Older cats may get seizures after hearing certain loud, high-pitched sounds like keys rattling, tin foil crinkling, or a metal spoon banging against a food dish, researchers said Monday.
Even sounds as ordinary as tapping on a computer keyboard, hammering a nail or the noise of a clucking tongue could set off a temporary seizure, mainly in cats over the age of 10, said the report in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.
The study began as an inquiry by the charity International Cat Care, which asked veterinary neurologists about reports from some cat owners describing unusual seizures.
International media reported on the apparent disorder — coined “Tom and Jerry syndrome” after the cartoon feline, Tom, that often displayed sudden jerking in response to loud noises and surprises from his mouse adversary, Jerry — and real life reports from cat owners began pouring in.
Now the disorder has a real name: feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS).
Humans can also suffer from audiogenic reflex seizures, which are triggered by certain sounds.
In some cases, the sounds may cause a sudden pause in movement, while in other cases the noises lead to brief jerking motions that may last several minutes.
Since there was no published scientific research on the problem, study authors Mark Lowrie and Laurent Garosi from Davies Veterinary Specialists and Robert Harvey from the University College London School of Pharmacy wrote a questionnaire that was delivered to cat owners by International Cat Care.
Hundreds of people answered from all over the world. Many pet owners expressed frustration that their local veterinarians had been unable to diagnose the problem.
Based on data compiled from 96 cats, researchers found that sounds were indeed the trigger for the seizures.
Both pedigree and non-pedigree cats were affected.
“The average age of seizure onset was 15 years, with cats ranging in age from 10 to 19 years,” said the study, adding that Birmanian breeds tended to be particularly vulnerable to such seizures.
“This study has defined a previously unreported syndrome by using a carefully screened questionnaire and medical records,” said the report.
“The hope is that publication of the paper will raise awareness among vets in practice about this syndrome.”
Researchers are continuing to explore possible treatments for the seizures, which many pet owners said could be avoided, at least some of the time, by keeping cats away from certain sounds.