Auditory induced reflex seizures in cats. Genuine or hype?

Can cat seizures be triggered by everyday household noises? Yes, rarely, but this current news story is really about online media hype (Dec 2013). It is not a new medical condition. It is more a manufactured news story. Update years later: I am now sure that this condition is genuine. I have seen it in several articles.

Update June 20, 2022: I have entirely changed my point of view on auditory induced reflex seizures in cats. When I wrote the article in December 2013 it was a new and I believe a little understood medical condition. Since then, I have seen articles and scientific studies on similar topics both concerning people and animals. It seems that certain cats (and people?) can be induced into a seizure by sounds which are normally quite sharp and loud as described in this article. It is a genuine condition albeit rare. Although I can’t find a Google Scholar study that explains this condition. Is this a form of ‘feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS)‘? Please, therefore, read address of the article in the light of what I say – short updating section. I think it is akin to seizures caused by heavy light effects. Two years after writing this page I did a follow up: Cat seizures caused by sharp sounds linked to old age.

Epileptic cat

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

There is a news story circulating on the internet that cats can suffer from a seizure when they hear certain common sounds in the household.  It sounds intriguing. Are these epileptic seizures and why has this only come to light today? Seizures are quite obvious and shocking. It would be very apparent to a cat caretaker if their cat had a seizure for no apparent reason. If this was happening in significant numbers it would have come to light sooner and someone would have given a name to a new medical condition by now.

The International Cat Care website is routinely quoted in these news stories but using the search facility on their website I have found a page on surveys that states:

….we have found over the years that cats may have seizures in response to particular noises…..This is not something that is unique to cats. In human patients, the condition where seizures occur in response to a trigger is known as reflex epilepsy.

Auditory induced reflex seizures in cats a little known and very rare condition, if it exists. I think this news story is about the International Cat Care website doing a bit of promotion work in issuing a press release to online newspapers. I argue that they have probably done this because they have recently renamed their site and given it a new domain name. This is a brave restart for the site and they need some publicity to attract visitors. I may be cynical but that’s how it looks to me.

The symptoms of these “seizures” include:

  • a jerking motion
  • foaming from the mouth while unresponsive
  • become jumpy or suddenly frozen

Once the noise stops the seizure stops. The sort of sounds that can cause this reaction are:

  • crinkling of foil packets (say crisps packet)
  • paper being crumpled
  • noise of a digital alarm clock.

I’ll be honest; my initial reaction is to be very cautious about these claims. They are probably true in rare cases but I am not convinced. I suspect that in some cases the reactions are not “seizures” in the conventional sense as takes place during an epileptic fit. In some cases, the reaction may be acute anxiety caused by a hardwired reaction to sounds that mimic sounds that can indicate danger. This having being inherited from the ancestor to the domestic cat, the wildcat. Or they are responses inherited from parents which are hardwired. Being frozen and jumpy can be sign of fear and high anxiety.

If household sounds are causing genuine epileptic fits, my initial thought is why are some cats suddenly more sensitive to these sounds? The reports indicate that something has changed in the household. The truth is I don’t think anything has changed. It is just that the newspapers like cat stories if they fed to them.

Epileptic seizures can be caused by acute poisoning or head injury (trauma). Other causes are metabolic disorders and strokes. Epilepsy in cats can also be caused by unknown reasons (idiopathic).

If there has been an increase in these reflex epileptic fits, a possible, highly speculative scenario: is the chemicals in cat flea treatments such as Frontline spot treatment build up in the body over time. Perhaps some cat caretakers are over applying the treatments. This results in the cat being poisoned, which in turn makes the cat sensitive to certain sounds. As stated, that is pure speculation but parasite treatments generally can be very toxic to cats and essentially are heavy duty poisons.

Also overdosing on veterinary medicines can cause poisoning. Giving cats over-the-counter pills and treatments can lead to poisoning the cat. These may cause seizures that take place, by coincidence, at the same time as the cat’s caretaker is making a certain noise or the cat has become sensitized to that noise. Incidentally, poisoning can mimic epileptic seizures.

Here is a video on Twitter with a variation on auditory induced reflex seizures in cats:

Note: This is an embedded tweet. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.

Conclusion?: I think we have to be cautious with these newspaper stories. The online newspapers are concerned with news not cats. The so-called sensitivity to household sounds by some cats is called “Tom and Jerry syndrome“. Newspaper hype, basically (No, I am incorrect June 20, 2022). It is not a new medical condition (wrong, it is a medical issue).

This is not the first-time newspapers overhyped a cat story. They totally misrepresented the Poodle Cat as an example.

Photo on Flickr

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

17 thoughts on “Auditory induced reflex seizures in cats. Genuine or hype?”

