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Have you heard of Tom and Jerry syndrome in cats?
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Have you heard of Tom and Jerry syndrome in cats?

With a name like “Tom and Jerry syndrome,” you might think that this relatively recent discovery of a very specific type of health problem that can affect older cats is something of a joke, but this rather oddly named condition can be potentially serious for affected cats, as well as concerning for their owners.

The condition is, as mentioned, something that has only come to light and undergone research within the last few years, but as information about the condition is now becoming more widely spread and understood, it is something that all cat owners should learn about and learn to recognise. It is thought to potentially affect a small but significant number of our feline friends once they reach old age, for reasons that are not totally clear.

In this article we will look at Tom and Jerry syndrome in cats in more detail, explaining what it is, what sort of cats can be affected, and what it means for affected cats. Read on to learn more.

What is Tom and Jerry syndrome?

Tom and Jerry are of course the well-known cartoon cat and mouse duo famed for their mutual dislike of each other and perilous exploits, and the reason behind the name of the condition becomes much clearer once you understand how it affects cats!

Small rodents like mice and rats, the natural prey of cats, communicate in squeaks and other high-pitched verbalisations, some of which fall outside of the range of normal human hearing attenuation. However, cats evolved alongside of their prey with the sensitivity to be able to hear the high-pitched verbalisations of rodents to help them to locate their prey, a trait that all domestic cats share.

In a low but measurable proportion of senior cats in old age, some of these specific sound frequencies and other noises that share the same frequencies have been found to cause seizures-and many of the sounds that can potentially lead to seizures are simple and common household noises that cats are regularly exposed to.

There is no exhaustive list of all of the potential sound frequencies and activities that can trigger a seizure response in susceptible cats, and not all cats will share the same triggers, however some of the noises noted so far have included tingling glass, the crackling sound of tinfoil, and the sound of a metal spoon on the lip of a ceramic bowl.

While the condition is most widely referred to as the above-mentioned Tom and Jerry syndrome, the name given to it by scientists researching the phenomenon is Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures.

What sort of cats are affected by it?

Studies and research into the syndrome and the type of cats affected by it are still in their early days, and so as yet, there is no definitive information available on what sort of cats may be most prone or immune to the issue, nor why one cat may be affected while another may not. There has been no indication that either pedigree or mixed-breed cats are affected any more than each other as a general rule, however, in the initial study group of 96 cats that were reported as suffering from the condition, almost a third of them were of the BirmanCat breed.

One thing that the cats did all share was that they had already reached old age, with the average age at the onset of the condition in the cats studied being 15 years.

Why does it occur?

Put simply, scientists and researchers have no theories as yet as to why this rather unique and interesting condition is presenting itself in a small but measurable number of older cats, and because the syndrome is not widely known of among cat owners, there is a very good chance that the condition is currently being underreported.

Because the average age of onset is fifteen years too, a reasonable percentage of cats do not live to this age, and of course in old age, a whole range of other potential health issues can arise as well that may either mask, or be confused with, Tom and Jerry syndrome.

How can you identify it?

Affected cats don’t all respond to their triggering sounds in the same way-added to which, not all cats are triggered by the same range of sounds, and unless the frequency produced is very specific, not all affected cats will be affected by the same trigger every time!

The condition leads to seizures when exposed to a triggering sound, but the extent and severity of the seizures can vary considerably-presenting in some cats as a full-blown grand mal seizure, while other cats will simply go through a small involuntary jerking reflex response, which will pass in a second or two.

If you have noticed any kind of seizures or unusual behaviour in your older cat, talk to your vet about it-and mention Tom and Jerry syndrome to them, as it is not widely known about yet, even within the UK veterinary community!

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