Epilepsy in Cats

Key Takeaways

Epilepsy is a chronic neurologic disorder characterized by repeated seizures happening over weeks, months, or years. 

• Epilepsy is quite rare in cats, and the cause of the condition cannot always be determined

• Epilepsy may arise spontaneously, or occur secondarily to another illness or injury, which can seriously impact prognosis

• Diagnostics include bloodwork and diagnostic imaging

• In some cases, a cat may benefit from a referral to a neurologist

• The condition is usually lifelong and requires daily medication

• A cat with epilepsy is often asymptomatic between seizures

• The goal of treatment is to reduce the frequency and severity of the seizures to maintain good quality of life

A Closer Look: What is 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. Common examples include

Yellowed skin/gums (Jaundice)VomitingDiarrheaWeight loss • Hiding

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.

Risk Factors

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 24h are considered emergencies, even in a diagnosed epileptic cat.

Possible Causes

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. Causes of acquired epilepsy in cats include:  

• Liver Disease • Toxicosis • Metabolic Diseases, such as poorly managed diabetes • Tumor • Inflammation

• Infection (encephalitis) • Head injury • Stroke

Main Symptoms

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 • Bloodwork • 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.

Prevention

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 Common in Cats?

Epilepsy is very rare in cats and more likely to be acquired than primary.

Typical Treatment

• Medication • Referral to neurologist

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