Twitching in Cats – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Non medical causes   Medical causes   Diagnosis     Treatment

twitching in cats

Also known as fasciculation, twitching is the minor contraction of muscles, in cats, it commonly occurs in the whiskers, nose and tail, but it can happen in any location.

Non-medical causes of twitching in cats:

  • Twitching occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is perfectly normal.
  • Cats often twitch their tail, which 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 which has a number of causes including bacterial infection, external parasites and allergies.
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 which can occur as a result of lactation, pancreatitis, phosphate enemas, chronic kidney disease, and hypoparathyroidism.
Eclampsia (milk fever)
  • A serious disorder seen in lactating cats resulting in low blood calcium levels (hypocalcemia).

Feline hyperesthesia (rolling skin disease)

  • A  condition which is seen most often in cats between 1 – 4 years of age, where twitching, rolling skin, body jerks, and vocalisation occur. The most commonly affected breed is the Siamese.
Kidney disease
  • Damage to the kidneys caused by disease, poisoning, infections and congenital. Kidney disease may be acute or chronic.
Ear mites
  • Highly contagious spider-like parasites that live in the ears.
Rabies
  • A fatal viral infection, which is transmitted via the bite of an infected animal.
Seizure (convulsions)
  • A sudden and uncontrolled burst of electrical activity within the brain which may be the result of trauma, poisoning, tumour, brain infections, abnormal migration of heartworm and bleeding into the brain.
Poisoning
  • Many possible causes of poisoning. Medication, toxic plants or other substances. One of the most common causes of twitching in cats is due to the inappropriate administration of flea treatments which are for use in dogs. These products should never be used due to their toxicity in cats.
Thiamine deficiency (vitamin B1) 
  • Homemade diets which consist of large amounts of fish or cooked meat, which destroys vitamin V1.
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.

Diagnosis:

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) 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:  

Fortunately, most cases of twitching in cats are harmless and no treatment is necessary with benign muscle twitching.

Where treatment is necessary, it may include the following:

Correction of mineral or vitamin deficiencies with intravenous fluids or supplementation.

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 such as phenobarbital or Valium.

Gastric decontamination by induction of vomiting or stomach pump and activated charcoal to bind to ingested toxins.

Treat ear mites with anti-parasitic medication to kill the mites and remove the exudate from the ears. Antibiotics may be necessary to treat secondary infections, which are common.

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 pruritus as well as administering corticosteroids and/or antihistamines to relieve itchiness.

Bathing a cat to remove dog flea treatments as well as supportive care to control symptoms, this may include muscle relaxants, anti-seizure medications, and fluid therapy.

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