  1. This happens to my 18 year old cat. It’s any clicking notices. If I were to open a bag of chips she would go into a full seizure. The seizure starts with her running without control, sometimes right into a walk, and ends with her in the floor with everything thrashing without control. Lasts for a few minutes. Very frightening. The doctor said there’s no cure, only control with sedation if it gets bad enough. It’s odd that you would express doubt and suggest motive to lie simply because you haven’t seen this for yourself. Do you doubt the existence of epilepsy too?

  2. These seizures are real.

    I found a cat 1.5 months ago. Age unknown, but has been around the neighborhood for at least 3 years.

    I noticed he was emaciated, so I took him in, and took him to the vet a couple days later. He tested positive for Feline HIV, so I isolated him from the other cats for a month and he has retested negative.

    But before I took “Bob” to the vet the first time, I noticed that when I made little kissing sounds while in bobs face his ears would jerk, and react to each time.

    Then 1 time I did it and he went into what seemed panic, and at the same time his ears started twitching uncontrollably, he then went down on his side, and proceeded to go into a seizure for at least 30-45 seconds. No Bowel Loss. But there was a small amount of mouth drool.

    He also had another 1 a week later, and it was Longer, and was brought on by the Clicking of the Computer Mouse.

    Same ear twitching ect.

    Sometimes the sounds don’t bother Bob. But most of the time there is some kind of reaction, even if not a full seizure. Sometimes it appers like an electric shock.

    I would gladly let any vet look at Bob.

    My vet isn’t convinced, because she had a clicker that didn’t elict response. She says it has to happen all the time.

    I don’t agree, and am kind of frustrated at her response.

    1. You are correct, James. These seizures are real and only certain types of sounds cause it. I believe it occurs in older cats due to a form of dementia — I am not a vet but it does affect older cats more than others. I believe the sort of sound is important. It is very particular and sharp. Rusting and crinkling a plastic wrapper may cause it for instance. Thanks for sharing James. It is useful. You may have read the other page on this subject:

  3. I found your blog and this thread while goggling for information on what may have caused a seizure in my Mom’s elderly cat. Today, she said the cat had a severe, lengthy seizure…she said he fell down on the floor, his legs jerking wildly as if he was running and his head banging against the floor so hard she was afraid of him hurting himself.
    She had been cleaning food out of his china feed bowl with a metal spoon and noticed him beginning to jerk and spasm with the clinking of the spoon against the bowl. Before she could stop, he fell down with the seizure.
    She had seen him seizure like this one other time, a couple of months ago, when she was balling up an empty potato chip bag. He had the same kind of spasms with the crinkling noise before the seizure began though it didn’t last as long as the one today.

    1. Thanks a lot Anne-Marie for adding to this page. Certainly your mom’s elderly cat had one of these auditory induced seizures or it seems like that. I guess she’ll have to ensure that the type of noises causing these fits are removed from the environment when her cat is around.

  4. i have had two cats with reflex epilepsy. first there was Oliver who had a full seizure every time we crinkled a plastic bag (even showed this to my sceptical vet). it was especially odd for me to connect the sound with the seizure because Oliver was deaf. but my vet kept Oliver for tests and said that even in a silent and controlled environment, he only had seizures with that sound, and it was every time.
    the second cat is Onion, i still have her now. she has a different reactive stimulus. her seizures are caused by touching certain areas on her body. it happens whether i touch it, a dog sniffs it or even when she grooms the area herself. again my vet has confirmed it is reflex epilepsy.
    so two out of the six cats i have owned have had confirmed reflex epilepsy. it may not be as common or sensational as other conditions but it is real.

    1. Thanks Tilly for sharing. Your comment is very interesting. Perhaps it is not as rare as I had believed or your vet seems to have believed. Do you have photos of your 2 cats with reflex epilepsy? I think I’ll make a article out of your comment and add some research of my own.

  5. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    It does seem odd and exaggerated and attention seeking to me too.
    The trouble is that a lot of people read stories like this and believe them, instead of thinking it out for themselves.

    1. I think you’ll find that in due course this story will be seen as a news item rather than a serious bit of information about cat health.

      1. My Gigi in Canada would get very scared of the sound of a fizzy drink being poured over ice and the many bubbles that come with it. She would literally run out of the house and to the other side of the garden. She was very frightened by it.

        1. I think this is the fizz sound, which I think is a hard wired hated sound for lots of cats because it sounds like a snake. That is my theory. There is a close association between snakes and cats.

          Wildcats attack and kill snakes and their hiss is mimicking a snake.

          My Charlie does not like the rustle of plastic bags, a similar sound.

  6. Nope. Not accepting of this in a cat that doesn’t already have a diagnosed seizure disorder. Those diagnosed ones can, certainly, be triggered by noises.
    I think the “symptoms” described are exaggerated. Many healthy cats display a neurological reaction to some noises due to severe anxiety and fear that aren’t seizure-like, ie. trembling.

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