Mews & Views

Mews & Views -- A blog for cat lovers everywhere with a focus on the low-income pet cats of northern and central New Mexico.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Brain Seizures in Older Cats

When we think of the chronic illnesses of older cats, kidney disease tops the list with a variety of cancers following close behind. One ramification of both end-stage kidney failure and some neurological-related cancers are brain seizures. And -- although they aren’t common -- they can and do happen – and when they do – they can be very disturbing to watch – especially the first time they happen. The topic of feline seizure disorders is well presented this month in a new TLC veterinary scholarship paper on our web site. Our work with the older cats has given us a personal perspective as well.

For our pet cat Gracie, seizures began when she was 12 years old in July 2002. We heard a banging noise and saw her paddling away in a puddle of urine on the floor. The episode lasted only seconds but it seemed like minutes and we had no clue as to what to do to help her. When the seizure ended we rushed her to the vet. They did a brief exam with blood work and sent us home. We learned an isolated seizure was not serious but if two or more seizures happen in a short time frame it’s a veterinary emergency. We should avoid handling her while she seizures (for safety reasons) but we should remove any potential hazards from her immediate area.

Gracie didn’t seizure again until the fall of 2003 when we heard another telltale banging noise. What we saw was Gracie lying on the floor paddling her 4 legs and writhing uncontrollably. These events became an all too common happening. Unfortunately she was often in precarious places when they occurred – once on top of a tall cat tree and once at the top of a flight of stairs. There were no obvious warning signs to alert us. Because of the frequency of her seizures, she was put on Phenobarbital and in July 2004 we had a MRI done. It showed a contrast-enhancing mass on the dorsal aspect of the brain that extended on either side of the midline. In addition it showed an extensive area of cerebral edema (fluid). Unlike the more common meningioma, her tumor was inoperable and so we continued her on Phenobarbital and later Keppra to control the seizures as best we could. And – to dry up the edema – we added prednisolone to her meds as well.

Although Gracie’s actual seizures only lasted for a few seconds, their after effects (post-ictal period) commonly continued for one or more days. Immediately after a seizure she’d be ravenously hungry and walk around in a daze bumping into anything in her path. After a half hour or so she’d slow down a bit but her walking would be very unstable. We bought her a mesh cat “play pen” to keep her safe during the post-seizure phase and kept her as comfortable as we could until she went back to normal. Remarkably she lived for seven years coping reasonably well with her affliction until she died on February 17, 2009 from a seizure that would not end. She was 19 years old.

In addition to Gracie, we’ve had three other cats from our TLC Older Cat Program who also had seizures. Two (Sweetie and Tasha) had seizures in the end stage of kidney failure and Amber had infrequent seizures during the last two years of her life. She had many other health issues and we didn’t pursue the cause of her seizures but treated them with Keppra.

Seizures are a difficult behavior to encounter in your pet. The only good thing to be said for them is – based on accounts of people who have seizures – they aren’t painful and afterward the cat has no memory of ever having them!


  1. Thank you. My elderly cat (15) just had his first (and hopefully last) seizure. Scared the pants off me. He's still acting confused, and like Gracie, he became ravenously hungry afterward. You could tell he was completely confused right afterward. He's sticking close to me now, which is fine by this momma.

    1. How is you cat doing these days? Mine is 17 and had her first seizure about 8 months ago and has started having them the past few days. I had hoped the 1st one would be the only one but it's not looking too good now. My vet is trying to raise her blood sugar level in hopes that this well help.

  2. Sorry to hear about your cat -- hope it's a one-time seizure.

  3. Gina ~ I hope your cat is still seizure free. My cat is 17 and she had her first one about 8 months ago. Unfortunately she started having them yesterday day morning (1 major one and 2 what I would call minor ones - not falling completely on her side and paddling but almost). Anyway my vet is going to try to raise her blood sugar in hopes that that will help her as an initial treatment and we'll see how things go.

  4. Thanks for your post. My 17 year old cat had never had a seizure until yesterday. She was on medication for kidney and thyroid but her kidney levels were checked as recently as a couple of weeks ago and looked slightly better. She had a good appetite but was about 5 lbs underweight. She had a non-stop seizure yesterday from about 9 am until I found her and brought her to the vet at 10 am. (I had heard a noise at 9 am but thought it was my other cats playing in the basement. Did not discover her until 9:30). The vet said it was probably a brain lesion, because her eyes were dilated. They gave her some Valium to calm the seizure (because it never stopped), and said the best option was to euthanize her. I ended up doing that but I am so heart broken because I feel like I gave up too soon and didn't try harder to fix her. Can anyone please give me your opinion on what I should have done? I feel like I should have tried to suppress the seizures with medication and bring her home so at least I could have time to make a decision. But she was so fragile and I was so scared of her having to go through a seizure again, I chose to put her down. I feel like my decision was made hastily and I am torturing myself with regret. Does anyone think it was a brain lesion or could it have been something else? Should I have tried harder to keep her alive? Please help.

  5. Hi Kristin,
    So sorry to hear about your cat -- it's never easy to make the decision to euthanize a good friend, but in this case -- following your vet's advice was probably wise. Typical seizures only last for a few seconds and when they continue like hers did it is not a good sign. If she had come out of it she may have been severely brain damaged -- you just don't now. Take comfort in having done what was best for her based on the knowledge you had -- and in the fact that you provided her with loving care for several years.

  6. Thank you Kitty Zimmer for your response. I'm coming to the realization that I had her in my arms safe and calm, and maybe I thought I couldn't risk having another scenario arise if I had brought her home. Saying good-bye when you are not ready is one of the hardest things I have had to do. You just want to keep on trying to make her ok, and I'm just praying that in the short time we were alone together at vet's, she told me it was ok to let her go. I have othet pets at home and that really has helped too. I will keep searching my soul until I find peace with this event. It's hard but thanks for reaching out.