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Could Opening a Can of Food Really Give Your Cat a Seizure?

Could Opening a Can of Food Really Give Your Cat a Seizure?

If you’re doing a bit of cooking ahead of Christmas or are a keen gamer, vets in the UK are urging you to pay attention to your feline friends because all that button bashing might be making some cats have seizures.

The feline charity International Cat Care (ICC) recently became curious after realizing that a number of inquiries about cat seizures appeared to lack any obvious seizure causes. A closer look showed that the seizures appeared to track with having just heard certain sounds.

While this might sound strange, this is a recognized medical problem called reflex epilepsy. You will likely be most familiar with it as a result of warnings about flashing lights on television and at music concerts, which have been known to provoke seizures.

Now the ICC has referred these reports to specialist vets who, together with the researchers from the University College London, are aiming to understand the seizure response. They also want to identify whether some cats are more likely to have a reaction than others, and why.

What Sounds are Causing these Seizures?

DIY is one prime culprit. It’s probably not that surprising that hammering could scare cats to the point where they have a fit, but the reports say it’s the sounds themselves that appear to be triggering a reaction and that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with fear. What’s more, there are other more everyday sounds that have triggered seizure symptoms in pet cats.

These include the sounds of a newspaper being rustled, pills being popped from a packet, the clicking of a computer mouse, an owner slapping their forehead and even the sound of a cat food tin being opened.

The issue is particularly interesting because it doesn’t appear to be the volume of the “trigger sounds” that provokes the seizure. It’s unlikely that the seizures are a result of the sounds being unexpected either, because some of the sounds like a can opening would be familiar to the cat and would be tuned out by most.

Mark Lowrie, from Davies Veterinary Specialists who is working on unraveling this mystery, is quoted as saying: “We want to see if other vets and owners are aware of the problem. It could be they haven’t even associated these fits with noise. I’m sure that a pattern will emerge. It doesn’t seem to be occurring at times of stress. It is often when the cats are being fed — which is probably one of their happier times of the day.”

Fortunately, the seizure symptoms don’t appear to be too severe. Accounts say that the trigger sounds make the cats jerk and flail, but that they are otherwise healthy. Less severe reactions have included freezing for a few seconds in a similar way to how epilepsy sometimes presents in humans. Crucially, these symptoms have not led to any permanent health problems and in the vast majority of cases the cats are fine shortly after the sounds have stopped.

Should Cat Owners be Worried by These Reports?

Probably not, no. Researchers think that sound trigger seizure is only a problem for certain cats.

You should, of course, take care to not stress your cat with things like DIY-related banging and other household noises. Cats are susceptible to stress and in extreme cases this can cause sometimes fatal shock symptoms. Taking care to make sure your cat pal is safely out of earshot while doing any household work or engaging in any other activity that creates loud noises is an easy way to minimize those risks.

For pet owners who are concerned that their cat might have had a seizure, symptoms to look out for can include:

  • chewing
  • foaming at the mouth
  • your cat collapsing
  • leg jerking
  • incontinence

Seizures are also characterized by the cat appearing spaced out (altered consciousness) before a gradual return to normal. The best way to help a cat having a seizure is to cover them with a blanket and to monitor them. Seizures can be serious medical events and so any concerns should be followed up with a vet.

The take-away of this news though is, don’t panic! Still, you might want to keep your eye on your cat the next time you open a can of food or crinkle some tinfoil just in case they happen to be affected. After all, your insight, which can be given to the ICC here, could help researchers understand exactly what is happening during sound triggered seizures and help researchers discern ways to get around the problem.

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Image credit: Thinkstock.

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4:09AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

9:58AM PST on Feb 18, 2014

Hadn't heard of this either. Thanks for sharing.

1:08AM PST on Jan 27, 2014

Never heard of this before.

4:34AM PST on Dec 10, 2013


11:14PM PST on Dec 4, 2013

thanks i had no idea about this all i know is that when the vacuum goes on my cats run out !

9:24PM PST on Dec 4, 2013

I had never heard of this problem. It sounds like it would be scary to witness if you did not realize what was happening.

7:47PM PST on Dec 4, 2013

Interesting. I wonder what they'll find out. BTW, one situation where sound can trigger seizure like reactions is when a cat is toxic, especially if they have kidney disease and protein waste products are building up in their blood. A sharp noise, like clapping, can cause this.

6:09PM PST on Dec 4, 2013

I enjoyed Debbie's post. I know cats and dogs are sensitive to sounds which don't bother us but the seizures are really news to me. Thanks!

5:06PM PST on Dec 4, 2013

Interesting. I had a kitten with feline infectious I learned to watch her and I could see her having her seizures in the brain. It was sad because she was less that 6 months old when she had a seizure and was paralyzed below the neck. It was a few days before I could let go, I was so sad because her mind was perfect. She went to heaven. As far as seizures, I just found out that acute peritonitis can cause a cat seizures......and can cause your cat to space out also. Sad. If my vet had cared, by manx would still be alive, but he did not like her because she was disabled.....but she lived a good life and she loved life..she was an angel and will forever be missed.

5:04PM PST on Dec 4, 2013

And remember that our furry friends hear much higher frequencies than we do. I've read that dogs hear up to 40,000 Hz and it makes sense that cats would hear UHF too, since they've evolved to hunt prey that make these sounds.

You might want to check that you don't have a piece of technology or hardware that is emitting UHF without your knowing it. Remember, when you blow loudly on a dog whistle you can't hear a thing, but it will drive your dog or cat nuts, the equivalent of screaming in its ear (so please don't do that, blow gently when you're doing training or call - and don't let the kids play with it, it's literally like an airhorn for pets).

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