Ms Stevie Mouse always takes the limelight but I wanted to write about living with an epileptic cat and how we have coped. Today’s blog is all about little Emmy.
Living With An Epileptic Cat – Emmy’s Story
Scruff Had Four Kittens
Emmy is a tortoiseshell and white (tri-color and white, also known as calico) cat, one of a litter of four kittens born to Scruff our wild outside cat in September 2015. The problem with Scruff is that she has her kittens in one of the outhouses and then brings them round to the front of the house when they are ten weeks old or more. Of course they are not used to humans and it is almost impossible to touch them or do anything with them as a result.
When I saw there were kittens out in the cat garden I dutifully went out with kitten food to try and say hello. This is the beginning of the long, and often unrewarding, process of getting them used to people and being touched. But we do get to worming, de-flea and tick treatment eventually.
But Emmy was different. She ran towards me like some long lost friend, throwing herself on my feet. I picked her up and cuddled her and she purred and it was unbelievable. The other three kittens scattered but this one actually wanted to be cuddled!
The next day I went out to see the kittens and Emmy wasn’t with them. I found her under the outside stairs in a dreadful state. Completely disorientated and with saliva streaming from her mouth.
First Visit To The Vet With Emmy
To be honest my first thought was that she had been poisoned and I scooped her up and took her straight to our long suffering vet. The vet confirmed Emmy was three months old and that it wasn’t poison it was some sort of convulsion. As if to prove it, the poor little thing went rigid and then collapsed on the examination table, thrashing around. I had to leave her with them for tests as we appeared to have an epileptic cat on our hands.
Emmy was at the vets for three days and they rang me to tell me that they had got the convulsions under control and I could come and get her. Initial blood tests hadn’t shown anything in particular but they had sent blood off to a specialist center for analysis.
Emmy Was Blind
What they didn’t tell me, was that she had gone blind. I confidently went to say hello to my little friend and she couldn’t see me, I was heartbroken! The vet wasn’t sure if this would be permanent or temporary.
I brought Emmy home and put her in a cage in the living room where I could keep an eye on her. This was the cage newly vacated by Stevie Mouse (a whole other story!). I bought her a new bed of her own and a toy elephant to snuggle up to. Emmy was now officially part of the indoor family.
Then the blood tests came back with the results that Emmy had Toxoplasmosis that had caused a form of epilepsy.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease and to say our hearts sank at the diagnosis would be an understatement! The fact that we were living with an epileptic cat was a secondary concern for us. The vet was convinced that Emmy had been infected in the womb. Probably Scruff caught and ate an animal that was infected. Adult cats rarely show symptoms of infection. The infection can be spread but only for two weeks after initial infection when the parasite is shed in the feces. The vet explained that Emmy was probably already way past being infectious as he was convinced she was born with it but it was important to take precautions just in case. Strict hygiene was required to ensure that Emmy’s litter box was kept clean and the contents disposed of safely.
It should be noted that people can catch Toxoplasmosis but it is more likely to be caught from handling uncooked, infected meat than from having a cat. You can read more about it here. Our main preoccupation was that Stevie Mouse and our other cats didn’t get infected.
How Toxoplasmosis Had Effected Emmy
In Emmy’s case, the parasite had made its way to her brain. Here it caused altered behaviour. She had no fear of anything which is why she allowed me to pick her up and pet her originally. It was also causing epileptic seizures and other neurological disturbances.
More Vet Visits And Controlling The Seizures
We were backwards and forwards to the vet regularly that week and after a few days Barnet Boy said it was obvious that Emmy was actually looking at him. He took her to the vet but the vet said she was blind and couldn’t see anything. But he was convinced she had been looking at him and actually her sight gradually came back over the next day or so.
Then the next seizure happened and another and that was a hard time as we had to leave her with the vet to try and stabilize her. By now we loved this little thing but the reality of living with an epileptic cat was starting to sink in!
The epilepsy was brought under control with medication but Emmy was now left with a really weird neurological problem. She would only look up and wanted to walk upwards. I know that sounds like I made an error with my writing but seriously, she walked vertically not horizontally. She was a nightmare!
A Light Bulb Moment
One day I was sitting watching this weird behavior and it occurred to me that she needed to learn to focus. I read an article on autistic children and how they needed to have certain toys and activities for stimulation and I wondered if that would work for Emmy. So off I went to one of the local shops selling baby things and came home with rattles and soft things to dangle from the roof of Emmy’s cage.
Within a few days Emmy was playing with the things hanging from the roof and gradually she started to walk horizontally. We were able to let her out of the pink palace to meet Stevie Mouse and get used to the living room and then gradually the rest of the house.
Finding the Right Level of Medication
The vet wanted to avoid putting Emmy immediately on a strong anti-epilepsy medication so he put her on Keppra. He said that he wanted to hold phenobarbital in reserve for if, and when, she needed it later. Phenobarbital is a stronger medication that has a lot of side effects but is commonly used for epileptic cats and dogs.
Although the initial dose was based on her weight, it was trial and error to find the right amount of Keppra that would control Emmy’s epilepsy. After almost three years, we are still giving her Keppra twice a day, 9.30am and 9.30pm although she is now on the strongest dose she can have. If we miss a dose, which is very rare as we have alarms that go off, she will have a seizure after a couple of hours.
