Tom and Jerry Syndrome in cats
I have written about Tom and Jerry Syndrome before after a visitor shared her experiences with her cat who is sensitive to sharp, high pitched sounds which causes a seizure or fit. The sounds vary quite a lot from rustling packaging to jangling keys. You can even make sharp sounds to cause a fit (not recommended).
This is a rare but distressing condition for both cat and caretaker. Birman purebred, pedigree cats are more prone to it than normal, it is thought.
My article was built around many comments on the visitors page. Now I have learned that veterinarians in Hitchin, England, UK are doing research on the condition. Mark Lowrie of Davies Veterinary Specialists is leading the research. I believe it is being published the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. The scientific/technical name for the condition is feline audiogenic reflex seizures, or FARS.
This is a Scientific American 60 second podcast on the subject (just click on the triangular play button on the left hand side of the bar to hear it):
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I had hoped they had come to some conclusions but not as yet, sadly. It is called “Tom and Jerry Syndrome” because in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, Jerry tries to scare Tom causing a jerk.
Apparently, the seizures can get worse and more frequent, sometimes several times a day and the the cat can suffer from full seizures.
The research appears to be centered on finding the genetic cause and treatment through anti-epileptic drugs. Currently the the anti-seizure drug Levetiracetam appears to help some cats.
We are still in the dark about causes. In my article, as a layperson, I proposed some possible causes and found that it appears to be linked to old age. Current research or feedback from vets indicates it occurs in cats averaging 15 years of age.
This link takes you to the article on the Anglia ITV News website where you can see a video which includes a short section showing the black and white cat shown in the picture above having a fit after the researcher makes sharp sounds with his voice. Other source: Scientific American.
My thanks to Michele for finding this story.
I can’t help but think that this syndrome is in, some way, linked to vestibular disease. Do we have any info about the age range of these afflicted cats?
Doing my own research on information received by visitors in their comments I set out the ages on this page. It was quite noticeable that this condition affects more elderly cats. We don’t know yet as far as I know whether it is linked to vestibular disease. The research scientist referred to in this article treats cats with drugs for epileptic fits or seizures. On that basis it seems to be a condition which affects the brain.
The condition is now being referred Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures (FARS).
96 cats were involved in this study. They comprised;
45 domestic shorthairs
30 Birmans of which 12 (40%) were blue point & 18 (60%) were seal point.
5 domestic longhairs
2 Maine Coons
1 of each: British Shorthair, European Shorthair,
Norwegian Forest and a Birman cross.
The average age of the cats at seizure onset was 15 years (Based on onset age range: 10-19 years).
Forty-seven cats were female (64% were neutered; 30/47) and 49 were male (71% were neutered; 35/49).
The high number of Birman cats represented, suggests there may be a breed disposition to this condition. To date, all affected Birmans have either been seal or blue point – these are the original breed colours. Other colourpoints achieved through cross breeding with Persians and Siamese etc., do not appear to be affected by this condition.
The survey mentions Velcro and stove igniting ticks as being triggers in a few of the cats. Strange they should say that, but when my previous cat Sophie would always utter a high pitched mewl whenever she heard a stove igniting or sellotape being pulled off a roll. Thankfully she never suffered any kind of seizure or jerking.
Great article! Thanks for sharing! I have heard about similar conditions in some of the cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) kitties. I wonder if it is a related condition?
The veterinary clinic featured in this article want to hear from owners who believe their cats are suffering from sound-induced seizures, so they can learn more about the condition and help the cats.
Scroll to the bottom of the page for a link to the study currently being carried out.
Thanks! I will pass it on to the people with CH kitties. Maybe they can help. 🙂
Cat: I’m so sorry but I’ve just checked that link and the survey has now closed. (I thought it was curious they didn’t mention it during the TV news interview.)
However, the results have been published and make interesting reading. Maybe there’s something in there which might still be of help or interest to the owners of CH cats.
This article contains a link to the full results.
Thanks Michele for your additional information.
I just hope we can help more people recognise the condition and find help for their cats.
Michael, excellent and informative article! I had never really heard of this — very interesting. My Tabby is doesn’t care for music– especially if my son or I are singing, but she doesn’t have seizures or sensitivity to any other sounds. Now that most of my 12 are seniors, that is something else to watch for — especially for my oldest who is a lilac point Siamese — she just turned 15 in February.
I need to get caught up on reading your posts!! Thanks!!
Thanks for hilighting the latest information on this unusual form of epilepsy. I hope others will find it useful.
Judging by the numbers of people who responded to your earlier articles, the condition may be more common than was realised.