These Common Sounds Often Cause Seizures in Cats

CC BY 2.0. Diana Parkhouse/flickr

If your cat passes out from the sound of crinkling tin foil, she’s not alone.

For a long time people with older cats have been concerned about the onset of seizures in their pet – and in particular ones that seemed to be set off by certain sounds. But the problem wasn’t one that had been documented and veterinarians knew little about it.

But after a number of inquiries, Mark Lowrie and Laurent Garosi from Davies Veterinary Specialists and Robert Harvey from the UCL School of Pharmacy, London, decided to investigate. They created a questionnaire for cat keepers to fill out, and working with the charity International Cat Care, they received hundreds of responses from people who had noticed the problem in their cat. Often times, the respondents noted, their vets did not believe that sound had triggered the seizures.

The researchers compiled the data they received and have published a paper which is the first time this curious feline phenomenon has been documented. They reveal that cats do indeed suffer from “audiogenic reflex seizures” – seizures that are consistently caused by sounds, an event that happens in people, too. They have named the new syndrome feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS).

What they found was that FARS happens in both pedigree and non-pedigree cats; and among pedigrees, it was more predominant in the Birman breed. They also discovered that the syndrome occurs in older cats – mostly from 10 to 19 years old, with the average age of onset being 15 years.

What’s interesting are the trigger sounds, in order of prevalence:

  • Crinkling tin foil
  • Metal spoon clanging in a ceramic feeding bowl
  • Chinking or tapping of glass
  • Crinkling of paper or plastic bags
  • Tapping on a computer keyboard or clicking of a mouse
  • Clinking of coins or keys
  • Hammering of a nail
  • Clicking of an owner's tongue
Other, less-reported triggers included breaking the tin foil from packaging, mobile phone texting and ringing, digital alarms, Velcro, stove igniting ticks, running water, a dog jangling its collar as it scratched, computer printer, firewood splitting, wooden blocks being knocked together, and walking across a wooden floor with bare feet or squeaky s

Keeping the cats away from these sounds can reduce the seizures, but many of these are the sounds of life and one can’t keep their cat sequestered in a lifeless room. But with the publication of the paper comes the hope that vets will become more aware of the problem – and in the meantime, the team is researching treatment options for the condition.