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Epilepsy in Cats

Is your cat experiencing seizures? They may receive an epilepsy diagnosis. Our vets in Lexington discuss the diagnosis and treatment of cats with epilepsy in this post. 

What is epilepsy in cats?

Characterized by recurrent (repeated) seizures, epilepsy is a somewhat rare condition and can be caused by issues within your cat's brain (intracranial causes) or elsewhere in your cat's body (extracranial causes. If your cat only experiences a single seizure, they do not have epilepsy. 

Seizures are sudden surges of electrical activity of the brain that cause symptoms such as convulsions, shaking, spasms, tremors or twitching. While idiopathic epilepsy is a relatively common inherited condition in dogs, we do not typically see inherited seizures in cats. Idiopathic epilepsy is a diagnosis a vet will sometimes provide for a cat when there is no apparent structural cause for that animal's seizures.

Today, we'll discuss causes of seizures, in addition to signs of epilepsy in cats, diagnostic testing and treatment options. 

What causes seizures in cats?

Typically, seizures in cats stem from injury or disease within the cat's brain (intracranial) or external factors including toxins (extra cranial causes), rather than being caused by an inherited condition. Seizures in cats tend to be much rarer than seizures in dogs and fall into one of a handful of different categories. 

Intracranial Causes

Structural diseases such as an infection (encephalitis), brain inflammation or malformation, stroke, tumor and head trauma are some of the most common causes of seizures from within a cat's brain. If your cat is experiencing seizures due to intracranial causes, they may also exhibit other symptoms such as restlessness, lethargy or circling. 

Primary Epilepsy

If your cat is diagnosed with primary epilepsy, this means that functional issues in the brain rather than structural problems are behind your cat's seizures. A chemical imbalance within the brain between the inhibitory signals and excitatory signals is occurring. Cats with primary epilepsy will often start to have seizures while they are in young adulthood. 

Extracranial Causes

Does the cause of your cat's seizures originate from a condition outside of the brain (extracranial)? Either metabolic diseases or poisons are usually the culprit. 

Reactive Epileptic Seizures

If your cat's brain is healthy, seizures may be caused due to a reaction to poisons and toxins, or due to changes in blood composition stemming from metabolic conditions such as diabetes or liver and kidney disease. If the cause of your cat's seizure is due to exposure to a toxin, there will typically only be a single seizure.

What are the symptoms of epilepsy in cats?

Seizures in cats generally only last a couple of minutes, although in some cases animals can experience cluster seizures where there are multiple seizures over the course of a few hours or a few days. When it comes to epilepsy in cats, the types of symptoms you notice in your feline companion if they are having a seizure will depend upon whether the seizure is generalized or partial.

  • Signs of a partial seizure include strange behavior, abnormal posture, unusual vocalizations, drooling or twitching.
  • Generalized seizures often (but not always) begin with behavioral changes followed by symptoms such as convulsions, loss of consciousness, chewing, twitching, salivating, defecation or urination.

How is epilepsy in cats diagnosed and treated?

A board-certified veterinary neurological specialist is trained to diagnose and treat neurological conditions such as epilepsy in cats. Diagnosis is essential when it comes to seizures in cats, due to the many possible causes. Diagnostic testing may include blood tests, urinalysis, spinal fluid testing, X-rays, MRI or CT scans.

The goal of testing and diagnosis is to pinpoint the underlying cause of your cat's seizures in order to determine the best possible treatment for your cat's condition.

Treating epilepsy in cats (and the seizures the disease causes) is important because recurrent seizures can lead to further brain damage, more severe seizures or other health complications. In cases where there is no treatment available for the underlying cause, or the cause remains unknown, anti-convulsant medication may be prescribed by your vet.

Patience is essential when starting treatment for cats with epilepsy, as it can take some time to determine the best medication and dosage for your cat.

Successful treatment of epilepsy is a reduction in the number and severity of seizures, rather than a complete absence of episodes. Although it's rare to completely prevent any further seizures, even with occasional attacks your cat can go on to have a good quality of life.

Ongoing Treatment of Cats With Epilepsy

If your cat is diagnosed with epilepsy, they will need to continue taking medication for life. It's important that pet parents follow a few key rules:

  • Always follow dosage and timing instructions on your cat's medications. The timing of medication is an important element in the successful treatment of seizures in cats.
  • Ensure you don't run out of medication. The sudden stoppage of these medications can lead to uncontrollable seizures.
  • Keep your cat's medications in a safe place where children or other animals cannot reach.
  • Consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any other medications or supplements in order to avoid any drug interactions.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat experiencing seizures? Ask your primary veterinarian about diagnosis and treatment. Our veterinary team can also answer questions you may have about epilepsy in cats. Contact us today.

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Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency is open 24/7 for emergencies and is accepting patients for advanced diagnostic appointments. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lexington companion animals. 

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