Seizures are scary. Even if you work in the animal care field, witnessing a seizure can rattle your nerves. A cat may vocalize while having a seizure, and it can sound like screams you’ve never heard in your entire life. Seizures can cause you to panic when you see them.
Seizures can be particular to the feline’s experience. One cat’s seizure may look different from another’s, even if they are experiencing the same type of seizure. As we will stress throughout the article, it’s imperative that you observe carefully.
There are several different types of seizures, and we’ll go over these so that you can learn how to tell the difference and when it is time to rush them to the veterinarian for help. Always be observant—details matter. You want to be able to tell the veterinarian exactly what you witnessed. It can help determine the causes and the type of seizure.
Seizures are a very horrifying experience, but you need to realize that your cat will typically have no memory of the seizure once it is over. Take a deep breath. Make them safe and comfortable - which we’ll explain how to do below - and try to make as many observations as you can. Keep a cool head. It’s easier said than done, but remaining calm will go a very long way in truly helping your cat.
The vast majority of seizures are not a threat to the life of your cat. There are critical situations, and if your pet has never had a seizure before, you should certainly be concerned and schedule an appointment for them as soon as possible. In some cases, emergency transport is immediately necessary.
We’ll help you define those moments so that you know what you need to do in an emergency as it happens.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. What Causes Seizures in Cats?
2. What Are the Different Types of Seizures?
3. How Do I know My Cat Is Having a Seizure?
4. What Can I Do To Help My Cat During and After Their Seizure?
5. What are Treatment Options for Cat Seizures?
6. CBD May Help - Seek Your Vet’s Opinion
What Causes Seizures in Cats?
Cats can have a seizure due to epilepsy or from a health issue. High fever can bring on a seizure, for example. A prolonged illness may lead to seizures, and so can a brain injury.
Let’s explore more in-depth. Toxins in the environment and poisoning can also be the underlying cause of seizures, which is why you should try to remember where your cat was and what it ate before a seizure.
Scan the environment for any signs of any suspicious foods or substances. Cats are notoriously curious, and sometimes this can lead them into trouble. If you find something you suspect, bring it with you when you take your cat to the vet.
According to EpilepsyChicago.org, seizures that affect both hemispheres of the brain fall into the category of “generalized seizures.” Mainly, they involve convulsions of the body or isolated parts of the body.
Muscle contractions can make them appear to be kicking, running, banging their heads, and if their eyes are open, they may be rolled straight back or to the side. Make a note of the eye position as that can help your veterinarian.
As you can see, when a seizure happens, it can be a dramatic event for the one having the seizure as well as for anyone observing a seizure. When a cat has a seizure, it can indicate it has gotten into something toxic or poisonous. It may be from a lesion on the brain, which is typically scar tissue from a traumatic brain injury.
It may be from a very high temperature that is related to an illness or infection. Your cat could also possibly have epilepsy. No matter what the cause, seizures are dangerous, and you should seek medical help for your cat.
If they have had seizures and you know why it’s less medically necessary to transport to a vet. If they’ve never had a seizure before, or it becomes a particular type of seizure, you should take them to urgent care. Let’s talk about the kinds of seizures, so you know the difference.
What Are the Different Types of Seizures?
Cats may have many different types of seizures, depending on the cause and the severity of their condition.
These will happen in one localized part of the body. One side of their body may suffer damage while the other side appears normal. You may notice one limb curling into an abnormal position while the rest of the body seems to be completely relaxed and healthy. These types of seizures generally point to a lesion on the brain and are not usually associated with epilepsy. The risk of a lesion is why it is crucial that you pay attention to details and write down exactly what you see, or videotape it for your veterinarian to examine. The treatment for this type of seizure may not be the same as for one linked to epilepsy.
This type of seizure will involve the entire body. These are the most common type of seizure. They often present as muscle spasms that cause contractions of muscle groups, happening rapidly. The contractions are why they appear as convulsions. They may involve the entire body or specific parts of the body, based on the type of seizure. They can be broken down into three categories, as follows:
When seizures last for less than 30 seconds, they typically fall into the petit mal classification. If you notice your cat simply collapses like a limp noodle, without convulsions, and then snaps out of it within 30 seconds, this is petit mal.Grand Mal
These are the most recognizable. Fully involving the body in convulsions, your cat will fall and begin to kick or paddle with his legs. These seizures can cause cats to urinate or defecate. They may also drool. These are not typically life-threatening, though they are not pleasant to experience and might be traumatic to watch. They will usually last a few minutes, but generally less than 5 minutes.
Medical personnel will refer to these as ‘status,’ and this is a situation of back to back seizures of the grand mal type that begin a new seizure before the prior one ends. The succession creates a wave of ongoing seizures, and these can have life-threatening consequences. These are the worst seizures, and they need immediate medical intervention.
How Do I know My Cat Is Having a Seizure?
Seizures are hard to predict, but there are warning signs of which you can be aware. There are typically three phases of seizures. You can help your veterinarian identify and monitor their seizures by paying attention to these details.
Shortly before your cat has a full-blown seizure, you may notice that he suddenly seems not himself. He may be irritated, restless, needy, and want in your lap more than usual.
They might start meowing non-stop for no reason, drooling, and pacing as if anxious. Within minutes you are likely to witness a seizure if the cat has had them before. The more you pay close attention, the more likely you’ll be able to predict the seizures.
The ictus phase is when the seizure is occurring. Your cat may collapse and/or spasm uncontrollably. It could potentially have very erratic behavior. This part of the seizure cycle should last less than five minutes.
There is little awareness on their part during this phase. The cat may not remember that it happened when it is over. It is not in control of its body at this point and may lose control of bowels and/or bladder. If this phase starts to go beyond five minutes, your cat could be entering a status seizure. Seek medical attention.
The post-ictal phase is the time immediately following a seizure, and each animal will experience this differently. It will often seem disoriented, stumble, and even seem temporarily blind. The feline may be irritable, and that tends to be more in tune with its personality before the seizure.
The period of disorientation will pass, and they will return to normal, but for some, it may take only minutes, while others may take a few days to normalize. Be understanding with them during this time. They can be overly tired, cranky, and disoriented. It may even seem as if they don’t recognize you. They may not.
What Can I Do To Help My Cat During and After Their Seizure?
During a seizure, you’ll feel helpless because you can do nothing to stop it. You can, however, take measures to ensure their safety. Move them to the floor if they are on a cat tree or anywhere they could fall. Move them away from stairwells and anything that they could get injured from banging into during a convulsion.
Don’t try to place anything in their mouth. If you can keep them from hitting their head on a hard floor by placing your hand or a foot between their head and the floor, this can be helpful. You’ll need to let the seizure take its course, but pay attention! Your vet needs information to diagnose and treat their seizures properly.
Your veterinarian will want to know:
- How long did the seizure last?
- How many of them happened?
- How frequently they occur?
- When did the seizure happen? What was the time of day, and what activity the cat was performing when it happened? Details matter.
- What did the cat do during the seizure? What were its movements and which parts of the body did the seizure affect?
- Could they have ingested poison, either as a result of someone’s malice or accidentally?
- Have there been any changes in their diet, medication, or living area?
These things may not seem important, but if you remember mentions earlier of the type of seizures and the way to tell the difference, any observations that you can report will allow the veterinarian to determine if your cat has epilepsy or a brain lesion. The details can help determine if there is a neurological response happening from a change in the environment, a toxin, or poison—details matter.
In today’s world of cell phone cameras, taking your camera out and recording the seizure is a great idea. The footage allows your veterinary team to see and make professional observations on the spot. It may seem to be in poor taste, but it is an essential tool that you have and should use.
Moreover, make a mental note whether you saw your pet eating before the seizure or if there have been any environmental changes or strange behavior from them in the minutes to hours preceding the seizure. These are all pieces of a puzzle that can help lead the veterinarian to the conclusive diagnosis for your beloved cat.
What are Treatment Options for Cat Seizures?
There are ways to treat seizures. There are medications aimed at helping to control them. These will typically require you to administer pills and perform blood tests regularly to monitor the levels in your pet’s body to ensure that no liver or kidney damage is occurring from the treatment.
Cats are notoriously challenging to give a pill, which is why many owners opt for CBD oil for cats. CBD has proven to be an effective alternative for aiding in seizures, and medications are coming out that contain CBD to help manage seizures in humans. Moreover, the FDA has approved the use of CBD for these purposes.
The CBD (also known as cannabidiol) can help reduce the severity of seizures, reduce the length of time they last, and even reduce the overall number of occurrences.
Cat owners find it far easier to add CBD drops to the cat’s food via a dropper. Most animals will readily eat CBD when added to their food, especially those CBDs made for them with flavors such as salmon oil.
CBD has had a massive positive impact on seizure activity in both pets and humans because all mammals can benefit from CBD, thanks to the endocannabinoid system that we share. That said, do your research.
If your cat is having a seizure, make it comfortable and safe. Protect it from danger. Understand that other animals in the home may attack them out of fear. It is relatively common for dogs to attack other animals having a seizure, and this is likely due to fear. Remove those other animals from the area, kennel them, or move to another room. Keep your cat that has suffered a seizure separated until they return to normal. That time may vary, so observe them carefully.
Keep them warm and understand that their muscles may be very sore and crampy after suffering seizures. They are exhausting. It’s as if all the muscles have been working out for an hour. They’ll be sore and tired, and this can last for days.
CBD May Help - Seek Your Vet’s Opinion
You and your veterinarian must always work as a team when it comes to what is right for your pet. There are many studies out there, but research is necessary.
Very little conclusive evidence exists because CBD hasn’t been legal for a long time. Many studies are currently underway, and there is little doubt that more will be active soon. We are learning so much about the ability of CBD to help with seizures in humans already.
That said, talk openly with your pet’s veterinarian and get their opinion. While CBD has changed many lives for the better, there is not a ton of evidence as of yet to determine the full extent of the interactions that may occur with other medications.
CBD, for example, has been known to naturally thin the blood and shouldn’t be used with medications such as Coumadin or other blood-thinning agents. At this time, there are no other known interactions, and it appears to be safe. Still, there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to say that it helps seizures in cats.
It takes years to conclude whether something is safe and effective entirely. For now, the most proof is available in reviews, opinions, and personal experiences of people questioned in data-based research surveys because scientists haven’t had access to cannabis long enough to do many of the necessary research steps. They are underway now.
Some holistic veterinary practices are recommending CBD to patients. Still, not all veterinarians are willing to make these recommendations because the FDA has yet to say one way or the other if CBD is an effective alternative for animals.
Publications are rapidly coming out regarding the data on cannabis, and this is one of the reasons why the FDA approved the use of cannabidiol (CBD) in Epidiolex for humans with epilepsy.
Dr. Sara Ochoa
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, St. Georges University
Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM was raised in north Louisiana. She graduated from LA Tech in 2011 with a degree in animal science. She then moved to Grenada West Indies for veterinary school. She completed her clinical year at Louisiana State University and graduated in 2015 from St. George’s University. Since veterinary school she has been working at a small animal and exotic veterinary clinic in east Texas, where she has experience treating all species that walk in the hospital. In her free time, she likes to travel with her husband Greg, bake yummy desserts and spend time with her 4-legged fur kids, a dog Ruby, a cat Oliver James “OJ”, a rabbit BamBam and a tortoise MonkeyMan.
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The Innovet Team
Please do not ask for emergency or specific medical questions about your pets in the comments. Innovet Pet Products is unable to provide you with specific medical advice or counseling. A detailed physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinarian are required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet requires emergency attention or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic health conditions, please contact or visit your local/preferred veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.
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