A closer look: Epilepsy in Cats
Epilepsy is a chronic disorder characterized by repeated seizures happening over weeks, months, or years. Epilepsy is either primary or acquired. Primary epilepsy appears spontaneously (or may be present from birth) and is very rare in cats.
Acquired epilepsy occurs secondarily to other underlying medical conditions, and an affected cat will present with symptoms appropriate to that condition between seizures.
A cat’s quality of life may worsen if the seizures are hard to control. Epilepsy is rare in cats and of greater concern compared to dogs because it’s usually caused by an underlying illness as opposed to being a genetic disorder.
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While epileptics have recurring seizures, it's important to understand that there are also a variety of other causes of seizures and any initial incidence of a seizure should be considered an emergency. A pet who has been diagnosed with epilepsy, however, is expected to have seizures from time to time throughout its life. These seizures are not expected to be life threatening or dangerous, but it is important for pet parents who have a cat diagnosed with epilepsy to know which individual seizure characteristics have the potential to be an emergency. Most notably, a seizure lasting more than three minutes or the occurrence of more than three seizures in 24 hours are considered emergencies, even in a diagnosed epileptic cat.
Primary epilepsy has no obvious structural brain disease or apparent cause. The cat is usually completely asymptomatic between seizures, and the condition is idiopathic (has no known cause).
Acquired epilepsy is the more common form in cats, with seizures occurring as a result of an underlying disorder or abnormality. Depending on the underlying condition, the cat may have other symptoms between seizures, and the prognosis is more variable.
Epilepsy is characterized by seizures occurring repeatedly over time. A cat experiencing a seizure exhibits an abnormal posture, unusual vocalizations, drooling or twitching, convulsions, a potential loss of consciousness, chewing, twitching, salivating, and potential uncontrolled defecation or urination.
Testing and diagnosis
Diagnostics to determine epilepsy are varied, and include
- Physical examination
- EEG (an electric study of the brain)
- Diagnostic imaging
- Referral to a neurologist
Steps to Recovery
If seizures are mild or infrequent, no treatment may be needed. Otherwise, anti-seizure medication is provided to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures, although medication may not fully eliminate them.
A cat with acquired epilepsy will need treatment targeted at the underlying cause.
Epilepsy is usually a lifelong condition. Determining the appropriate medication and dosage can be a prolonged process. The goal of treatment is to reduce the frequency and severity of the seizures to maintain good quality of life. Note: some medications are contraindicated for use in epileptics. Attending veterinary staff should always be informed of any existing diagnoses in a pet’s medical history when seeking medical care.
As an idiopathic condition, primary epilepsy cannot be actively prevented, and the causes of secondary epilepsy are too varied for there to be specific action to take. Epilepsy is not contagious
Avoiding breeding cats with a history of epilepsy prevents cat parents from passing on any genetic abnormalities. Beyond that, staying up to date on vaccinations and regular veterinary check ups are beneficial to identify any potential health problems early.
Is Epilepsy in Cats common?
Epilepsy is very rare in cats and more likely to be acquired than primary.
- Referral to neurologist