What causes FARS in cats?

FARS is an acronym for ‘feline audiogenic reflex seizures‘. In the past I have used a slightly different terminology namely “audio reflex seizures“. That’s because it was only in about 2015 that the scientists and vets became involved in this condition. In around 2010, as I recall, little was known about it or at least what was known was not published on the Internet. ‘Audiogenic’ means ’caused or produced by sound or an audio frequency’.

Seizure in cats
Seizure in cats. Owner holds their cat. It is a shocking experience. Screenshot from TikTok.
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Sounds that cause FARS

And subsequently several studies were published on the topic of feline audiogenic reflex in cats. The sounds that stimulated the seizures in cats in the primary study 1 were found to be:

  • Crinkling of tinfoil (82 out of 96 cats)
  • A metal spoon dropping into a ceramic feeding bowl (79 cats);
  • Chinking or tapping of glass (72);
  • Paper or plastic bags crinkling (71);
  • Computer keyboard tapping or mouse clicking (61);
  • The clinking of coins or keys (59);
  • Hammering a nail (38);
  • The clicking of an owner’s tongue (24);
  • The sound of breaking the tinfoil from treatment or tablet packaging (12);
  • A digital alarm (6);
  • The sound of Velcro (6);
  • The clicking of a piezo (don’t know what this is 😎)
  • The sound of a lighter for a gas stove or the sound made by igniting the gas hob (4);
  • A mobile phone ringing (4);
  • Running water (2);
  • The sound created by a dog scratching its neck and jangling its collar (2);
  • A computer printer operating (2);
  • Firewood spitting (1);
  • Wooden building blocks being locked together (1);
  • Walking on a wooden floor with bare feet or squeaky shoes (1);
  • Short, sharp scream of a young child (1).

I can remember seeing a video of a girl playing a musical instrument and her cat’s backside and tail were moving up and down in rhythm to it. I decided that that was a form of FARS.

Genetic causes unknown?

To the best of my knowledge, the experts currently don’t know the underlying cause of FARS. They know the sounds, as above, which provoke the seizures but what is the underlying cause? Is it due to a genetic mutation in cats which has yet to be identified? The study I refer to concluded: “Further studies are warranted to investigate potential genetic predispositions to this condition.”

RELATED: Running a thumb across the teeth of a comb caused this cat to retch. Why?

Myoclonic seizures

In this study they stated that myoclonic seizures “were one of the cardinal signs of this syndrome”. These seizures were present in 90 out of 96 cats suffering from FARS. Myoclonic seizures are sudden, short-lasting jerks they can affect all or part of the body. They affect people as well as animals. They are associated with abnormal brainwave activity. They concluded that they “identified a new epilepsy syndrome named FARS”. As I said, it was around 2015 when this condition was openly discussed on the Internet for the first time.

Associated health issues

Rather worryingly, cat owners of cats suffering from FARS, responded in a questionnaire that although these seizures did not in general affect the quality of life of their cats, many (52%) of them reported a “slow decline in their cat’s health, becoming less responsive, not jumping, becoming uncoordinated or weak in the pelvic limbs and exhibiting dramatic weight loss”. It seems that these rather benign seizures are linked to something a lot worse. I have not seen that discussed before. Twelve out of 50 cats suffered from inappropriate elimination.

This study is called: “Audiogenic reflex seizures in cats” and it is published on Sage Journals. It was conducted by scientists in the UK, headed by Mark Lowrie a veterinarian and scientist.

Vets discovered FARS in 2015

It might interest readers to know that seizures are one of the most common neurologic problems in domestic cat affecting about 1-3% of the general population. We don’t know, it seems to me, what percentage of domestic cats suffer from FARS.

The pet MD website indicate to me that veterinarians only discovered this condition in 2015 when they wrote that “Seizures in cats may be caused by weird sounds”. They clearly weren’t sure but in 2022 there are no doubts about its existence.

It may be the case that cats suffering from FARS were diagnosed with idiopathic seizures i.e. of an unknown cause because at that time the cause was not linked to high-frequency metallic sounds.

Elderly cats predisposed

They refer to the study that I have referred to which appears to be the definitive study even today on the Internet. These cats had an average age of 15. In the article I wrote in 2015 I stated that it was elderly cats who were predisposed to having this condition. And this to me indicates that it is linked to declining brain function, perhaps early onset senility.

Birmans predisposed

The study also found that almost a third of the cats with FARS were Birmans. And half of them were reportedly deaf or had hard of hearing impairment. Owners of these cats were often able to manage their seizures successfully with medication.

It would be very helpful if a reader of this article was able to comment if their cat suffered from FARS.

1. The primary study currently as far as I can tell is: Audiogenic reflex seizures in cats on Sage Journals.

Below are some more articles on seizures in cats.

1 thought on “What causes FARS in cats?”

  1. My 7 year old cat has been diagnosed with FARS but the myoclonic shocks do not appear to be brought on by sound. She had two attacks in the middle of the night last night in a silent house. She is wobbly on her back legs this morning and unable to manage the steps. She has been on Levertiracetam for a week. She is a tabby cross, otherwise healthy.


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