Twitching in Cats

twitching in cats

Also known as fasciculation, twitching is the minor contraction of muscles in the affected area. In cats, twitching commonly occurs where the whiskers are, but it can happen in any location.

Non medical causes of twitching in cats:

  • During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, cats can be seen to be twitching. This is perfectly normal.
  • Cats often twitch their tail, which is another harmless cause. Twitching of the tail is a sign of agitation or excitement.
  • Skin irritation, which may be due to an insect or an irritant such as a grass seed trapped in the fur.

Medical causes of twitching in cats:

Twitching is not a medical condition in itself, but may also occur as a symptom of a medical problem. Some of which include:

  • Pruritus – Itchy skin.
  • Anxiety – Just like humans, cats can become anxious. There are many causes including a change in the home environment (new baby, moving house, new pet), separation anxiety, a trip to the vet etc.
  • Hypocalcemia – Low blood calcium levels.
  • Eclampsia (milk fever) – A serious disorder seen in lactating cats resulting in low blood calcium levels (hypocalcemia).
  • Feline hyperesthesia (rolling skin disease) – A not entirely understood condition which usually occurs in adults aged 1 – 4 years of age in which the cat exhibits twitching, rolling skin, body jerks, and vocalisation. Siamese cats are the most commonly affected, but it can occur in all breeds of cat.
  • Kidney disease – Damage to the kidneys caused by disease, poisoning, infections and congenital. May be acute or chronic.
  • Ear mites – Spider like parasites that live in the ears.
  • Rabies – A fatal viral infection, usually transmitted via the bite of an infected animal.
  • Seizure (convulsions) – Sudden and uncontrolled burst of electrical activity within the brain.
  • Poisoning – Many possible causes of poisoning. Medication, toxic plants or other substances. A common cause of poisoning which can cause twitching is inappropriate administration of flea treatments which are for use in dogs. These products are toxic to cats and should never be used.
  • Thiamine deficiency (vitamin B1).
  • Hypomagnesemia (magnesium deficiency).

Twitching in the sleep is of no concern at all, but if you notice your cat twitching for no apparent reason, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, he should be seen by a veterinarian to determine the cause.

How is the cause of twitching diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history. He will check for other symptoms which may give a clue as to what is causing the twitching. The location of the twitching may give a clue as to the cause. Is it the ears, tail, face/whiskers or all over the body? What other symptoms (if any) is your cat displaying? All of these answers can give your vet clues as to the possible cause.

Baseline tests will be necessary including complete blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis. Additional tests may be required depending on your veterinarian’s index of suspicion.

Treatment of muscle twitching in cats:

Fortunately, most cases of twitching in cats are harmless and no treatment is necessary with benign muscle twitching. Where treatment is required, it is aimed at the cause of twitching and may include:

  • Correction of mineral or vitamin deficiencies.
  • Chronic kidney disease can’t be cured but its progression can be slowed down by dietary changes, such as a prescription diet, encouraging fluid intake, phosphorous binders, anti-nausea medications and in some cases erythropoietin. Regular veterinary monitoring will be necessary.
  • Anti-seizure medications.
  • Induction of vomiting or stomach pump activated charcoal in the case of poisoning.
  • Treat ear mites with anti-parasitic medication to kill the mites and remove the exudate from the ears.
  • Sadly rabies is untreatable and euthanasia is the only outcome.
  • Treat itchy skin with anti-inflammatories or antibiotics (in the case of infection).
  • Finding and treating the cause of pruritis as well as administering corticosteroids and/or antihistamines to relieve itchiness.
  • If your cat has been administered a dog flea treatment, he will need to be bathed to remove the product from his coat and prevent further absorption as well as supportive care which may include muscle relaxants to control tremors and fluid therapy if necessary.

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