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Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that causes frequent seizures. A seizure occurs when abnormal nerve signals in the brain cause the muscles suddenly to convulse.
Types of seizures:
- Petit Mal is a mild seizure that causes a sudden, brief loss of consciousness - staring into space.
- Grand Mal, Tonic-Clonic is the most common type of seizure. The animal falls on its side with outstretched limbs and loses consciousness. Your cat will lose all muscle control. Its limbs will jerk intensely and it will lose control of its bladder and bowels. These seizures last for 1-3 minutes.
- Status Epilepticus is a potentially fatal seizure. It lasts more than 5 minutes or can be multiple seizures in a short time with no consciousness in between.
- Cluster Seizures: another potentially fatal seizure. Multiple seizures in a short period of time, with consciousness in between.
There is a condition called idiopathic epilepsy where there is no known cause, and can possibly be genetic.
Other causes may include:
- Head injuries
- Brain tumors, cancer
- Birth defects
- Lead poisoning
- Metabolic disorder
- Before a seizure: mood and behavioral changes
- At the start of a seizure: trembling, drooling, wandering, restlessness, hiding, and whining
- During the seizure: loss of consciousness, teeth striking together, intense limb thrashing, drooling, whining, and uncontrolled urination and defecation
- After the seizure: disorientation and blindness
During a seizure, move your cat to an open space to avoid injury. Try to time the seizure and watch it closely. After the seizure, stay near your cat and comfort it as it regains consciousness. You can cool them with an ice pack either in the neck area or in the groin area. Then go to your veterinarian immediately and tell them exactly what happened. Seizures require emergency veterinary care because they can lead to life-threatening complications.
Many disorders cause seizures, so your veterinarian will perform a few tests to rule out other diseases before diagnosing your cat with epilepsy.
- Cerebrospinal fluid analysis (fluid from the spine is withdrawn through a needle): tests for infections
- Blood test: tests for lead poisoning, hypothyroidism, and hypoglycemia
- CT scan or MRI: checks for a brain tumor
- X-rays: of the chest and abdomen
- Sample analysis: of the feces and urine
Epilepsy is not curable and requires lifelong care.
Your veterinarian may prescribe anticonvulsant drugs. In most cases, these will not completely stop all seizures but will lessen the frequency and severity. You will probably need to give your cat the medication for life. However, if they were on medication for over a year and had no seizures during that time, your veterinarian may recommend slowly reducing the dose.
Probiotics (dietary supplements containing live bacteria) are helpful. They come in packets and can easily be added to your cat's food.
Keep track of all seizures and follow up with your veterinarian every few months.
Since the main causes of epilepsy are either unknown or genetic, there is no known way to prevent this condition.
With medication, approximately 70% of epileptic pets live a normal life. About 30% do not respond to antiseizure drugs, but most can still live happy lives.
Once your cat has had a seizure, they may not be covered for this condition again as it will then be considered a pre-existing condition. This can be due to a genetic defect that is causing your cat to have a seizure. Most insurance policies will only pay for diagnostic and treatment for seizures for your cat once.
Medically Reviewed by Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM