what causes a seizure in cats

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What Causes a Seizure in Cats

July 13, 2016

Commonly, we all know that seizure is usually caused by epilepsy, a brain disorder. Seizure itself is signed by the uncoordinated of neurons firing in the cerebrum (a part in the brain). Usually, we see seizure case happens in human. But what if it happens to in cats?

Even though the real cause why the neurons cannot function properly in cats, but basically it has the same causes with humans. It can be caused by the imbalance of neurotransmitters, so the nerves cannot function in corporation.

Before going too far with this, you should know that epilepsy doesn’t always mean seizure. There’s distinguishing items to differentiate both. Seizure is symptom of disease, while epilepsy is the disease itself.

Seizure may range from extreme mood swings to loss of body control. Basically, seizures ca be caused by epilepsy, toxic chemicals, tumors, and infections.

In spite of the causes, it’s important to observe the cat to identify the real disease. Most cat owners will assume epilepsy if their cats have a seizure, but it could be more than that.

You should always remember that never leave seizure untreated. There are several high risks during the seizure, like choking. And seizure can be one of the symptoms of underlying medical condition that may have to be treated as soon as possible.

Knowing the Seizures

knowing the seizures

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Looking at your cat while it is having a seizure is not enough. You have to pay attention to every single detail of it. The details should be explained thoroughly to your vet. Description is important to get the accurate diagnosis.

Things that you have to observe include the duration, muscle twitching, body twisting, salivation, eye movement or dilation, rigidness of limbs, motion, paddling, and breathing patterns. Please know which body parts are involved during the seizure period.

Once the seizure moment is over, your attention and presence is needed by your cat to comfort it once it regains its control of its body and consciousness.

There are tons of symptoms of diseases associated with seizure. The common case is partial complex seizure. In this case, your cat will have strange behavior and lack of motion, like keep colliding objects, frantic running, or fighting invisible objects. However, those can be a normal cat’s behavior, so it’s a bit difficult to diagnose.

The most common indication of your cat having a strange behavior caused by a seizure is typical seizure activity, like progression, salivation, facial twitching, and even generalized seizure.

If your cat has prolonged and single seizure, and it keeps continuing without recovery time, or if your cat has more than one time isolated seizure in 24 hours, it’s an emergency case. You have to get medical treatment as soon as possible. And the treatment should also be aggressive. No home remedy will work at this time. Doazepam in intravenous dosage is usually needed.

Types of Seizures

types of seizures

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When observing the seizure, you should also know the types of seizure as an important description to give to the vet.

Partial seizure happens to only one side or small part of the cat’s body. This type of seizure is commonly caused by brain lesion. Generalized seizure, even though less common in cats, is another type you should know.

Generalized seizure is divided into two; petit mal and grand mal. Petit mal can make your cat lose consciousness. You see as if your cat was suddenly collapsed. Grand mal is more common in cats.

Your cat will fall on its side and has uncontrollable body limbs motions, like paddling, swimming, or kicking legs. Cat will also be unaware of its own actions and its surroundings.

The worst case of seizure is when your cat has several grand mal periods without having the time to recover from the first. The result is your cat has seizure for hours. The term for this is status epilepcitus. Basically, seizures are not threatening life if it doesn’t improve to status epilepcitus.

Stages of Seizures

stages of seizures

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There are three stages of seizure you can observe. First, is pre seizure stage. This stage is also known as aura. In this stage, your cat may look pace and restless. It often seeks for attention, hide, meow frequently, and salivate much.

Next, there’s ictus stage. Seizure is called ictus. In this main stage, you can see your cat look excited like run in circles or moving in uncontrollable motions. Salivating and collapsing often happen as well. This stage usually lasts not more than 5 minutes, even less than it. Uncoordinated muscle motions is what you can mostly see in this stage.

The last stage is post ictal stage. This is when the recovery begins. In this stage, your cat may look a bit uncoordinated, disoriented, and even temporarily blind. This stage occurs vary from a few minutes to days.

During the seizure, your cat is rarely vicious. Most cats usually feel what’s going to happen before the seizure comes, so they will look for comfort from their owners. During the seizure, cats will also be unaware of the surroundings, so it will be useless if you try to offer comfort during this stage. Give it comfort during the recovery time.

Causes of Seizures in Cats

causes of seizures in cats

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Actually, seizure can happen as the result of abnormally functioned cerebral cortex in your cat’s brain. And this thing is caused by several diseases which may give some changes in your cat’s brain. Thus, it will affect the electrical function in the brain. When diagnosing what causes of a seizure in cats, there are two major types you should know.

  1. Intracranial Causes
  2. This seizure is originally caused by the brain, which there can be functional or structural damage. Diseases which may cause changes in brain structure include brain tumors, immune mediated disease, like encephalitis, FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), cryptococcosis, feline leukemia, toxoplasma, congenital disorder like hydrocephalus, feline infectious peritonitis, and trauma in the head.

    While seizure in this case is basically related to idiopathic epilepsy, which is a definition for recurrent seizures with unknown causes. The diagnosis is made based on the other causes of activity of seizure in cats. Idiopathic epilepsy is a common case of epilepsy in cat.

  3. Extracranial Causes
  4. In this case, seizures are not actually caused by diseases in the brain. The diseases may be occurred in other parts of the body, and they can affect the brain, thus, cause seizure. Extracranial means to causes which come from outside the head. The most common cases are:

    • poisons, like ethylene glycol, strychnine, metaldehyde, lead, organophosphates, carbamates, and others.
    • There’s imbalance in electrolyte, like low sodium and low calcium blood levels.
    • Hepatic encephalopathy, a severe liver disease which impacts the brain. Usually this is caused by portosystemic shunt, a congenital disease which frequently occurs in kittens.
    • Low blood sugar levels, or hypoglicemia.
    • Thiamine deficiency.

    In extracranial causes, seizure is not the only symptom you see in your cats. It may show other symptoms that depends on the involving condition.

The Diagnosis

diagnosis of seizures in cats

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Your vet will use physical examination to carefully check what’s wrong inside your cat’s body. You should know that there are some diseases which can only happen in particular age group or in certain breed.

So, make sure you provide detailed information to the vet, like breed, age, and physical history. Along with diagnostic tests, the vet will determine what kind and cause of the seizure your cat has, and the treatment will be given.

First, blood test will be conducted in this case. A full blood cell should be checked, both the red blood and the white blood cells. In this test, the vet will know whether your cat is anemic or not. Knowing whether your cat is dehydrated can also be known in this test. If there are changes in the white blood cells, it may be the sign of pathological diseases impacting bone marrow, like some types of cancer, or infection.

Second, there is blood profile test which includes kidney function test. It also lets the vet know the level of bilirubin, the liver enzyme in your cat as well as protein levels. Electrolytes are also measured as well.

Last, it’s urine test. This test is to let your vet know whether your cat has kidney’s problem or no. In this test, the kidney of your cat will be checked its functionality, whether it can concentrate the urine well or not. The abnormal substances in the urine are also able to be seen in this test.

What You Can Do In This Case

what you can do in this case

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First and the most important is, take your cat to the vet. It’s better to look after professional’s help rather than trying to find the best home remedy by yourself, because this is a serious condition. Even if your cat has only one seizure, always visit the vet as soon as possible.

Second, you should learn well about epilepsy and seizures. Reading this article can be a good start. However, reading more about feline epilepsy doesn’t mean you can cure your cat alone. You still have to take it to the vet.

Always ensure your cat has a good quality care. By educating yourself about feline epilepsy, you can have a discussion with your vet. Ask him/her what tests should be done, what kind of problems he/she suspects, and what action should be done later.

You need to know that epilepsy in cats is rare. So, don’t be surprised if many vets are not really familiar with it. If you think your vet looks like unaware of cat seizure and doesn’t know how to treat and even diagnose it, go find another one who is more capable. Even though seizure is not lethal, but if it’s not treated properly, it can be fatal.

Next, you should know your limit. It may be a bit confusing to determine how long you should decide whether your vet is doing the right thing or no. However, you can figure it out by observing your cat. If it shows little or no improvement after a month of medication, maybe your should find an alternative vet.

Don’t be trapped with those expensive tests offered by your vet either. If in one test the problem is still not found, and in additional blood test there’s no clear diagnose as well, your vet may offer further test which is usually far from the root of the problem. Spinal fluid test, or MRI, is commonly not needed.

Next, you should always follow up the treatment and care. In some cases, permanent medication is what you get for your cat. Phenobarbital is a common drug used in seizure (but this should be prescribed by a vet). Giving your cat phenobarbital twice a day for a certain period of time sometimes is enough.

If regular medication is needed in the treatment, don’t ever forget to put that time on your daily schedule. Never discontinue the medication without the instruction of the vet or before the recommended period of time.

The Treatment

treatment of seizures in cats

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The treatment is usually not given until the seizure becomes severe or there are some seizures at one time, so the patter can be observed. Observing the pattern of your cat’s seizure is important to find the right treatment for it. Keep in mind that the treatment is not curative. The aim of treatment is to decrease the duration, severity, and frequency of the seizure.

Usually the medications are oral. And since each cat has different reaction to the given medication, the vet may have to try several types of drugs or even combination to find the right one. Most cats become drowsy after the medication.

The common drugs used to control seizure is phenobarbital and potassium bromide (KBr). Usually, the vet prescribes them both as a combination or singly. The treatment should be given everyday, and the blood levels should also be observed regularly. Before using phenobarbital, laboratory testing is needed.

Never skip or decrease the doze of drugs without vet’s instruction because it can lead to even more severe seizure. Other drugs that are commonly used for controlling seizures are clonazepa, gabapentin, and primidone. Those should be purchased based on vet’s prescription.

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