What Causes Seizures in Older Cats?

Just like people, some pets will suffer from seizures throughout their lives. Of household pets, dogs are the most likely to have seizures, as many suffer from Idiopathic Epilepsy. But cats can suffer from seizures too – especially older cats.

While Idiopathic Epilepsy is generally a lifelong condition that appears young in dogs and cats – up to about 4 years of age for cats – it is far less common in cats than it is in dogs. Only about 25% of cat seizures are attributed to Idiopathic Epilepsy.

Most seizures in cats are caused by brain disease and brain damage. Brain damage, of course, sounds scary. But not all brain damage is serious or life-threatening. Minor brain damage may be almost impossible to detect in cats – but it can also lead to seizures.

What are Seizures?

To understand why seizures are more common in older cats, you must understand how seizures work. Seizures are the result of abnormal electric activity in the brain. Put simply – seizures are caused by faulty wiring. Much like an electrical fire in your home, something goes haywire inside the brain and fires off energy when and where it should not.

This energy sends signals from the brain to the body, resulting in the odd and scary behavior cats display while seizing. The older a home or car’s electrical system is, the more likely it is fail. The same goes for cats. As a cat ages, his likelihood of experiencing seizures grows. But that doesn’t mean every old cat will have a seizure.

Causes of Seizures in Older Cats

Most cats will never experience a seizure in their lives. If you cat has experienced a seizure, it could be due to one of the following reasons:

Stroke

Strokes are one of the most common reasons for seizures in cats. A stroke is caused by bleeding in the brain, which can set off abnormal electric activity and send a cat into a seizure. Strokes attack a single side of the brain and body. If your cat has a seizure from a stroke, he will only show seizure symptoms on one side of its body. Older cats, like older people, are more likely to suffer from a stroke.

Head Trauma

Head trauma can spur a “focal” seizure in cats. Focal seizures happen in a specific part of the brain. Depending on where in the brain the trauma occurs, your cat may exhibit different symptoms during a seizure. Older cats are not more apt to experience head trauma – but they can be more susceptible to injury when trauma does occur.

Infections

Though rare, certain funguses and infections can cause seizures in cats. Some of these infections, like Feline Infectious Peritonitis, can be deadly. These infections can cause lesions on the brain, which can trigger seizures as they grow larger and exert more pressure on the brain.

Vascular Disease

Any conditional that limits the flow of blood to a cat’s the brain – like Feline Ischemic Encephalopathy, Polycythemia, and Hypertension – can lead to seizures. While vascular diseases can happen at any age, cats are more likely to develop them later in life.

Reactive Seizure Disorders

Not every stroke is the result of issues within the brain. In older cats, there are several disorders that don’t directly affect the brain, yet still cause seizures in older cats. These include hepatic encephalopathy (liver dysfunction), renal encephalopathy (kidney dysfunction), hypoglycemia (insulin overdose – most often from treatment for diabetes), and hyperthyroidism (metabolism issues).

Medications  

An overdose of medications can lead to seizures in cats. One of the most common mistakes pet owners make is to treat their cats with flea medicines meant for dogs, which can overwhelm the cat’s brain.

Will Your Older Cat Suffer from a Seizure?

Probably not. Seizures are not common in cats. While an older cat is more likely to experience seizures, his chances remain slight. The brain, and seizures, are difficult to study. Much remains unknown about why seizures happen, especially to cats.

If your older cat does have a seizure, he should be taken to a vet for diagnoses and treatment. And remember – most seizures have little to no long-term effects on cats. They may be just your cat’s warning sign letting you know that there are other issues that need treatment.

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