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Sound-Related Seizures in Cats

FARS is a seizure syndrome in cats triggered by certain sounds.

Seizures are a scary event for any cat-owner to witness. They can range from a rhythmic twitching of one area of the body to a grand mal seizure involving falling over, paddling, and loss of control of urination. Seizures in cats can be caused by several conditions including:

  • Toxins such as antifreeze.
  • Tumors in the brain.
  • Epilepsy, or seizures of unknown origin. This is not diagnosed as commonly in cats as it is in dogs.
  • Infection of the brain. Encephalitis, the result of an infection that affects the lining of the brain, can result in seizures.
  • Trauma or injury to the brain. This may be the result of being hit by a car or falling.
  • End-stage liver failure results in the buildup of toxins that can affect the brain.
  • End-stage kidney failure in cats can also result in seizures.
  • Low blood sugar, most commonly secondary to the treatment of diabetes mellitus with insulin, can cause feline seizures.

Many of these conditions show up in young cats while some are secondary to other medical conditions. Recently, scientists in Britain have identified a previously-unknown seizure trigger that usually appears when cats are older.

Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures (FARS)

Researchers studied owner reports and veterinary records of 96 cats with reflex seizures, a type of disorder where a cat's seizure activity is always or mostly preceded by an identifiable event. Seizures may be any of the following:

  • Absence: This type of seizure involves a momentary loss of awareness of what's going on around the cat.
  • Myoclonic: These are brief jerks in a muscle or group of muscles that is rhythmic.
  • Grand mal: This is a classic, full-blown seizure. The cat lies on his side, paddles rhythmically with his feet, and often loses bladder control. The episodes usually last less than five minutes but may be preceded and followed by characteristic behaviors that may include nervousness, drooling, circling, or attention-seeking.

The researchers concluded their study by identifying and defining a new seizure disorder in cats, which they have named feline audiogenic reflex seizures, or FARS. FARS is characterized by the following:

  • FARs is most common in cats that are 15 years of age and older.
  • Seizure activity is preceded by a high-pitched sound.
  • In many cases, the louder the noise is, the more severe the seizure activity is.
  • Concurrent diseases are present in about 40% of cases. This is probably because this is a condition of older cats.
  • Birman cats suffer from FARS more often than cats of other breeds.
  • Half of cats that have FARS are deaf or have a hearing impairment.

Sounds That Commonly Trigger FARS

The researchers found that the following sounds were most commonly identified as triggers for seizure activity in cats with FARS:

  • Crumpling aluminum foil.
  • A metal spoon clinking against a ceramic food bowl.
  • Clinking glass.
  • Paper or plastic bags being crumpled.
  • Computer key or mouse clicking.
  • Coins or keys clinking together.
  • A nail being hammered.
  • An owner's tongue clicking.

Treatment of FARS in Cats

The researchers determined that the anti-seizure medication levetiracetam, or Keppra, provides good control of the seizures produced by FARS. However, veterinarians don't always elect to start cats on medication for seizures. If a cat doesn't have seizures very often and they are not severe, side effects of the medication may be riskier than the seizures themselves.

Never give your cat any medications without first speaking with your veterinarian. Many medications are toxic to cats and can result in severe injury or death.

During the study, FARS was not determined to decrease the quality of life for most cats that suffered from it.

If your cat has seizures, consult with your veterinarian. If you feel that the seizures are preceded by specific noises, make sure you mention it to the doctor.

Works Cited

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