CBD For Cats: Can It Treat Seizures & Epilepsy?
What Is Feline Epilepsy?
You've likely heard of epilepsy or seizures at some point in your life, seen the warnings during the beginning of certain music videos and video games, even if you've never had any personal experience with epilepsy before. Seizures can be an unpredictable and upsetting condition to manage, and taking care of an epileptic animal is no exception. Epilepsy in cats is almost as common as it is in humans, so understanding what it is, what causes it, and how it can be managed are all essential parts of caring for an epileptic feline.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes unforeseen and uncontrolled body convulsions to occur, known as seizures. Seizures will generally take the form of muscular convulsions, and can sometimes cause the victim to go unconscious. Seizures in cats happen when neurons in your cat's brain begin firing out of turn in a section of their brain called the cerebrum. This leads to shocks going through their nervous system, causing violent muscular spasms.
The cause of these misfiring neurons - especially in cats - is largely unknown. When the cause of a seizure cannot be determined, it is known as idiopathic epilepsy. A seizure in and of itself does not necessarily constitute epilepsy, however. Some individuals may have a seizure randomly, or as the result of an overabundance of stimuli. When seizures become a reoccurring issue for your cat, however, then it can be classified as epilepsy.
The Different Types Of Feline SeizuresSeizures in cats can be broken down into four parts.
Partial seizuresPartial seizures occur when only a part of your pet's body is affected. This can be one side of their body or even isolated exclusively to one limb. These kinds of seizures are more commonly the result of brain lesions and not necessarily epilepsy.
Generalized seizuresA generalized seizure is one that affects your cat's entire body. Generalized seizures are more common and easier to recognize. They can be further broken down into three more categories.
Petit MalA petit mal seizure is diagnosed when the seizure lasts less than 30 seconds. If you were watching your cat, you may see them simply collapse when a petit mal seizure takes hold. Petit mal seizures do not result in convulsions.
Grand MalGrand mal seizures are the kind that you are likely most familiar with. A grand mal seizure involves full body convulsions. Cats experiencing a grand mal seizure will typically fall down and begin kicking or paddling their legs uncontrollably. Grand mal seizures can cause cats to involuntarily salivate, urinate, or defecate. During a grand mal seizure, cats typically become unaware of their surroundings and their actions. While extremely unpleasant for you and your cat alike, grand mal seizures are generally not threatening to your pet's health or life, and last only a few minutes.
Status EpilepticusStatus epilepticus - usually referred to simply as "status" - is when a grand mal seizure begins before another grand mal seizure has had a chance to end. This can cause a chain of seizures to occur in a row and can have life-threatening consequences for your pet. They are the worst kind of seizure and should be treated medically immediately.
The Phases Of A SeizureWhile it's usually hard to predict when a seizure will occur, there are three phases of seizures you can look for to help you identify and monitor your cat's seizures.
Pre-SeizureThis is the phase shortly before your cat enters into a seizure. You may notice that your cat suddenly seems irritated, restless, and more needy than usual. They might start meowing, salivating, and pacing around the house, all within the minutes leading up to the beginning of a seizure. The more time you spend around an epileptic feline, the easier it will be to identify when a seizure is about to start.
IctusThe ictus phase is when the seizure is actually occurring. Your cat may start acting erratically, collapse, and/or spasm uncontrollably. This stage usually lasts less than five minutes, during which your cat will have little control over their body or awareness of their surroundings. If this phase starts to go on for much longer than five minutes, then they could be entering a status seizure and will need medical attention.
Post-IctalThe post-ictal phase is the recovery period following a seizure. Every cat will experience this phase a little differently, depending on their temperament and seizure severity. Your cat will likely seem uncoordinated, disoriented, and possibly even blind. These are all fairly normal reactions and can last for a few minutes or even a few days.
What Causes Epilepsy In Cats?
Unfortunately, the cause of seizures in cats is largely unknown. There are usually a variety of factors at play, but they can be difficult to pin down in a cat. Not only that, but the causes behind seizures, in general, are still vague and debated.
That said, there are a few causes that are believed to be behind some cases of epilepsy:
- Genetic defects
- Kidney and liver disorders
- Low oxygen levels, such as anemia
- Brain tumors
- Ingestion of toxins, like antifreeze or chocolate
- Brain damage
- Side effects of certain medications
- Fevers and hypothermia
What Triggers A Seizure?In the same way that the causes behind epilepsy are largely unknown, what triggers a seizure is also difficult to determine. If the seizures are a result of genetic predisposition, physical abnormalities, or medication side effects, then they may be triggered by nothing at all. Other times, over-stimulation or excitability can cause the neurons in your cat's brain to fire in unexpected ways, eventually escalating into a seizure.
Symptoms Of Epilepsy In CatsThe most obvious symptom of a seizure is, of course, the seizure itself. If you've ever witnessed a seizure in a person before, the experience for a cat will be largely the same. The most common form of seizures involves spasming muscles. You will notice that your cat is no longer in a normal position - like standing, sitting, or lying down - and is instead on their side with their legs outstretched. Their legs and feet will usually start to paddle or kick sporadically, beyond your cat's control. Your cat may also urinate, salivate, or defecate during the course of a seizure.
Seizures can also take other forms, however. In some cases, instead of spasming, your cat will simply become unconscious unexpectedly. If you are watching your cat when this happens, you'll notice that they simply collapse in the middle of whatever they are doing.
