What a Cat Seizure Looks Like: Pics, Videos & Vet Advice

Seeing your cat having a seizure is scary for owners. Sometimes identifying seizures is straightforward, but the symptoms of seizures can also be challenging to recognize. Unresponsiveness and full-body twitching (convulsions) are typical examples of seizures. However, other forms include twitching on one part of the body or unusual behaviors like vocalizing or excessive drooling.

Identifying a seizure in your cat is the first step to understanding why it happened and how to prevent future seizures.

Two types of seizures (generalized & focal)

Seizures are caused by sudden and uncontrolled electrical signaling in the brain. The part of the brain affected by the electrical disturbance determines the type of seizure you will witness in your cat. Differentiating the type of seizures helps determine possible causes and treatments. There are two primary categories of seizures:

  1. Generalized seizure – Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain and result in symptoms affecting the entire body and usually cause your cat to be unresponsive.
  1. Focal or partial seizures – Focal seizures affect one area of the brain and subsequently affect only a portion of the body. This makes focal seizures challenging to diagnose and recognize. Focal seizures can also spread to other areas of the brain and cause generalized seizures.

What does a cat seizure look like? How to know if your cat is having a seizure.

In this section, we will review several videos and photos of cats having seizures. We will present this information by seizure type because the signs can vary a lot depending on your cat’s type of seizure. Let’s start with generalized seizures:

1. What does a generalized seizure look like?

Signs of a generalized seizure usually affect the entire body and can involve the following signs or symptoms:

  • Falling over to the side

cat falling over to the side

  • Whole body twitching or convulsing: involving the head and limbs

cat face twitching

  • Unconsciousness – your cat becomes unresponsive to sound and touch
  • Defecating or urinating involuntarily
  • Chewing or teeth chattering
  • Loud vocalizations
  • Excessive drooling

Video examples of generalized seizures in cats:

Here is a second video showing a generalized seizure:

Here is a third (and last) video: 

 

2. What does a focal (“partial”) seizure look like? 

Focal seizures can be more challenging to recognize because they involve various signs and don’t always look the same. Sometimes a focal seizure is obvious, but the symptoms can also be very subtle. Cats do not usually lose consciousness during a focal seizure. So what are the signs that your cat is experiencing a focal seizure? You may notice any of the following:

  • Repeated whisker, eyelid, or ear twitching
  • Twitching of one limb or both limbs on the same side of the body
  • A sudden change in behavior that may seem erratic or aggressive
  • A feeling that your cat is “staring off into the distance”
  • Excessive drooling

cat's excessive drooling

  • Repeated swallowing
  • Abnormal vocalizations

Video examples of focal seizures in cats: 

Below is a second video showing a focal seizure: 

 

 And finally a third and last example: 

 

How do I know my cat is having a seizure? The top signs

In addition to the seizure episode (generalized vs focal), most cats act differently before and after a generalized seizure occurs. These stages are called the pre-ictal (before the seizure) and post-ictal (after the seizure) phases. The seizure itself is called the ictal phase. The pre-ictal and post-ictal phases can last several minutes to a few hours.

Each stage of the seizure has different symptoms, and learning the signs for all stages will help you identify, anticipate, and understand what to expect when your cat has a seizure.

1. Signs before the seizure (Pre-ictal):

  • Hiding
  • Being more affectionate or clingy towards you
  • Trembling
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Seeming confused or disoriented

2. Signs during the seizure (Ictal):

  • Falling over to the side
  • Whole body twitching or convulsing involving the head and limbs
  • Unconsciousness – your cat becomes unresponsive to sound and touch
  • Defecating or urinating involuntarily
  • Chewing or teeth chattering
  • Vocalizing loudly
  • Excessive drooling

3. Signs after the seizure (Post-ictal):

  • Temporary blindness
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Sleepiness
  • Excessive hunger or thirst

What does a life-threatening seizure look like?

Thankfully, most seizures in cats are not life-threatening. Focal seizures are rarely life-threatening, but sometimes generalized seizures are an emergency. In general, two serious situations may indicate your cat is having a life-threatening seizure:

  1. The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes (try to time the seizure if possible),

OR

  1. Your cat has had two or more seizures (of any length) within 24 hours

These are guidelines that most veterinarians will use when determining if a seizure is a medical emergency. However, It’s important to remember that many different illnesses can cause seizures. While these are general guidelines, your cat’s case may be more complex depending on their medical history.

What does a minor seizure look like? Signs that your cat’s seizure is less severe.

While a seizure is always a cause of concern, certain seizures are less severe than others and do not necessarily indicate an emergency. Usually, generalized seizures that last less than 2 minutes and focal seizures are more “minor” and less concerning than more prolonged or severe seizures.

These are general guidelines, and your cat’s seizure may be more complex depending on their medical history. Contacting your veterinarian is always recommended when your cat has a seizure.

