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Cat Seizures Caused by Crinkling Tin Foil? It's a Real Thing, Say Experts

Apr 28, 2015 12:22 PM EDT

Be careful what kind of sounds you make around your cat. You may be throwing Whiskers into brief seizures without even knowing it! A new study has revealed that auditory-induced seizing is a very real problem in felines - one that most veterinarians never believed existed.

This problem was first uncovered by the charity group International Cat Care (ICC - formerly known as the Feline Advisory Bureau) who set out to once and for all settle a problem they had been hearing about for years. Owners and care centers alike had been seeing a strange phenomenon where some cats would behave erratically around certain sounds - such as the crinkling of tin foil or the clanging of a metal spoon on a ceramic feeding bowl.

They called it "Tom and Jerry Syndrome," after the easily startled cartoon cat, and ICC asked veterinary neurologists at Davies Veterinary Specialists to investigate. Once word of the investigation spread, ICC even started receiving reports from hundreds of cat owners across the globe who had noticed the same problem in their cats - a problem most of their vets didn't believe existed.

Now, those vets may have a lot of apologizing to do. The result of the investigation, as published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, has revealed that Tom and Jerry Syndrome is a very real thing, with neurological roots. Experts call it feline audiogenic reflex seizing (FARS) - where ARS is a condition already recognized even in humans.

During the study, a total of 96 cats were assessed so that experts could determine what kind of seizures were experienced, for how long, and with what triggers. They determined that FARS covers a wide spectrum of responses, including 'absences' (non-convulsive seizures), myoclonic seizures (brief, shock-like jerks of a muscle or group of muscles), or your run-of-the-mill tonic-clonic seizures. (Scroll to read on...)

Disturbingly, cats suffering from this last FARS response lost consciousness as a result, and the seizing could last for minutes on end.

FARS was also found to be strongly associated with common high-pitched noises. A whopping 85 percent of the cats could seize if startled by the crinkling of tin foil, while just over 82 percent responded to the bowl clanking. More than half the cats also had FARS triggers with things like the clinking of glass (72 cats), the crinkling of paper bags (71), violent keyboard tapping (61), and even the clinking of coins (59). In addition, a hammer on nails and even human tongue clicking were identified as infrequent triggers.

All of these are high-pitched noises, and the seizing problem was seen worst of all in cats past the age of 15 (with FARS onset ages ranging from 10 to 19). The problem also appears to affect the Birman pedigree the most - that fluffy breed characterized by a white, luxurious coat; a black tail, face and ears; and stunning blue eyes.

Surveyed owners of suspected FARS sufferers also revealed that, as expected, the loudness of the sound influences its severity. By muffling or simply avoiding making these noises, seizure instances could be significantly reduced.

So what can be done about it? The preliminary results of ongoing studies suggest that levetiracetam - an anticonvulsant normally used to treat epilepsy - may be just what the vet ordered.

"Our experience is that it can completely rid a cat of these sound-induced seizures, including the myoclonic twitches," study author Mark Lowrie said in a statement. "One owner reported that levetiracetam had 'truly been a miracle drug for my cat.'"

Claire Bessant, Chief Executive of the ICC, added that she was surprised and thrilled with the success of these the results.

"How wonderful," she said, "to be able to go back to those worried owners who came to us for help with a problem previously unrecognized by the veterinary profession with not only an explanation for their cats' behaviors, but a way to help them as well."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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