Treating Cat Epilepsy

Tess Thompson

Epilepsy is commonly known as a seizure disorder. Complex partial seizures are a more common form of feline seizures as compared to general convulsions, which are more frequent in dogs. The symptoms and duration of a seizure depends on the intensity of the episode. Although mild to moderate seizures do not pose a hazard to the cat, status epilepictus (prolonged seizures) is a condition which lasts for hours and can be life-threatening.

Epilepsy is normally classified as primary or idiopathic (without a known cause) or secondary (caused due to a physiological disease or head trauma). Infrequent and mild forms of seizures are known as Partial Motor Seizures or petit mal seizures. These effect specific groups of muscles and normally last for a minute or so. A total unconscious state and loss of body movement that lasts for up to five minutes is known as Major Motor Seizures or grand mal seizures.

Complex Partial Seizures are characterized by conspicuous unusual behaviors or a complete lack of movement, accompanied by excessive salivation and facial tics. These types of epileptic attacks involve a greater degree of alteration in consciousness.

If an underlying disease can be identified as the cause of the seizures, the best mode of treatment is to remove the problem. However, feline epilepsy can be idiopathic, which compels the veterinarian to opt for a generalized treatment regimen. In many cases, neurological disorders may only be known after autopsy.

Anticonvulsants are the preferred mode of treatment for feline epilepsy. Generally, anticonvulsants are prescribed for an initial period of a week or two. It is important to avoid abrupt discontinuation, and medication should be tapered off gradually if no epileptic seizures are observed during the period. In such cases, the next episode may not occur for a long period. However, when and if it does, the next treatment needs to be re-determined. The veterinarian may advise continuous treatment with anticonvulsants if the cat suffers from frequent and periodic attacks, or if seizures last for more than one minute at a time.

Phenobarbital is a long-acting barbiturate that is used as a sedative. It remains the first preference of anticonvulsant treatment of feline seizures. Minor changes in dosage of Phenobarbital can bring about major changes in blood levels, causing sedation or rendering the drug ineffective. Cats that do not respond well to Phenobarbital are treated with Diazepam, a tranquilizer used to relieve anxiety and relax muscles.

Phenobarbital and Diazepam are generally considered to be safe drugs for treating cats. However, as with all conventional medication, there are side effects associated with anticonvulsants. Common side effects include sedation, lack of coordination of movements, and an increase in thirst and urination. Some other side effects that may appear in some cats include:

  • Allergic reactions like low platelet and white blood cell count
  • Temporary facial swelling
  • Disorders associated with blood clotting

Feline epilepsy can also be caused by meningoencephalitis, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and their meninges. It is extremely difficult to confirm the prevalence of such neurological disorders. Cats suffering from seizure due to these reasons respond well to corticosteroids if Phenobarbital proves ineffective.


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