What Do Cat Seizures Look Like? A Comprehensive Guide

What Do Cat Seizures Look Like? A Comprehensive Guide

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Witnessing your beloved feline companion experiencing a seizure can be an incredibly distressing event. If your cat had a seizure for the first time, it’s crucial to understand what happened, why it happened, and what you can do to help. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a cat seizure, understanding what happens during a seizure, and being aware of the possible causes can help you react efficiently and ensure your cat’s safety during these episodes.

What is a Seizure?

A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. It can cause changes in behavior, movements, feelings, and levels of consciousness. In cats, seizures can manifest in various ways, such as sudden bouts of shaking, loss of consciousness, or unusual behavior like uncontrolled urination or salivation.

Understanding Seizures and Uncontrollable Twitching in Cats

Just as in humans, seizures in cats are caused by sudden, excessive electrical activity in the brain. This surge in electrical activity results in uncontrollable muscle activity, manifesting as twitching, shaking, and spasms. Seizures can affect up to 2% of all cats, and they can appear dramatically, lasting from a few seconds to several minutes. Despite the intensity of their appearance, it’s important to note that the cat is typically not in pain during these episodes.

Epilepsy, a term you may have come across, is used to describe repeated episodes of seizures. Epilepsy can cause single seizure episodes or cluster seizures, which can occur at random, unpredictable intervals or in regular sequences.

Why Do Cats Have Seizures?

Seizures in cats can be caused by a variety of factors. Some common causes include:

  • Epilepsy: This is a neurological disorder that can cause recurrent seizures. It can be genetic or acquired due to brain damage from trauma or infection.
  • Toxins: Exposure to certain chemicals or toxic plants can lead to seizures.
  • Metabolic Disorders: Conditions like liver disease or kidney failure can cause seizures.
  • Brain Tumors: Tumors in the brain can cause seizures by disrupting normal brain activity.
  • Head Trauma: Violent injury to the head can cause physical damage to the brain which may result in seizures.
  • Inflammation: Inflammation of the brain or spinal cord can put pressure on the brain.
  • Disease: Feline leukemia, FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), and FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) can also trigger seizures.
  • Kidney or Liver Disease: Cats with kidney or liver disease may experience seizures due to the buildup of toxins in their bloodstream that affect the brain. Find our more from our article on CBD Oil for Cats with Kidney Disease.
  • Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause seizures in cats. This can occur in diabetic cats if their insulin dose is too high.
  • Hyperthermia: Overheating or hyperthermia can lead to seizures in cats. This is especially a risk in hot weather if a cat doesn’t have access to shade or water.

Remember that while seizures are a cause for concern, they are treatable and manageable with veterinary care. If your cat experiences a seizure, it is important to seek immediate veterinary assistance. Be prepared to provide your vet with as much information as possible about the seizure, including its duration, symptoms, and any potential triggers. This will help your vet determine the cause of the seizure and formulate an effective treatment plan.

Types of Seizures in Cats

Most commonly, seizures in cats are referred to as generalized or focal.

Generalized Seizures: These are caused by uncontrolled electrical activity in the entire cerebral cortex, affecting the entire body of the cat.

Focal Seizures: These are caused by uncontrolled electrical activity in a smaller, localized area of the cerebral cortex and are isolated to specific body parts. Focal seizures are also referred to as partial seizures.

Additionally, generalized seizures in cats are generally classified into two types: petit mal and grand mal.

Petit Mal Seizures: These do not cause convulsions. Typically, the cat will suddenly collapse into an unconscious state.

Grand Mal Seizures: These cause the cat to fall on their side and experience muscle convulsions. Grand mal seizures are diagnosed much more frequently than petit mal seizures. Importantly, neither petit mal nor grand mal seizures will cause your feline to experience any pain, but they will often be confused and disoriented once the seizure passes.

Symptoms of Cat Seizures

The symptoms of a seizure can vary depending on whether it’s a focal seizure or a generalized seizure. Focal seizures are when the excessive electrical activity is localized to a small part of the brain, resulting in exaggerated reactions in an isolated part of the cat’s body. These can include twitching of the eyelids or face, excessive drooling, loud vocalizations, disorientation, abnormal head or neck movements, and changes in behavior.

On the other hand, generalized seizures impact the entire body. Before the onset of a generalized seizure, your cat might appear nervous, shake, whine, seek out their humans, or hide. During the seizure itself, the cat may fall over, lose consciousness, shake uncontrollably, have their head drawn backward, make loud sounds as their throat muscles contract, and involuntarily empty their bladder and bowels. After the seizure, the cat may appear confused and disoriented, pace around, and in some cases, experience temporary blindness.

Stages of a Cat Seizure

Being able to identify the stages of a seizure is important information for cat owners. In fact, there are certain symptoms that serve as warning signs that a seizure is about to occur.

