Neurological Issues in Cats

When it comes to how the brain works, a cat’s genetic makeup is similar to our own. Your cat’s neurological functions rely on a combination of systems, consisting of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. Each part of both systems sends electrical signals to one another. That allows your cat to function in its environment, and go about all the regular processes of its daily life. When there is a malfunction in one or both of these systems, we call it a neurological issue. In simpler terms, it may be referred to as cat brain damage.

Cat Brain Damage

Where there’s confusion between the nervous systems, the brain can interpret the signals transmitted between the two incorrectly. Again, this is a symptom of cat brain damage. Confusion in brain systems will result in the mild or serious impairment of your cat’s usual functions. Processes which are usually under voluntary and conscious control, such as movement and bladder habits, may go out of control. If your cat is suddenly behaving erratically, and you can’t see an obvious cause, it’s essential that you seek the attention of a vet immediately.

There are several common conditions which amount to cat brain damage, and we’ll go into more detail on each of them below.

Neoplastic Disease

cat brain damage

Older cats like this wise soul are more at risk of developing neurological conditions. Image from Wikimedia

The most common neoplastic disease that affects cats is called meningioma. It bears great similarity to meningitis, which manifests in humans. Meningioma tumors are growths which effect the thin layer of protective tissue covering the brain. These growths will usually effect older cats, and are usually benign. Although they are not malignant, their continued expansion can still be dangerous. Tumors will add a significant amount of pressure to the brain, which in turn can lead to cat brain damage even if the meningioma doesn’t.

Cats usually respond to the surgical removal meningioma well – so well, in fact, that in most cases no follow-up treatment is necessary. Many cats will live on for several years after the surgery, right up to the point of surviving to the end of their natural lifespan, as if they’d never suffered from any cat neurological problems. This is due to the accessibility of the tumor on the cat’s brain. Other forms of brain tumor’s such as glioma are much harder to treat due to the deeper location in the brain. As with any cat brain damage or cat neurological problems, though, speed of diagnosis is of the essence.


Epilepsy affects the electrical transmission of nerve signals within a cat’s brain. Any misfiring here will affect memory, sensation and voluntary muscle movement. Epilepsy can be brought on by head injuries, tumors or metabolic irregularities. Whilst ‘idiopathic epilepsy’ may have no discernible cause, cats with idiopathic epilepsy are usually happy and healthy with no negative symptoms or afflictions. With the administration of the necessary treatment, they can lead normal lives. It is highly recommended that you keep all cats who suffer from any form of seizures as indoor cats. This will significantly reduce the risk of them causing further harm to themselves.

How To Spot A Seizure

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An epileptic cat recovering from a seizure. Some cats get used to their condition. Others are shocked every time. Image from Flickr

Before your cat starts to have a seizure, you may notice them appearing dazed or frightened. They may attempt to hide or seek attention from you. Unfortunately there is little you can do to prevent a seizure. During a seizure your cat will fall on it’s side for generally between 30 and 90 seconds. No episode will be the same for any two cats. Your cat may become stiff, salivate, urinate, vocalize and start to paddle with all four limbs.

Seizures may be difficult to spot at first as they tend to happen while the cat is resting. If you’re not accustomed to seeing a cat in an epileptic seizure, you may even think it’s displaying cat behavioral problems (for example, urinating on the floor). If your cat has already been to the vet for treatment, it is not necessary to take your cat to the vet after every episode unless the seizure appears different to whatever’s normal for your cat.

Regardless of how long your cat has lived with the condition, after the seizure, they may become disorientated or confused. There is no telling how long they will experience the after effects. The recovery may be immediate or take up to 24 hours.

Generally, cats start to experience seizures between the ages of one and four years old. Your vet will diagnose your cat with epilepsy through a series of blood tests. In more complex cases, CT scans or MRI’s will be used for the diagnosis. Epilepsy is a form of cat brain damage which can be managed and controlled, just as it can in humans.

Neurological Disorders As Cat Brain Damage

Neurological disorders can also be due to genetic defects. Among the most common disorders is feline distemper virus which affects the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for muscle coordination. The presence of the disorder will be evident from birth. Kittens who are born infected will immediately show a severe lack of coordination. There is no cure at present, yet, cats with this neurological condition can live long happy lives. To put it in simple terms you’ll have a perfectly normal cat who just happens to be a little clumsy.

Another prevalent neurological condition is hydrocephalus, which is a condition effecting the amount of fluid in the skull. The condition results in the enlargement of the skull, causing it to press again the brain. In some cases, surgery has been proven effective in draining excess fluid. A vet will assess the severity of hydrocephalus before deciding to operate, and will only do so where deemed necessary to extend or improve the quality of your cat’s life.

