Feline Seizures and Epilepsy. Seizures are a serious problem, and a cat that has had a seizure should be taken to a veterinarian for proper diagnosis. A proper diagnosis may be expensive and may take some time, but there is usually an underlying cause that can be eliminated or appropriate treatment that can be prescribed.
What is Epilepsy? It is important to understand the difference between epilepsy and seizures. Seizures, which range from unusual mood swings to uncontrollable thrashing and loss of body control, are symptoms of a disease. Causes of seizures include infections, tumors, toxic chemicals, and epilepsy. Most seizures in cats have a cause other than epilepsy. It's most useful to think of epilepsy as a word for seizures for which no other cause has been found. You will sometimes see epilepsy divided into idiopathic, or primary, epilepsy; and symptomatic, or secondary, epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy is the term used for seizures that appear to have no other cause. Symptomatic epilepsy refers to seizures caused by an underlying condition. Regardless of the terms used, the primary goal when treating a cat with seizures is to identify the disease causing the seizures, assuming it is epilepsy only if no other cause can be found.
Seizures should not go untreated. There are risks of choking during a seizure, and more importantly, the seizures may be symptomatic of an underlying disease that can and should be treated. Anti-convulsant drugs may be effective in controlling the seizures, depending on the exact diagnosis. If you observe your cat having what you believe is a seizure, the most important thing to do is to observe every detail you can about it so it can be described to your vet. Frequently, your vet will never actually be able to observe your cat having a seizure, so your description is important to the diagnosis. Try to observe breathing patterns; paddling, motion, or rigidness of limbs; eye dilation or motion; salivation; body twisting; muscle twitching; and duration. It is important to observe which parts of the body are involved. After the seizure is over, your presence and attention will probably comfort your cat as it regains consciousness.
Please note that there is an incredibly wide range of symptoms associated with seizures. Generalized convulsions are rare in cats. More common is the "partial complex seizure," which involves an "altered consciousness" and can involve anything from a lack of motion to bizarre behavior such as attacking invisible objects or frantic running and collisions with objects. If a cat is having a single prolonged seizure, continuous seizures without recovery between them, or two or more isolated seizures within 24 hours, seek medical attention immediately. Aggressive treatment is recommended, usually intravenous dosage of diazepam.
Diagnosis. Your close observation and careful description will help your vet make a diagnosis. Specifically, partial motor seizures are more indicative of symptomatic epilepsy (suggesting an underlying disease), while idiopathic epilepsy usually manifests itself in strictly generalized seizures. This distinction is not conclusive; it is just one piece of evidence to be considered. A complete physical and neurological examination should be performed on any cat with seizures. Often blood tests are indicated to detect any generalized illness that may be causing the seizures. Based on these results, further tests may be indicated. These may include analysis of spinal fluid to detect encephalitis and imaging procedures, to detect lesions such as tumors. You should be aware that few vets have any experience with seizures in cats. They are rare, compared with seizures in dogs. Ask your vet questions about what tests they are considering and what your options are. A vet should not be offended if you get a second opinion. If your vet cannot find any cause of the seizures and has not done bloodwork, you should be concerned.
Treatment If a disease is found to be causing the seizures, the best treatment is to remove or correct the underlying problem. The success of such treatment depends on your vet's ability to identify and treat the disease or remove the growth that is causing the seizures. For example, surgery is often effective for some tumors in cats. If the diagnosis is epilepsy or if the underlying disease is difficult to treat and/or not becoming worse, then the usual therapy is to control the seizures with anti-convulsant drugs. Phenobarbital is considered the initial drug of choice for feline epilepsy. Diazepam (valium) may also be effective but sometimes causes liver problems. The dosage must be adjusted individually to minimize side-effects. Again, this will require your careful observation; you will want to find the lowest dosage that will control the seizures. Potassium Bromide is also being used to treat epilepsy, particularly in cases where liver problems or ineffectiveness may prevent phenobarbital from being used to eliminate the seizures. Some people have suggested that a taurine deficiency may cause seizures. However, it is certainly true that a cat having seizures should be fed a balanced diet that supplies adequate taurine. The success of treating your cat's seizures depends on the cause of the seizures and the cat's response to medication. This is a difficult condition to diagnose, so it may take several trips to the vet as different diagnostic paths are pursued.
What You Can Do Take your cat to a veterinarian. If your cat has had one seizure, you should call and make an appointment. If your cat has had more than one seizure in 24 hours, find a vet IMMEDIATELY. Learn about seizures and epilepsy. Feline epilepsy is rare, so many vets are unfamiliar with it. Bloodwork should always be done, and phenobarbital is generally prescribed when no other problem is evident. Seizures, or the disease causing them, can be fatal if not treated properly. Decide what your limits are. The decision of what lengths to go to is an issue between a pet owner and veterinarians.