|Non medical causes Medical causes Diagnosis Treatment|
At a glance:
About: Twitching is the small, local, involuntary muscle contraction which can be seen under the skin which may be muscle or neurological in origin.
Diagnosis: Baseline tests, imaging,
Treatment: This will depend on the underlying cause.
Also called 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. The most common causes are due to underlying cerebellar or neuromuscular diseases.
- 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.
Twitching is not a medical condition in itself, but may also occur as a symptom of a medical problem, some of which include:
- Low blood calcium levels which can occur as a result of lactation, pancreatitis, phosphate enemas, chronic kidney disease, and hypoparathyroidism.
Feline hyperesthesia (rolling skin disease)
Feline hyperesthesia is a poorly understood characterised by bizarre behaviour which may include: rippling skin along the back, sudden bouts of frantic biting and licking at the tail, pelvis or flank, eyes wide open, dilated pupils and aggression. During an attack, your cat will behave as if he is reacting to hallucinatory stimuli.
The condition appears to start in early adulthood, and there is a higher incidence in Siamese, which suggests a possible genetic component, although it can develop in any cat.
Chronic kidney disease
Slow and progressive damage to the kidneys which impacts their ability to filter toxins leading to a build up in the blood. Damage to the kidneys can damage the muscles and nerves.
- Many possible causes of poisoning. Medication, toxic plants, essential oils (including tea tree), and other toxic 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 contain pyrethrin or permethrin, both of which are toxic to cats and must never be used due to their toxicity in cats.
Thiamine is an essential water-soluble vitamin which performs a number of essential roles in the body, including the nervous system.
Common causes of thiamine deficiency include homemade diets which consist of large amounts of fish or cooked meat, which destroys vitamin B1, prolonged loss of appetite, malabsorption disorders and excessive urination.
Hypomagnesemia (magnesium deficiency)
Magnesium is the second most abundant substance in the cells. It is found in the greatest concentrations in the skeletal muscle and the liver, but is also in the bones and extracellular fluid (fluid outside the cells). Low magnesium levels in the extracellular fluid can increase the concentration of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) at the motor end plates, which can cause involuntary twitching of the muscles.
Magnesium deficiency can occur as a result of malnutrition or malabsorption disorders, long-term fluid therapy, chronic diarrhea and/or vomiting, excessive urination (due to kidney disease or diabetes), and the use of diuretics.
Inflammation of the brain ad/or the spinal cord which may be due to infection (viral such as FIP, FIV and rabies, bacterial, fungal such as blastomycosis, or cryptococcosis or protozoal), immune mediated, parasitic such as cuterebra, foreign body or idiopathic (no known cause).
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.
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.
- Is it the ears, tail, face/whiskers or all over the body?
- What other symptoms (if any) your cat displaying?
- Location of the twicthing.
- Any underlying medical conditions?
- Is the cat on any medications.
All of these answers can give your vet clues as to the possible cause.
Baseline tests: Complete blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis.
Additional tests may be required depending on your veterinarian’s index of suspicion.
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.
It is important to find and treat the underlying cause of the electrolyte or vitamin.
- Reduce stress in the household, such as addressing in-fighting between household cats.
- Provide your cat with an enriching environment such as plenty of play to burn off energy.
- Give the cat its own bed, food and water bowls, scratching post so that he doesn’t have to share with other pets.
- Provide your cat with a regular routine such as feeding at the same time every day, also, cats prefer several small meals are better than one or two large meals.
- Avoid activities such as grooming or petting if your cat becomes aggressive.
- Anticonvulsant medications such as phenobarbital.
- Anxi-anxiety drugs.
- Corticosteroids such as prednisolone.
- NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
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.
The goal of treatment is to find and address the underlying cause where possible.
Other conditions may be managed, but not completely eliminated, if a head trauma has occurred causing brain damage or some brain tumours which are inoperable. If this is the case, your cat may be put on anti-convulsant medications such as Phenobarbital. This medication can cause some side effects including ataxia, increased appetite, thirst, and urination.
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. Supportive care such as fluids to help flush the toxins out of the system.
Emergency care: Bathe the cat two to three times with dishwashing detergent and warm water. Apply directly to the area, wash, rinse and re-apply, rinse off. Take your cat to an emergency veterinarian for further treatment.
Supportive care to control symptoms, this may include muscle relaxants such as methocarbamol, anti-seizure medications, and fluid therapy.
Thiamine injections for several days until the cat recovers and symptoms diminish. Feed the cat a nutritionally balanced diet.
The goal of treatment is to address the underlying cause as well as provide supportive care.
Prophylactic antibiotic therapy, high doses of steroids to suppress the immune system, anticonvulsants (where necessary) and supportive care.
For cats with cuterebra, administration of diphenhydramine an antihistamine to prevent an allergic reaction followed by Ivermectin an anti-parasitic medication which may be administered to kill the larvae.
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