Ischemic encephalopathy in cats: cause, symptoms, treatment

Ischemic encephalopathy in cats: what is the cause? Can it be cured? What can be done to prevent my cat from getting this infection? Let’s find out together.

Ischemic encephalopathy in cats is a seasonal disease that occurs only in the summer months, mainly in July, August and September.

It mainly affects cats that have access to the outside and cats that live outdoors.

Causes of ischemic encephalopathy in cats

Ischemic encephalopathy in cats or felines (FIE) is caused by the presence of a parasite, the Cuterebra larva, in the animal’s brain.

Contagion occurs when the adult fly lays its eggs near the burrow of a rabbit, mouse or other rodent, the cat passes by and the newly hatched larvae attach themselves to the cat’s hair.

From the coat, they can subsequently reach the skin, throat, nasal passage or eyes of the cat.

Infection then occurs when the larva enters through the cat’s nose and travels to the brain.


Symptoms that can occur in cats with feline ischemic encephalopathy may be breathing problems that show up one to three weeks before any signs of neurological complication.

This happens because the parasite gets to the brain via the nasal canal. Other symptoms following these are:

  • convulsions 
  • circular movements
  • unexplained aggression
  • blindness 

Also, tissue breakdown (degeneration) and bleeding (hemorrhage) can occur due to thorns on the parasite’s body.

Finally, the parasite also secretes a chemical that can damage the middle cerebral artery (MCA) and cause it to spasm in cats.

Diagnosis and treatment of encephalopathy in cats

In order to make an accurate diagnosis, the veterinarian is obliged to perform certain tests, such as:

  • Test of cat urine 
  • spinal fluid test
  • and other tests

However, what determines an adequate response is MRI, which is able to detect whether Cuterebra larvae are causing neurological symptoms or other neurological abnormalities (external trauma, tumors, kidney disease and infectious diseases).

If then done more than 2 to 3 weeks after the onset of symptoms, it may also show a loss of brain matter in the area provided by the MCA, another sign that Cuterebra larva is present.

Once the diagnosis is established, the vet will determine what is best for the treatment of ischemic encephalopathy in cats, namely drugs to relieve the symptoms caused by the parasite.

In most cases, the treatment involves:

  • antiepileptic drugs that help prevent seizures
  • intravenous fluids which instead ensure a good nutritional status in the cat

If, on the other hand, if the symptoms have been occurring for less than a week, it is possible to carry out a drug treatment designed to kill the parasite.

Generally the prognosis is good, many cats return to normal, but in some cases the complications can continue, depending on the severity of the initial conditions of the disease.

Nevertheless, all this can be avoided by trying to keep the domestic cat away from rodent burrows or by taking more care and attention of its outings in the garden.

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