“Tom and Jerry Syndrome” Causes Seizures in Older Cats
When the charity International Cat Care asked veterinary neurologists at Davies Veterinary Specialists, UK, for help with several inquiries it had received regarding cats having seizures, seemingly in response to certain high-pitched sounds, the answer was that the problem was not documented and little, if anything, was known about it.
Mark Lowrie and Laurent Garosi from Davies Veterinary Specialists and Robert Harvey from the UCL School of Pharmacy, London, decided to investigate, and compiled a questionnaire for owners to complete. Working with International Cat Care, and using the interest generated by the media, the story went worldwide and was dubbed “Tom and Jerry syndrome” after the cartoon character Tom who has a strong startle reflex and often reacts with involuntary jerks to sound stimuli. The team received hundreds of replies from across the globe from people who had noticed the same problem in their cats in response to certain types of sound. These owners had also found that their local vets had no information at all about it, and often did not believe that a sound had triggered the seizure!
The resulting paper, entitled “Audiogenic reflex seizures in cats”, was published in April 2015 I the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, pulling together information from 96 of these cats, looking at the type and duration of seizure and the triggering sound. The paper reveals that some cats do indeed suffer from audiogenic reflex seizures – those which are consistently caused by sounds. (This condition isis also recognized in people.) Certain sounds induced “absences” (non-convulsive seizures), myoclonic seizures (brief, shock-like jerks of a muscle or a group of muscles), or generalized tonic-clonic seizures. This last category is what most people think of as a “seizure”, with the cat losing consciousness and its body stiffening and jerking, often for several minutes. The new syndrome has been termed feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS).
The investigation found that FARS occurred in pedigree and non-pedigree cats, but that among the pedigrees, the Birman breed was over-represented. This is also a problem of older cats. The average age of seizure onset was 15 years, with cats ranging in age from 10 to 19 years.