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Crinkling Tin Foil and Other Sounds Can Cause Seizures in Cats

By Samantha Drake
Everyday sounds, like crinkling tin foil, a metal spoon hitting a ceramic bowl, rustling paper or plastic bags, or hammering a nail, can have a worrisome effect on your cat, according to a new study. Researchers say certain high-pitched sounds cause noise-induced seizures in older cats — and the response is not all that unusual.
Until now, the condition has not been well-documented, so many cat owners tend to dismiss the seizures as a sign of old age, notes Dr. Mark Lowrie of Davies Veterinary Specialists in Hertfordshire, England. Lowrie is the lead author of the study recently published in The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.
“We don’t know the prevalence of this condition currently but it is far more common than anyone first thought,” he says.

Older Cats Affected

The media has dubbed the seizures the “Tom and Jerry Syndrome” after Tom, the cartoon kitty who often jumps suddenly in response to the antics of Jerry, his cartoon mouse nemesis. Researchers call the disorder “feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS).”
FARS affects older cats, says Lowrie, with 15 being the average age of the cats in the study. Although any breed of cat could have FARS, about one-third of the cats in the study were Birmans, specifically those with blue and seal points, he adds.
The study of 96 cats, a population roughly half male and half female, also found that even relatively quiet sounds, like squeaky shoes or jangling keys, can cause a seizure. Lowrie explains that cats have an ultrasonic hearing range, including frequencies humans can’t detect. Many of the domestic sounds found to trigger seizures have a high amount of ultrasonic frequencies. “Therefore, they may sound innocuous to us, but to cats sensitive to these frequencies, they actually sound more startling,” he says.
Interestingly, about half the cats in the study were hearing-impaired or deaf, he points out.

Managing FARS

Obviously, many of the sounds that trigger FARS can’t be entirely eliminated from a domesticated cat’s environment. Although there’s currently no cure for FARS, the anti-seizure medication levetiracetam helps to effectively manage the condition in cats, says Lowrie.
The researchers began investigating FARS after the charitable organization International Cat Care brought the condition to their attention, Lowrie explains, adding, “This was a real concern.”

Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital (OVSH) has been serving the Portland and Beaverton area community since 1979. Drs. Steven F. Skinner (Neurology, Neurosurgery) and Robert T. Franklin (Internal medicine.) We welcome referrals from veterinarians all over the Pacific Northwest. Our goal is to help your pet regain health and live a long and happy life.

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