Neurological disorders tend to be more prevalent in pedigree cats and pure bred cats. Certain breeds are more prone to the disorders than others. Thus, it is important for you to do ample amounts of research before taking on a pet. Your vet will be able to warn you of any issues which certain breeds are suffering from – which is another reason it’s always wise to take a new cat straight to the vet as soon as you’ve taken ownership of one.

Head Trauma in Cats

Sometimes, cat brain damage is nothing to do with any underlying condition – it’s just the sad and direct result of a traumatic injury. There are many things that can cause brain injuries in cats, some of the most common being:

Brain injuries are often placed into two categories:

Primary brain injuries involve direct trauma which will be a life-long condition. These may lead to cat behavioral problems, which are likely to be permanent. In instances where primary brain injuries have been diagnosed, permanent and irreversible damage has been done to the cat’s brain. Alternatively, you may have;

Secondary injuries which temporarily alter the brain tissue. With ample care secondary injuries can be treated. You may still experience cat behavioral problems, but if handled correctly your cat should eventually return to its previous normal state.

It’s important to mention that there are no guarantees when it comes to brain injuries – every cat heals in its own way (as this study noted) just as every human does. Sometimes, even with the best vet in the world, you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Identifying Cat Brain Damage Caused By Trauma

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A cat recovering from a severe brain injury may need help along the way. That includes learning to walk again. Image from Flickr

Ultimately, many issues around cat brain damage will result in similar symptoms, because – at the risk of stating the obvious – they all damage the brain. The brain is a vital organ which requires a constant supply of nutrition and oxygen. If an illness effects that, or if your cat has received trauma to the skull, this may lead to an oxygen deficiency. When a cat’s brain becomes oxygen deficient, it can soon result in a fluid build-up followed by bleeding. This, in turn, adds pressure to the brain, leading to further complications. Head traumas can ultimately end up affecting the heart, eyes and other body systems.

The symptoms of head trauma will depend on the severity of the injury. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Bleeding through the ear or nose
  • Bleeding from inside the eye
  • Irregular movements
  • Abnormal posture
  • Discoloration of the skin
  • Heavy or rapid breathing
  • Red or purple spots on the body
  • Abnormal heart functions
  • Cat behaving strangely
  • Cat behavioral problems

If your cat is displaying any of the above symptoms – and especially if it’s displaying a combination – it’s time to consult a vet.

Taking Your Cat To An Assessment For Neurological Issues

cat brain damage

The more your vet knows, the more they’ll be able to help your cat. So tell them everything. Image from RAF Lakenheath

When referring your cat for treatment, ensure that you take with you a thorough history of your cats health. As we’ve covered in detail, your vet has a lot of possibilities to consider, and so the more they know about your pet from the outset the better. You’ll need details of the nature and onset of the problems and any details of possible accidents. Your vet will then perform a physical examination and a biochemistry profile. This will tell your vet everything you need to know about the underlying cause of the brain injury. Biochemistry profiles will show any sign of any abnormalities in blood glucose level. Alternatively (or sometimes additionally) blood gases will confirm if there is oxygen deficiency in the blood.

If your vet suspects your cat has a fracture,they will refer for  X-rays, CT scans and MRI’s. All of these are useful to examine the severity of trauma. These tools will detect cranial bleeding, fractures, foreign bodies and any other anomalies. When the vet has all of the necessary information to hand, they’ll be able to give you more specific information regarding treatment and prognosis.

In Conclusion…

Nobody really likes to consider brain damage as a possibility for themselves. Thinking about cat brain damage is, in some ways, even worse. We love our pets, and we can’t bear to think about them being hurt severely. As you’ve hopefully seen above, though, not all cat brain damage is permanent. In a lot of cases, it can even be reversed completely. Speed is one of the single most important factors though, and the long term well-being of your cat may depend on how quickly you pick up on the signs of possible cat brain damage and act upon them.

Seeking Fast Advice Saves Lives

Familiarizing yourself with all of the information above is important. In particular though, we strongly advise that you go directly to a vet if you become aware that your cat has suffered head trauma at any time. Equally, if your cat has had a seizure but you’ve never known it to have one in the past, consult a vet immediately. In broader terms, if you notice your cat behaving strangely for a prolonged period (let’s face it – they’re all strange occasionally!) or displaying cat behavioral problems when it’s previously been well-behaved, look for any possible reason for the behavior. If you can find none – and the behavior is persistent – book a visit to the vet to be safe. You may be paying money to be told that everything’s fine, but that’s better than taking no action while a potentially fatal condition gets worse.

Thanks for stopping by our website today to read our advice on cat brain damage. We hope you find it useful and reassuring. If you have cat-loving friends who you think would also be interested in reading this page, please consider sharing it. If you’d like information on other cat health related issues, check out out complete guide here! Alternatively, you might be interested in our essential cat product guide, which is here.