production (salivation)
  • Changes of character

Not every seizure is like the other. A distinction is also made between two special forms of epileptic seizure in cats:

  • The grand mal seizure describes a particularly severe and protracted course in which the cat shows strong tonic and clonic convulsions. The stiffening of the muscles can lead to life-threatening respiratory failure.
  • The status epilepticus defines an epileptic seizure in which the cat loses consciousness for more than five minutes. This condition can also end life-threatening due to its pronounced cramp symptoms.

Epilepsy in Cats: Diagnostic Options

Cats with seizures should always be checked out by a veterinarian.

During the owner survey (anamnesis), he can already collect important information and rule out possible causes. This includes in particular information about the diet, keeping, and origin of the cat. After the general clinical examination, various diagnostic measures can then be carried out. In order to be able to detect bacterial or viral infections, metabolic diseases, and inflammation, it is recommended to take blood and liquor (cerebrospinal fluid), for example. In addition, imaging methods such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance tomography are recommended to rule out internal injuries, malformations, or tumors.

Therapy for Epilepsy in Cats

In general, epilepsy is an incurable disease. Dealing with epilepsy in cats should therefore always be done by a veterinarian. Treatment is divided into emergency therapy for a single epileptic seizure, as well as a long-term symptomatic treatment:

Emergency measures due to an epileptic seizure:

  • Immediate control of the blood parameters
  • Benzodiazepines such as diazepam have a relaxing and calming effect on the cat’s muscles
  • Due to the high energy consumption during an epileptic seizure, the administration of sugar solutions as part of infusions is recommended
  • If these emergency measures do not improve the situation within a short period of time, barbiturates such as phenobarbital can be given. Since these drugs have an antispasmodic and sleep-inducing effect, artificial respiration through intubation of the cat must be provided at the same time.

Long-term treatment for epilepsy in cats is always based on the cause:

  • If no cause could be found for the epileptic seizures, lifelong administration of barbiturates (e.g. phenobarbital) is recommended in the context of idiopathic forms
    bacterial infections require the administration of antibiotics after a resistance test has been carried out
  • Traumas may require surgical measures
  • Tumors can possibly be treated with surgery, radiation treatment, or chemotherapy
  • Unfortunately, there is no cure for epilepsy in cats. However, the cat’s quality of life can often be assured through a good lifelong medication regime. Regular and correct administration of medication is an important prerequisite for this. Regardless of this, it must be assumed that some diseases (e.g. aggressive tumors) or injuries can significantly worsen the prognosis.

Can Epilepsy In Cats Be Prevented?

To prevent epilepsy in cats, the following should be taken into account:

  • When breeding and buying kittens, it is important to ensure that the parent animals are healthy
  • Medicines and other toxic substances should be kept locked
  • A balanced diet to cover the vitamin and nutrient requirements is of great importance for the general health of the cat and can prevent underlying diseases
Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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