Even with the Keppra she will have the occasional seizure but these are few and far between.
What Happens When Emmy Has a Seizure?
Only once have I seen Emmy have a seizure when she is awake and she started to behave oddly before suddenly running and collapsing with convulsions. All other times she is asleep and suddenly she will leap into the air, sometimes running fast and then collapse. It is very sudden and violent. She thrashes around on the floor and urinates everywhere. Sometimes she will defecate.
Occasionally we note that Emmy is behaving a big oddly during a day and we keep a close watch – it often means a seizure will happen later in the day.
Managing The Seizure
When it occurs, our job is to allow the seizure and ensuing convulsions to happen but keep Emmy safe so she doesn’t hit pieces of furniture and cause herself an injury. We usually grab cushions/throw pillows and place them between her and the furniture. Although I know she can’t hear me, I always speak softly to her while she is convulsing. I keep one hand on her at all times (though it is important to bear in mind that she doesn’t know what she is doing and she could bite or scratch so I keep the hand well away from her month and front paws).
The seizures usually last at most a few minutes. It takes a while for Emmy to come around and she is disorientated during that period. She usually has strings of saliva hanging from her mouth. I don’t start cleaning her up until I am sure she is back with us. We keep a pack of unscented wipes for the purposes of cleaning her up and Stevie Mouse usually gets involved in helping to clean up her sister, working on her back end bless her! She doesn’t seem to mind having an epileptic cat for a sister and life buddy.
We have to lift any cat food to stop Emmy eating. Emmy has this strange compulsion to eat immediately after a seizure. Not ordinary eating, absolute gobbling and swallowing! So that has to be controlled in case she chokes. She only gets her food when her behavior has returned to normal.
The urine Emmy produces during a seizure smells very strong, much stronger than what she would usually produce when using a litter box. It takes a bit of cleaning up! You learn to look at the underside of furniture, not just the visible area. The urine tends to get sprayed around!
Things To Bear In Mind
It is important to remember Emmy doesn’t know she has had a seizure, and indeed during a seizure she has no awareness of what is happening. She does not suffer pain. Our job is to keep her safe and to observe the length of time of the seizure and any symptoms that manifest so we can inform the vet. As she comes round we spend a lot of time comforting her. I always check her to make sure she can see!
If she has more than one seizure we contact the vet – the most she has had are three in one 24 hour period. On average we go a couple of months with nothing and then maybe two episodes over a couple of days. We are under strict instructions to get her to the vet if the seizure lasts longer than a few minutes or if she starts having one after the other.
I can’t tell you how long a minute is when you are watching your little friend having a seizure! It seems to go on for hours!
One interesting thing is that our two dogs Ringo and Spud will wake me if they hear Emmy having a seizure in the night. That could save her life one day!
Vaccinations and Getting Spayed
It will come as no surprise to know that everything with Emmy has to be done very carefully. If we have workmen at the house we have to put her in a quiet area away from them. Once someone used a hammer drill in the room next to Emmy and within half an hour she had a seizure.
In consultation with the vet we took the maximum time possible getting her initial vaccinations sorted allowing plenty of time between each shot. Worming etc was also spaced out. We never did more than one thing at a time so as not to overwhelm her system in case it triggered a seizure.
Getting Emmy Sterilized
Getting Emmy spayed was a major concern. One option was not to do it as she is a house cat (ie she doesn’t go outside with the others) but then if she did get out and get pregnant who knew what effect that could have with the epilepsy. Equally, having the operation was potentially risky.
Well Emmy got through the operation fine but she was a nightmare in convalescence. All the other female cats I have had spayed (including Stevie Mouse) didn’t touch their stitches. Emmy delighted in sitting ripping them out, oblivious to the pain and blood. She had to wear a ‘collar of shame’ (surgical collar) the whole time. I ended up sleeping on the sofa with her in case she had a seizure wearing the collar as that would be dangerous (as she could break her neck). It was a relief when her stitches were removed and we could get back to normal.
Our Daily Routine Now
Emmy will have been living with us for three years in September and we have got into a regular daily routine with her. Emmy has tablets night and morning of course. That is funny because when the alarm goes off Stevie Mouse and the dogs come to tell us! We also just keep an eye on her for any strange behavior. Sometimes she suffers from some sort of visual disturbance which is another manifestation of the epilepsy. It doesn’t always lead to a physical seizure but you never know.
Emmy has never changed from that ‘spaced out’ kitten I met the first day. She spends a lot of the day ‘away with the fairies’ as we call it. Emmy rarely comes for a cuddle but is a joy to have around with her beautiful big eyes and gentle personality. She is a little love bucket.
We don’t sit waiting for a seizure to happen, we tend to forget about it. By now we are so practiced if one happens we just spring into action with the minimum of fuss. Because that is what you do with family members isn’t it? You sort it because you love them. And we love Emmy very much.
Update July 2020
Emmy had to eventually take barbiturates as she developed regular seizures, several each day. Unfortunately after a year on the medication she developed liver and kidney failure and had to be put to sleep. She leaves a hole in our heart but given she wasn’t expected to live long she had a happy life with us for several years.
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!