Bizarre "Tom and Jerry Syndrome" in the UK - Could It Spread to the U.S.?

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February 07, 2014 | 35,398 views

Story at-a-glance

  • In a very strange development, cats living in the U.K. are reported to be suffering noise-induced seizures triggered by common, everyday household sounds. These sounds include the rustling of a newspaper, the click of a computer mouse, and dropping metal items onto hard floors.
  • Veterinarians in the U.K. have dubbed the new phenomenon “Tom and Jerry syndrome”, and experts believe the cats’ reactions mimic reflex epilepsy in humans. Reflex epilepsy occurs when a certain stimulus – including something common and simple in the environment -- brings on seizures.
  • U.K. vets and International Cat Care, a charitable organization, are seeking more cases of “Tom and Jerry syndrome” to determine if some cats are more prone to seizures than others, whether there is a genetic component involved, and also what sounds are more likely to trigger a reaction.
  • The seizure-like reactions in affected cats include jerking motions, convulsions, and loss of balance. Less severe symptoms include jumpiness, freezing in place, running in circles, and colliding with objects.
  • Hopefully, U.K. investigators will first rule out all other possible causes of seizures before settling on the appearance of a sudden country-wide phenomenon of “Tom and Jerry syndrome.” Causes of seizures in cats include head trauma, brain tumors, infections, immune-mediated diseases, cervical subluxation, birth defects, liver disease, low blood sugar, hypothyroidism, exposure to toxins, heat stroke, human and veterinary drugs including vaccines, nutritional deficiencies, soybean products, and a condition called feline hyperesthesia.

By Dr. Becker

In a bizarre development, cats throughout the U.K. are suddenly suffering seizures triggered by everyday household noises like rustling newspaper, the tapping of a boiled egg, or the click of a computer mouse.

Other noise-induced seizure triggers include popping pills out of blister packs, dropping metal items on tile floors or into ceramic bowls, hammering nails, and even cat owners slapping their foreheads or clicking their tongues.

'Tom and Jerry Syndrome' – Similar to Reflex Epilepsy in Humans?

U.K. veterinarians, the University College London, and International Cat Care, a cat welfare organization, are investigating what is being called “Tom and Jerry syndrome” after the feline cartoon characters.

Experts believe the cats’ reactions are similar to reflex epilepsy in humans. Reflex epilepsies are a group of epilepsy syndromes in which a certain stimulus brings on seizures. The stimulus can be something simple in the environment or something more complex.

Doctors from Davies Veterinary Specialists in Hertfordshire are actively seeking more cases of “Tom and Jerry syndrome” so they can investigate trends behind the reactions to determine if some cats are more prone to seizures than others, and what sounds are more likely to trigger a reaction. The International Cat Care website and major veterinary publications are also soliciting cat owners whose pets have suffered a seizure.

Is There a Genetic Predisposition?

Experts hope to conduct testing of affected cats to determine if there’s a genetic predisposition to sound-induced seizures. The seizures don’t seem related to the volume of the triggering sound, since many of the sounds are relatively quiet. The noises also do not appear to be unexpected – most are relatively familiar, day-to-day sounds.

According to Mark Lowrie of Davies Veterinary Specialists:

“We want to see if other vets and owners are aware of the problem. It could be they haven’t even associated these fits with noise. I’m sure that a pattern will emerge. It doesn’t seem to be occurring at times of stress. It is often when the cats are being fed – which is probably one of their happier times of the day.”

The reactions that affected cats are exhibiting include the same type of jerking motions seen in epileptic seizures, convulsions, and loss of balance. In less severe cases, there have been reports of jumpiness, freezing in place, running in circles, and colliding with objects. All the cats recover once the sound stops and the seizure resolves.

Are These Truly Noise-Induced Seizures?

This is certainly an odd phenomenon, and especially so since it seems to have suddenly appeared. I really can’t offer even a guess as to what’s going on with these poor kitties in the U.K. The fact that the phenomena is localized to one geographic area could speak to potential environmental toxicosis, in my opinion.

I’d like to know how many reports there are of sudden noise-induced seizures in cats. Are we talking a handful? Hundreds? Thousands? There are many reasons for seizures in pets, and I would need to rule out known causes before determining the episodes are noise-induced.

Causes of seizures in pets include head trauma, brain tumors, infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic), certain immune-mediated diseases, cervical subluxation, birth defects, liver disease, low blood sugar, other metabolic conditions such as hypothyroidism, toxins, heat stroke, and human and certain veterinary drugs including vaccines.

Improper nutrition can also cause seizures, especially in cats fed fish-based diets that may cause thiamine deficiency. Soybean products are also linked to seizures in both cats and dogs.

There is also a condition called feline hyperesthesia that may be a type of seizure disorder.

Once known causes of seizures have been ruled out, we’re left with the diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy, or no known root cause of the seizure disorder. That’s when holistic vets begin to evaluate water, air and soil health, electromagnetic fields, environmental chemical load and geopathic stress. My suspicion is that when one or more of these variables is evaluated a potential root cause of the “abnormal electrical behavior” (or seizures) may surface.

What to Do If Your Pet Has a Seizure

If your cat has a seizure, it’s important to speak with your veterinarian about it. (Obviously, if the seizure is a grand mal and your pet isn’t coming out of it, you need to seek emergency veterinary care immediately.)

In most cases of idiopathic epilepsy, which means seizures of unknown origin, your vet will want to start your pet on an anti-seizure medication. However, my rule of thumb is this: an animal must have in excess of one grand mal seizure a month in order to even consider drug therapy and oftentimes, natural seizure control therapies reduce seizure intensity and frequency so that animals won’t require drug therapy

There are a whole host of natural substances than can help increase your cat’s seizure threshold and decrease the potential for these events. In my practice, we use acupuncture, herbal, chiropractic and nutraceutical therapies to extend seizure thresholds. I recommend you talk with your holistic vet about what protocol that would be best for your cat’s situation.

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