Preictal State or Aura State: This phase occurs just moments before the seizure happens. During this phase, your cat may exhibit behavioral changes such as pacing, walking in circles, vomiting, and yowling. Some cats may actively seek out their owners while others may hide. This phase only lasts a few seconds but recognizing the signs can help cat owners act quickly.

Seizure Phase: During a generalized seizure, cats typically fall to one side and become stiff. Then, the convulsions begin, and the cat will experience uncontrollable muscle contractions, which may cause ridged jerking motions, paddling feet, snapping of the jaw, and other similar actions. Your cat may also lose control of their bowels and defecate or urinate during a seizure. Typically, the seizure phase lasts one to two minutes. If the seizure lasts more than five minutes, immediate medical attention is vital.

Postictal State: This state occurs after the seizure. In this state, the cat may have temporary paralysis in one or more of their limbs. They will also be extremely disoriented and confused, especially if they involuntarily urinated or defecated during the seizure. It is also normal for your cat to seem like they lost their vision, vomit, or have other behavioral changes.

Symptoms of Focal Seizures: The symptoms of focal seizures differ from those of generalized seizures. In focal seizures, the cat will often cry out as if they are in pain. Cats can also exhibit behavioral changes and become aggressive, even if they are usually sweet-mannered. Focal seizures can also cause excessive salivation and drooling along with other atypical behavior.

What to Do If Your Cat Has a Seizure

If your cat has a seizure, it’s important to stay calm and ensure their safety. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Keep Your Distance: During a seizure, your cat might unintentionally harm you. Keep a safe distance but stay close to monitor the situation. Avoid touching your cat.
  2. Time the Seizure: Note the duration of the seizure. If it lasts more than five minutes, it’s a medical emergency.
  3. Remove Dangerous Objects: If possible, remove any objects that your cat could hurt themselves on during the seizure, and make sure they are not near stairs or a place they could fall and get hurt.

After a seizure, call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment, regardless of the length or severity of the seizure. If the seizure lasted longer than 5 minutes, take your cat to the emergency veterinarian immediately. Monitor your cat as they may experience more seizures in a row or have a post-seizure recovery time. Keep a log of each seizure episode, noting the time it occurred, its duration, the symptoms observed, and any behaviors the cat exhibited before and after. This can help in understanding your cat’s condition and aiding in their treatment.

If your cat has a seizure while sleeping, you can read more about that in our article on How to Deal with a Sleeping Cat Having a Seizure.

How are Cat Seizures Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of seizures in cats typically involves a thorough examination of their medical history, physical examination, and various diagnostic tests such as blood tests, MRI, or CT scan.

These tests help rule out seizure-related disorders linked to the liver, kidneys, and blood sugar levels, among others. If these initial tests come back normal, further investigation may be required, especially if your cat’s seizures are severe or frequent. This might involve tests like a spinal fluid tap and fluid analysis, CAT scan, or MRI. It’s also important to tell your vet if your cat had a recent trauma, illness, or showed any behavioral changes prior to the seizure that might have seemed unrelated at the time.

Diagnosis, Prevention, and Treatment

If your cat has experienced a single seizure, treatment might not be necessary. However, if the convulsions lasted more than 5 minutes, or if your cat has several seizures over a short period of time, treatment could be necessary. Seizures can often be managed with medication.

The treatment will depend on the underlying cause. It may involve medication to control seizures, dietary changes, or in some cases, surgery. Anti-seizure medication, like phenobarbital, can be prescribed to decrease both the frequency and severity of seizures, particularly if they are due to a brain disease. If your cat’s seizures are due to metabolic issues, like low blood sugar or liver disease, managing the underlying condition can help reduce the frequency of seizures. If toxins are the cause, ensure any any poisons are removed from your cat’s environment.

For a deeper understanding of cat seizures, their causes, symptoms, and potential treatments, you can refer to our comprehensive guide 'Cat Seizures: Everything You Need to Know'. This resource provides a detailed overview, shedding light on how to provide the best care for your feline companion dealing with seizures.


Experiencing your cat’s first seizure can be a distressing event. However, with the right knowledge and approach, you can ensure your feline friend gets the help they need. Most cats recover well afterward. It’s important to stay calm during the episode, keep a close eye on your cat, and schedule a veterinary appointment. Depending on the underlying conditions causing your cat’s seizures, your vet will recommend the necessary treatment, which could include anti-seizure medication to manage the frequency and severity of your cat’s seizures.

By understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatments for seizures in cats, you can be better prepared to help your pet during these episodes and work towards preventing them from happening in the future.

Always remember that while the internet can provide a wealth of information, nothing can replace the advice and treatment provided by a qualified veterinarian. If your cat is experiencing seizures or uncontrollable twitching, please seek professional medical advice.

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