Leading up to a seizure, you might notice that your cat seems more excitable or anxious than usual, and may be needier for affection and comfort. They might also start salivating, pacing, and performing other strange and erratic behaviors. All of this happens in the minutes leading up to a seizure. After the seizure has passed, your cat will likely be disoriented and uncoordinated, as well as exhausted. Some cats even lose their vision temporarily after a seizure. They should recover from these symptoms within a few minutes to an hour, though it can sometimes take days. If you feel like they are taking longer than expected to recover, take them to a vet for evaluation.
Diagnosis Of Epilepsy In CatsBecause seizures are difficult to predict, your vet will largely rely on your own personal account of your cat's epileptic symptoms. Pay close attention to your cat when they are about to have a seizure, are having a seizure, and have just had a seizure. If you notice that this starts to become a regular part of their life, speak to your vet and provide them with all of the information you have gathered from monitoring your pet.
One of the most important things you can communicate to your vet about your cat's seizures is how they take shape. Does your cat pass out? Do their seizures take over their whole body, or only a portion of their body? Different seizures are caused by different factors and will require different treatment options. Partial seizures usually indicate that the seizure is a symptom of some other disorder that needs treating (like brain tumors or liver disorder) while full body seizures are usually epileptic. This is not a hard and fast rule, however, just a generalization.
Once your vet has gleaned as much information from you as possible, they will likely conduct a few tests on your animal to build up a medical profile of your cat. A urinalysis, blood test, complete blood count, and biochemical profile are the most common. These tests will help them better understand your cat's status as well as look for any underlying issues that could be causing the seizures.
Treatment For Feline EpilepsyAn important thing to note about feline epilepsy - and epilepsy in general - is that there typically isn't a cure. In situations where your cat's epilepsy is the result of an underlying issue (like liver disorder) then curing that issue will, in turn, cure your pet's epilepsy. However, if your cat simply has epilepsy, without any known or clear cause, then the best you can do for your pet is to mitigate the issue as much as possible.
Medical treatment for seizures happens when your vet believes that the seizures are indeed epilepsy and not the result of another problem. A seizure occurs as a result of misfiring neurons in your pet's brain, and as of right now, the most common way to treat this problem is by suppressing your pet's neural activity a bit. This is not a sure fire way to prevent seizures completely, but it does a pretty good job at reducing their frequency and severity.
Phenobarbital & Other Traditional Medications For Feline Epilepsy
The most common epilepsy treatment option for cats is phenobarbital. This medication is distributed orally and works by reducing the amount of activity going on in your pet's neurons. This medication is usually successful, although there are alternative medications like potassium bromide that can be used if phenobarbital isn't working for your cat. While these can help manage and prevent seizures, they never really cure or stop seizures altogether. Not only are these medications not curative, but they also come with some pretty severe side effects.
The most noticeable side effect will be that your cat appears significantly more sedated. When vets prescribe these medications, they try to find the lowest dose possible that can be used on your cat while still yielding noticeable effects. The result is a difficult balancing act that takes a significant amount of time and money, all with long term consequences to your pet's health. It's also important to note that once your cat starts on one of these medications, it's vital that you don't miss a dosage. Missing a dose can disrupt your cat's new neural patterns, leading to severe and violent seizures.
CBD Treatments For Feline EpilepsyFortunately, a new alternative to these traditional medications has started to rise in popularity among pet owners and veterinarians alike - CBD. CBD is one of the active compounds in hemp, and it has a whole host of health benefits for your pets. One of the most exciting of these benefits is its ability to help manage seizures. Studies on humans and small animals have both shown success in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures for most users.
The CBD compound works by stimulating your cat's endocannabinoid system. This system is responsible for regulating their mood, appetite, sleep, and more. It also promotes homeostasis within your pet's health, which is what makes it useful for managing seizures. And because it's an all natural compound, it doesn't carry any adverse side effects. CBD Dosage is simple, and regular use can lead to improvements in other areas of your pet's life.The one thing to note about CBD for cats to manage feline seizures is that it isn't as potent as traditional medications, and it doesn't work for every cat. However, if your cat responds positively to CBD supplements, it's a much more natural solution than other medicines. The side effects are virtually non-existent, and rather than causing long-term issues for their health, it has long-term benefits. If you're interested in trying CBD for your cat's health, you can try a CBD oil at a low risk to your pet, or speak to a local holistic vet about your cat's treatment options.
What To Do If Your Cat Is Having A SeizureEveryone knows the old housewives' advice about putting a spoon in a seizing person's mouth - and hopefully by now knows that this is a terrible idea. Since you can't use a spoon to help your cat through a seizure (or anyone, truly), you'll have to try a few other techniques to get your cat comfortably through the process. The first thing to do is try to learn your cat's pre-seizure phase. This way you'll become better at predicting when it's going to happen, and hopefully prepare a bit in the few minutes before.
Once your cat has started to have a seizure, move them to the floor, away from anything that might harm them. Leaving them on a couch or bed - while soft - could end up with them falling off and hurting themselves. If you have small children or other pets around, try to remove them from the area if possible. Your cat will begin acting beyond their own control and could hurt others or themselves unpredictably.
And lastly, pay very close attention to your cat. As soon as a seizure starts, start timing it any way you can. If the seizure seems unusually severe or goes on for longer than five minutes, then call a vet as soon as possible and prepare to take your cat in for medical attention. Once the seizure is over, observe your cat's post-seizure phase and take mental notes on how they recover. This way, if your cat happens to have a seizure while you aren't around, you can still determine when was has happened after the fact.
ConclusionSeizures are a frightening and stressful event for everyone involved. If your pet has started to have seizures on a regular basis, speak to a veterinarian quickly and begin working on a treatment plan. Even though the issue might not be curable, natural supplements like CBD supplements can improve your cat's quality of life and has been shown to reduce the number of seizures they experience.
Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.
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