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 skeptical 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.
Comment from Michael: I found this interesting. At one time I was skeptical about these sorts of seizures. For a deaf cat to pick up a specific sound and for that sound to cause a seizure is curious. What is happening?
The Daily Telegraph describe it as a “new phenomenon” (December 2013). At that time vets did not know the causes and research was being carried out. The sounds that cause these seizures are commonplace, everyday noises, such as a computer mouse click, dropping something on a hard floor or scrunching up an empty packet of crisps.
Auditory inducted seizures occur in people too. I have no found research which explains what is happening. Therefore I guess….. 😉
If Tilly’s cat is genuinely, profoundly deaf then it is not the actual sound that causes the seizure but the pressure waves in the air that impinge upon the ear drum which is transmitted to the inner ear via the mechanics of the middle ear.
My gut feeling is that this is an inner problem – the vestibular system. This delicate system converts sound to auditory nerve signals. It is also concerned with balance and knowing what is up and what is down (orientation).
I can only guess but my guess is that if this is a new phenomenon which has been created from modern living it is likely to be linked to environmental factors such as chemicals in carpets or other furnishings. It may also be linked to ongoing treatments such as for fleas. Veterinary clinics dish out this stuff but don’t really have a handle on the potential problems these insecticides can cause.
There may be a link to anesthetics. Certainly the problem is nerve system based including brain function and what affects the nervous system most is chemicals (poisons) or trauma. Tilly’s cats did not suffer trauma as far as I am aware and therefore I speculate that the cause is some sort of poisoning or possibly inherited (a genetic defect) resulting in a seizure disorder.
The type of seizure varies in severity from foaming at the mouth combined with jerky movements and being unresponsive to frozen or being jumpy.
I spent about 30 minutes researching the causes in cats without success. There is currently nothing available which explains this condition. I believe we should know the cause because it may shed some light on how environmental factors affect cats if the condition is not inherited. If so, it would help us to provide a better environment.
As for humans who can also suffer from this condition, it appears that most are genetic in origin.