Focal Seizures in Cats

There are two primary types of seizures in cats: focal seizures and generalized seizures. Both types of seizures are recognized as epileptic conditions, but the differentiation between focal and generalized seizures is made based on which area of the cat’s brain is affected. About 0.5% of all cats are affected by epilepsy, and of this percentage, approximately 40% to 50% experience focal seizures.

Focal Seizures Explained

Regardless of the true initial cause, it is important to remember that all seizures are caused by irregular electrical activity in a cat’s brain. The location of this activity, however, is important in determining how it will affect the cat. Focal seizures in cats occur as the result of inappropriate electrical activity in one cerebral hemisphere, or one side of the brain.

Focal seizures can further be delineated as either simple focal seizures or complex focal seizures. When a cat experiences a simple focal seizure, the cat will remain conscious during the event and may exhibit a bit of uncertainly about its surroundings. However, with complex focal seizures, the cat will completely loose consciousness, become completely unaware, and have no recollection of the event.

In general, there are 3 stages that occur with focal seizures in cats. The first stage is called the aura stage. This stage occurs immediately preceding the seizure and can last for hours. During this time, it is not uncommon for cats to exhibit abnormally strange behavior or an abrupt change in attitude. The second stage is the known as the ictus stage. This is when the seizure actually occurs. The third stage, the post-ictal stage, occurs in the aftermath of the seizure, and the cat may appear disoriented as it tries to regain consciousness and alertness.

Causes of Focal Seizures

The most common cause of focal seizures in cats is a hereditary inheritance of the condition. There are, however, specific medical conditions which affect electrical activity within a cat’s brain when left untreated, including:

  • Encephalitis
  • Brain tumors
  • Viral illnesses
  • Chemical poisoning
  • Rabies
  • Advanced kidney failure

Additionally, certain medications like phenytoin, a medication used to control seizures, is actually toxic to cats. Not only can the use of this medication be life-threatening to cats, it also increases the severity of the focal seizures.

Signs and Symptoms of Cat Focal Seizures

Depending on the severity and duration of the focal seizure, it could be considered a medical emergency. Cats experiencing a focal seizure for longer than 15 minutes need immediate medical attention because they can have difficulty breathing during the event. For this reason, it is overtly important that cat owners be aware of the signs and symptoms of focal seizures in cats, which include:

  • Twitching of the face or ears
  • Excessively biting a specific area of the body
  • Excessive salivation/drooling
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Running in circles
  • Snapping at the air

Focal seizures in cats are often mistaken for strange behavior, but if this is not normal for your cat, it is important to consider the possibility of a focal seizure.