Vet Q&As: What to know about epilepsy in cats

by PDSA | 21 May

Did you know? Epilepsy doesn’t just affect dogs. Any pet, including our feline friends, can develop the condition.

Knowing what causes epilepsy and how to best care for your cat if diagnosed with the condition will help improve their overall health and happiness.

To help you, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions about epilepsy in cats, including causes, symptoms, and treatment.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes pets to have seizures (sometimes called ‘fits’).

Key facts about epilepsy in cats:

  • It’s less common in cats than it is in dogs.
  • It cannot spread between cats or from cats to people or other pets in the household.
  • Cats with the condition tend to be adult to middle-aged.
  • Depending on the cause, there may be no cure for epilepsy. However, many cats with epilepsy lead normal, happy lives by taking regular medication to help control it.

What causes epilepsy in cats?

Cats experience a seizure when there’s abnormal electrical activity in their brain. This can cause them to lose control of their muscles.

Sometimes, a cat’s seizure can be caused by something happening within the structure of their brain (intracranial epilepsy). For example, head trauma (e.g. from a road traffic accident), a brain tumour, or a stroke can all cause seizures.

Sometimes, no underlying cause is found. This is known as idiopathic epilepsy. Cats with idiopathic epilepsy can have their first seizure at any age, but it does tend to happen earlier in life.

However, problems outside the brain can also cause seizures (extracranial epilepsy). Examples include:

How does epilepsy differ from a seizure?

Epilepsy is the term used to describe a condition whereby a cat has repeated seizures. They may experience one seizure at a time or have cluster seizures (several seizures in a short period of time).

If your cat has one seizure, it’s likely a one-off event and not considered epilepsy.

What are the signs that my cat is having a seizure?

If your cat is about to have a seizure, you might notice them behaving strangely. They may stare into the distance and seem confused or nervous. If your cat has been diagnosed with epilepsy and has regular fits, you may eventually be able to recognise when they’re about to happen.

As your cat begins to fit, they may:

  • Suddenly collapse and lose consciousness.
  • Tremble or jerk.
  • Make noises.
  • Clamp their jaw.
  • Pass wee or poo.
  • Twitch their eyes or face.
  • Not react or respond to you.

Some cats might have partial seizures, which means only part of the body is affected. Unlike dogs, who tend to show most of these signs every time they have a seizure, cats may only show one or two, which can be harder to recognise.

Usually, seizures come on suddenly and last for a few minutes.

A cat lying down on the floor and looking off into the distance.

What should I do if my cat is having a seizure?

Seizures are typically not life-threatening, but your pet may completely lose control of their body. As their owner, it can be frightening and upsetting to watch. However, it’s important that you stay calm and follow these steps:

  1. Don’t move them unless they’re in danger: you should only move your cat if they risk hurting themselves (e.g. by falling from height onto a hard surface). If you need to move your cat, protect yourself using a thick towel, blanket, or gloves – cats may unintentionally bite or scratch during a seizure.
  2. Call your vet if your cat’s seizure lasts over two minutes or if they have more than one in 24 hours. Otherwise, call them once your cat has started to come around. Prolonged seizures are dangerous; if left untreated, they can cause brain damage and put your pet's life at risk. Depending on the severity and frequency of your cat’s seizure, they may ask you to bring them to the vet immediately or monitor them at home.
  3. Create a calm space: Don’t crowd around your cat or allow other people or pets to get near to them while they’re fitting. Clear the space around them so they can’t hurt themselves. Turn down the lights and limit all noise so the room becomes darker, calm, and quiet.
  4. Time or record the seizure: After you’ve ensured your cat’s safety, it’s a good idea to note how long the seizure lasts. If you can, film them. Although it’s distressing, it can be helpful to show this footage to your vet so they can better understand the severity and nature of your cat’s seizures.
  5. Reassure them as they recover: When your cat comes around from the seizure, they may seem disorientated, scared, and confused. Reassure them by talking to them in a slow, gentle manner but give them space and a comfortable place to rest. Some cats may feel hungry or thirsty, so have a small amount of water and food nearby, but do not force them to eat or drink if they don’t want to.

What do I do if I think my cat has epilepsy?

The first thing you must do if you think your cat has epilepsy is contact your vet.

If your cat has repeated seizures, your vet will advise performing tests to understand what may be causing them. This can include blood and urine tests, ultrasound, and more advanced imaging (e.g. an MRI brain scan, which is usually done at a specialist centre). Then, depending on the cause, your vet will discuss a suitable treatment plan with you.

Where there is an underlying issue, your vet will look to tackle that in the first instance. For example, if it’s found that your cat has low blood sugar, your vet will want to manage this and find out why it is happening.

Cats with epilepsy often need lifelong medication and regular check-ups to help manage their seizures. But it’s important to know that each cat and their response to medication can differ, so your vet may advise changing your cat’s medication or introducing additional ones until their condition is under control.

However, even with treatment, it’s not always possible to stop seizures entirely. In many cases, the goal is for your cat to have fewer seizures and improve their quality of life. If you are concerned about your cat’s epilepsy, contact your vet for advice.

Get your paws on our FREE Pet First Aid guide

Our vets have put together a special Pet First Aid guide with handy tips, advice, and steps to follow if your pet is in an emergency situation. For more information on what to do if your pet has a seizure – or steps to take if they become seriously ill or injured – download our free guide now.

Share this article on:  PDSA | 21 May


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