feline audiogenic reflex seizures (fars)
A rather new seizure phenomenon has been described in some cats recently, and it’s got a lot of veterinary professionals scratching their heads. Termed feline audiogenic reflex seizures (or FARS), these particular seizures occur in response to specific noises.
You may have heard of a similar condition in humans when seizures are triggered by environmental stimuli, such as strobe lights, but in the case of our feline friends, it’s noises that trigger the seizures.
Though this syndrome is newly discovered, it’s likely that it’s just gone unrecognized by veterinary professionals until recently. Researchers in the UK questioned cat owners who have witnessed these bizarre seizure episodes and published their findings in April of last year, and since then, the veterinary profession has been paying closer attention to the phenomenon.
Cats having seizures is nothing new. While epilepsy is less common in cats than it is in canine companions, we do see it from time to time. What makes these seizures unique is that they occur in response to hearing a specific noise. And by specific, I mean very specific.
Examples of sounds that can induce these types of seizures:
- Crinkling tin foil
- A metal spoon dropping into a ceramic bowl
- Clinking of coins
- A daisy wheel printer
- A digital alarm
- Clinking of glasses
- Rustling of a brown paper bag
- Tapping on a keyboard
- Clicking of a person’s tongue
As you can see, these are everyday sorts of noises that can send cats into seizure episodes varying from mental “absences” with no convulsions to full-on trembling seizures with loss of consciousness.
FARS seems to be a condition of mostly geriatric cats, with the ages of affected cats in the UK study ranging from 10 to 19 years old and an average age of 15 years old. While any breed was affected, Birman cats were slightly overrepresented.
Because this syndrome is newly discovered, it is poorly understood. Further studies will surely bring to light more specifics, including genetic predisposition and underlying causes. For now, though, rest assured that if your old kitty is affected, relief is relatively easy to find. Treatment is possible using standard anti-convulsant medications that are already being used to safely treat other types of epilepsy in animals (both two- and four-legged), and owners report that their cats enjoyed a good quality of life once treatment began.
If your cat is getting up there in years, pay special attention to her behavior around the noises mentioned above. Just because she may not have a full-blown seizure doesn’t mean that there isn’t seizure-like activity going on in her brain. Is she spacey or zoned out while you’re typing away at your keyboard or popping a pill out of a foil-lined pack? She could be suffering from FARS, but the solution is close — just check with your veterinarian!