Epilepsy is a functional disorder of the brain characterized by convulsions that are typically short in duration. There are two categories of seizures in cats: idiopathic (true epilepsy) and symptomatic (false epilepsy).
Idiopathic epilepsy involves seizures with difficult-to-determine causes that often remain unknown. This may occur due to a congenital genetic disorder prompting the convulsions. Symptomatic epilepsy, on the other hand, presents seizures as a symptom of another disease, making it an acquired syndrome. When the underlying cause is identified and treated, seizures generally cease with proper treatment.
Several signs may indicate an impending seizure, such as disorientation, a fixed gaze, or an unusual gait. Owners may not always notice these behaviors in their pets, although they typically manifest about 5-10 minutes before the seizure. Identifying these signs allows the owner to prepare for an attack and ensure the cat is in a safe location (e.g., on the floor) where it won’t injure itself.
During seizures, cats lose consciousness, fall flat, and experience stiff limbs. This stage lasts for about 10-40 seconds. The animal’s limbs move convulsively, mimicking running or swimming motions, while the mouth appears to be chewing. Additional symptoms may include dilated pupils, excessive salivation, urination, defecation, and raised fur.
Once the seizure ends, the cat may recover within seconds to minutes. In some cases, the cat may remain motionless in a lethargic stupor. The cat may appear confused and disoriented for several minutes to hours afterward.
All animals are susceptible to epileptic seizures, which can stem from various causes such as drug exposure or metabolic disorders. In young cats, idiopathic epilepsy is more common, while older cats are more likely to experience acquired (symptomatic) epilepsy due to injuries or diseases.
Infections or diseases affecting the central nervous system can contribute to epileptic seizures. Potential triggers include leukemia, ischemic encephalopathy, infectious peritonitis, bacterial meningitis, starvation, and metabolic dysfunction. Epileptic seizures may also signal brain cancer or result from head trauma, which may not appear immediately (even years after the injury).
If your cat exhibits the first signs of epilepsy or experiences seizures, consult your veterinarian immediately. A thorough medical examination and necessary tests should be conducted. If seizures are infrequent (less than once a year), special treatment may not be required—only periodic monitoring by a veterinarian. However, if seizures occur more frequently (more than once a month), therapeutic treatment is necessary. Successful treatment depends on proper care and attention. With responsible care and treatment, seizure frequency can decrease, and seizures may become less severe and shorter in duration.