Common high-pitched sounds, such as crinkling tin foil and a spoon clinking the side of a pet food can, can cause some elderly cats to suffer seizures, a study finds.
The research, confirms many years of anecdotal reports made by cat owners worldwide. Some people can suffer from such noise-triggered seizures too.
The condition has been dubbed the “Tom and Jerry syndrome,” after the cartoon cat “Tom.” He often reacts to loud sounds with involuntary jerks. The good news is that the condition appears to be treatable with medication.
The seizures can take different forms depending on their severity: absences (non-convulsive seizures), myoclonic seizures (brief, shock-like jerks of a muscle or a group of muscles), or generalized tonic-colonic seizures, which are the most severe and lead to a loss of consciousness as well as several minutes of body stiffening and jerking.
Commonly reported triggers have included crinkling tin foil (82 cats), a metal spoon clanging in a ceramic feeding bowl (79 cats), chinking or tapping of glass (72 cats), crinkling of paper or plastic bags (71 cats), tapping on a computer keyboard or clicking of a mouse (61), clinking of coins or keys (59), hammering of a nail (38) and even the clicking of an owner’s tongue (24).
Other, less common, triggers were the sound of breaking the tin foil from packaging, mobile phone texting and ringing, digital alarms, Velcro, stove igniting ticks, running water, a dog jangling its collar as it scratched, computer printer sounds, firewood splitting, wooden blocks being knocked together, walking across a wooden floor with bare feet or squeaky shoes and, in one case, the short, sharp scream of a young child.
The sounds can cause sudden electrical activity in the brain that, in certain pre-disposed individuals, may result in a seizure. Underlying health issues, such as infections or abnormal levels of sodium or sugar in the blood, can contribute to the problem, other studies on people suffering from seizures suggest. Genetics and aging can play a role too.