Some diseases can mimic seizures

There are some diseases in cats that are often mistaken for a seizure. Some common examples include:

Taking a video of your cat’s seizure to show to your veterinarian can help diagnose and classify the seizure.

What should I do during and after my cat’s seizure?

1. Remain calm

Watching your cat having a seizure is distressing. Being in the right mindset will help you make the best decisions for them during and after a seizure.

2. Ensure your cat is in a safe area

During and after a seizure, ensure your cat is in an area where they cannot fall off a high surface or near something that could hurt them. If you need to move your cat while they are seizing, try to wrap them in a blanket or towel to avoid getting bit or scratched accidentally.

3. Record the seizure

Once you are confident your cat is in a safe location, capture a video of the seizure with your phone. A video will be helpful for your veterinarian to review. Also, write down the date, time, and duration of the seizure.

4. Create a calm environment

After the seizure ends, your cat will probably feel tired and confused. Speak in low, soft tones and turn down lights in bright areas to help calm them. Your cat may go to a safe place to hide and recover. Stay nearby so you can continue to watch them. Your cat may also feel thirsty after a seizure.

5. Monitor for more seizures

After a seizure, monitor your cat closely for more seizures. Having multiple seizures in a short period of time (“cluster seizures”) is an emergency.

6. Contact your veterinarian

When the seizure ends, contact your veterinarian if possible. They will advise you about what to do next, which may include going to an emergency room, seeing your regular veterinarian, adjusting medication doses, or monitoring at home.

When do you take your cat to the vet for a seizure?

A cat having a check-up at a small animal vet clinic

Always schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible for first-time seizures. For most first-time seizures, veterinarians typically recommend a physical exam, including a complete neurologic exam, and blood work. Depending on these results, further diagnostics, including MRI, CT scan, or spinal tap with a veterinary neurologist, may also be recommended.

Go to your regular veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian immediately if:

  • Your cat has a seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes, or
  • Has had multiple seizures within 24 hours, or
  • You suspect your cat is having seizures because they ate something toxic

What causes seizures in cats?

Many different illnesses cause seizures in cats. Seizures may originate from an issue with the brain itself, or from disease in other areas of the body that can affect the brain.

The most common reason for seizures in cats are:

  • Epilepsy
  • Toxins
  • Infection, trauma, or cancer of the brain
  • High blood pressure
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Severe liver or kidney disease

What are the treatments for seizures in cats?

Seizures do not always require treatment, but if they last too long or occur too frequently, treatment is usually recommended. Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the seizure.

If your cat is actively having a seizure, benzodiazepine medications, such as diazepam or midazolam, are used to stop the seizure. Your veterinarian may prescribe these medications if your cat has a history of seizures and you need to stop one at home.

Other medications are prescribed to help decrease the likelihood of your cat having more seizures in the future. Epilepsy, one of the more common causes of seizures in cats, is usually treated with anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Commonly prescribed AEDs in cats are:

Treatment for epilepsy is usually lifelong. Your veterinarian will likely recommend annual or bi-annual monitoring lab work if your cat is on an antiepileptic drug.

Frequently asked questions

Are seizures painful for cats?

No, seizures are not painful. Although cats can cry out and appear confused and disoriented during a seizure, it does not cause them pain. These signs are a reaction to a large amount of electrical activity happening in the brain.

Is there a cure for seizures in cats?

Most seizures in cats are not curable. Usually, seizures are managed with medications to decrease how frequently they happen and how long they last. Some cats may have one seizure their entire life but never have another and do not require treatment.

What is the cost of treating seizures in cats?

The cost of treating seizures depends on the underlying cause of the seizure. Your veterinarian will usually recommend an exam and blood work for first-time seizures. This typically costs a couple of hundred dollars. If your cat requires hospitalization for their seizures, or if your veterinarian recommends consulting with a veterinary neurologist for more diagnostics (MRI or spinal tap), it may range into thousands of dollars. The price of anti-seizure medications for cats varies depending on the recommended medication.

What to watch for after a cat has a seizure?

Your cat will likely feel disoriented and confused after a seizure. Ensure they are in a safe place- away from areas where they could fall and hurt themselves. Watch your cat closely over the next several hours to ensure they do not have more seizures in a short amount of time.

Can a focal seizure evolve into a generalized seizure?

Yes, a focal seizure can become a generalized seizure. Tell your veterinarian if you suspect your cat has focal seizures, as they can worsen over time and become generalized depending on the underlying cause. Taking notes or a video of the symptoms you notice during the seizure will help your veterinarian determine appropriate diagnostics and treatment.

Author

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  • Dr. Ellen Russell, Veterinarian

    Dr. Ellen Russell graduated from Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (Virginia Tech) in 2019 with a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM). She currently practices small animal medicine in Richmond, Virginia, and has a special interest in feline medicine, especially behavior and senior care.

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