living with an epileptic cat

Understanding an epileptic cat

Discovering that your cat has epilepsy can raise many questions. Will everything have to change? Can your cat still have a good quality of life? It is completely normal to wonder how the epilepsy will affect both your cat’s life and yours.

Epilepsy is a complex, lifelong condition and requires close monitoring and treatment that may have to be adapted as the epilepsy evolves. But with the right treatment, epilepsy can be managed and, just as with any other pet, their days will be filled with playtime, cuddles and restful sleep. You may learn how to spot the early signs of a seizure (which can still occur despite treatment), and react appropriately. In this way, both you and your cat can find the right balance and enjoy your lives.
Here is some practical advice on helping an epileptic cat enjoy as normal a life as possible.

Stick to a regular schedule

Ensuring your cat’s schedule is as regular as possible can help reduce the risk factors of a seizure, especially stress. Any event that could lead to a change of routine for your cat (return to school after the holidays, travel, guests) should be planned in advance in order to minimise stress.


Give a suitable diet for epileptic cats

A common side effect of antiepileptic drugs is increased appetite. Make sure you weigh them often (once a month, or each time you visit the vet) so that you can identify any weight gain early and adjust their diet accordingly. Any change in diet should be done gradually, and it is recommended to speak with your vet to discuss the most appropriate food for your cat.


The right to play like a normal cat

Just because a cat has epilepsy, it doesn’t mean it can’t play. There is no reason why you can’t still have fun with your cat (e.g., playing with a ball or a toy mouse on a string), seizures rarely happen during exercise.


Regular check-ups with the vet

Epilepsy is a life-long condition and it is important to ensure regular check-ups (in a stable patient, these are typically every 3-6 months) with the vet to review the medication and monitor your cat’s health. This allows for treatment to be optimised and tailored to your pet.

What to do if you need to change to a new vet

You may need to change to a new vet/veterinary practice during the lifetime of your pet (e.g., if moving home). It is useful to plan ahead and make sure your current vet is aware of the change so that they can provide your new vet with all the medical history for your pet. This avoids being in an emergency situation with a new vet who is unfamiliar with your pet’s history.

Observe and monitor their seizures

It is useful to monitor your epileptic pet and keep a record of any seizures that do occur so that treatment can be adapted to your pet for optimal seizure control. In some cats, it may be possible to identify a link between certain signs/behaviour changes (e.g., fatigue, stress, nervousness, anxiety, heat) and the occurrence of seizures. If practical, you can then try to eliminate or minimise triggers wherever possible. For example, If your pet has seizures during storms, the best solution is to place them in a room with good soundproofing and with the curtains/blinds closed so they do not get visual triggers either. Please speak to your vet for more advice on specific strategies for your cat.

Monitor seizures and the response to treatment

One unavoidable task for most owners of a pet with idiopathic epilepsy is making sure the pet takes the treatment. Antiepileptic medication is usually given twice a day; failing to give the appropriate treatment regularly is the most common reason why seizures may be poorly controlled.

Despite carefully sticking to a treatment plan, seizures are likely to still occur as, unfortunately, epilepsy cannot be cured, only managed. The most effective way to promptly detect any change in your cat’s seizure control is to keep a diary. You can download a seizure diary here.


What should you record?

First, make a note of any seizures that may occur. Remember to include:

  • Type of seizure: generalised seizure, or focal seizure
  • Date and time the seizure occurred
  • Duration of the seizure
  • Whether there were any warning signs such as behavioural changes prior to the seizure
  • Behaviour after the seizure

A good tip is to video your cat before, during and after the seizure. These videos are extremely helpful for vets so they can see exactly what is happening. Timing each seizure is useful for various reasons. First, it allows you to know how long the seizure actually lasted (they can often feel like they’ve lasted a lot longer than they actually have).

If the seizure is lasting longer than this (5 minutes or more), or there are several seizures with incomplete recovery in-between, then seek urgent veterinary attention. Seizures like this are known as ‘status epilepticus’ and if they are not treated can cause severe brain damage and be fatal.

Always call your vet prior to setting off. This gives them time to prepare for your pet and get any necessary medication and equipment ready for your arrival. If your vet has already prescribed a medication to use at home during for emergencies, then this can be administered following your veterinary surgeons directions.
During the journey, it is important to take steps to prevent any injury to your cat, or distractions for the driver. It is helpful to have someone to sit with the cat and another person driving to minimise driver distractions. Your cat should be placed in a cat travel carrier/basket that is well protected with blankets or cushions so that your cat has a soft environment should they seizure. Ensure the carrier is securely placed in the car (e.g., in a footwell or fastened in with a seatbelt) to prevent the carrier sliding around.

Recovery phase in cats: what to do after a seizure

Once a seizure has ended, the cat goes into a recovery period known as the postictal phase.

Every cat experiences this recovery period, but it can vary in duration (from a few minutes to a few hours, or even several days) and the symptoms can also differ between animals. For some cats the postictal phase is virtually unnoticeable, whereas in others it is much more evident.

During recovery/the postictal phase, the cat may be:

  • Disoriented
  • Wobbly or clumsy in their movements (they may stumble and fall over)
  • Tired or excited and agitated
  • Blind (temporary loss of sight)
  • Anxious
  • Aggressive
  • Hungry

Keep your cat safe during the recovery phase

The first thing to do to help your cat recover after a seizure is make sure they are safe from injury. Keep calm and ensure they are in a safe environment where they are not likely to injure themself or anyone else. An appropriate environment should be quiet, a darker room is helpful (dim lighting) and without sharp objects/obstacles or steps that your pet may bump into or fall down. Ensure the ambient temperature is cool as seizures can cause an increase in body temperature, provide cooling aids if necessary (cool mat, fan, air conditioning etc.).

Any doors to the outside should be closed. Keep children away from your cat during and after a seizure until your pet has fully recovered.