How I Learned to Deal with My Sweet, Elderly & Newly Epileptic Cat

My beloved 17 year old cat named KITTY II has been with me since I was in middle school and I'm now approaching 30. That's actually more than half of my life. As old as she is, she still looks young, a trait that runs in my family ;). Here's Kitty starring in a poorly Photoshopped (her right eye was too bright) picture:

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Kitty is still energetic and vocal -- super vocal. I now keep a pair of ear plugs by the bed because she likes waking up at odd hours to yowl like she's dying. If I yell her name, she suddenly goes from Death Meow to innocent kitten meow; it's really unnerving. Kitty lives with me now but she didn't last year when I had a high school friend, Mel, take care of her for a while. Kitty enjoyed the stylings of a large family home in Oceanside, complete with a backyard and koi pond while I worked things out with my apartment.

One day when Mel was taking care of Kitty, I received a call from her saying that she thought Kitty was dying. Apparently, Kitty did this weird thing where she fell on her side, "ran in place, feet in the air" and peed everywhere for about 30 seconds. When she stopped doing that, she woke up dazed, cried out when went eat tuna like nothing happened. My heart sank, I really thought Kitty was gonna go soon and did what I could to visit more even though I lived in San Francisco. I learned at some point that Kitty was having a classic seizures and that elderly cats could live for years with them.

A few months later, I was able to take Kitty back and I immediately took her to the vet to see what could be done. They ran a good $1100 worth of tests and found nothing that could be causing the seizures. That likely meant it was adult-onset epilepsy or a brain tumor. If it was a brain tumor, I wasn't going to try to artificially extend her life so I figured it didn't matter what was causing it, as long as it wasn't something that was preventable.

The first time I saw Kitty have a seizure, it had such a bad impact on me that I called in sick to work; I was a mess. It was about the most awful thing ever. She was sleeping on my pillow and the alarm went off, apparently, loud repetitive noises trigger her seizures, and she started going crazy on the bed. I could see every muscle tense and pee was flying everywhere. I tried to cover my eyes so not see it but I could still feel her shaking the bed. My poor friend, I felt so bad.

Once the seizure was over, I cleaned up and wrote down the date and duration-- something my vet had told me to do. I brought her back to the vet and asked for any sort of advice. "The first one you see is always the hardest and your ability to handle the seizures will get better over time." He was somewhat right and his words really helped me to deal with seeing my little friend suffer. There was only one that was worse than that -- the first time she started running while seizing, she ran into a wall twice and was jumping uncontrollably in a corner, slamming up against some really hard server rails. I was panicked and couldn't find my glasses. I finally gave up and grabbed her so that she'd stop slamming into things.

I know that you aren't supposed to restrict animals or people having seizures and I made sure not to restrict Kitty as I held her. I just let her do her running and shaking in my hands. My left hand was holing her rib area lightly and my right hand was holding her stomach lightly. Once she was done, I placed her gently on the floor and let her "come to." Even though this was the worst experience thus far, it was the first time I felt like I was able to help Kitty and that made all the difference in the world.

The next time she had a seizure (they occur every 3-8 weeks), I immediately picked her up and let her have a seizure in my hands. It was the first time I didn't have a breakdown.

Once the seizure is done, there's about two additional minutes that she's stunned and her muscles start tensing and curling her paws inward, like a temporary paralysis. Then she wakes up and meows like she's sad or scared and the temporary paralysis wears off.

The last time that Kitty had a seizure, I placed her on my shoulder; one of her favorite spots and I waited for her to wake up. Once she did, she meowed the sad meow but for a much shorter time. Then she was ready to eat. So, if you have recently discovered that your cat has epilepsy, here's a summary of what I learned:

-Cats can live for years with seizures, even elderly cats. Someone I know had a cat that developed seizures at 17 and lived another 4 years.
-The first time you see your cat having a seizure will likely be the worst. From there, it gets better. You'll eventually learn how to handle seeing your good friend have a seizure. Remember they are unconscious when it's happening and they aren't hurting.
-Look out for patterns that may trigger the seizures and refrain from doing that. My cat seems to be triggered by loud, irritating or repetitive noises such as knocking a fork on the side of an aluminium can, a ringing alarm clock or unwrapping crinkly paper (like a Cliff bar).
-Holding your cat gently in the air by supporting its rib cage area and its stomach area lightly will allow your cat to have a seizure without running around and hurting itself. It also helps to make you feel useful. It also doesn't feel freaky, it just feels like the cat is running while you're holding him or her.
-The barbiturates they recommend to suppress seizures may make things worse in the end. They can never stop taking the medicine and you have to give it to them every single day at the same time of day. If you have to go out of town for the weekend and your cat doesn't receive it's daily dose, it is likely to have a seizure. Sometimes, however, there's no other options left.
-Be sure to time how long the seizures last and how often your cat is having them. This will help the vet to treat your cat.
-Your cat will probably be hungry after a seizure. This is because their blood sugar drops dramatically during the seizure.

If you have a newly diagnosed epileptic cat and you have any questions or just want to talk, feel free to contact me.