One of the concerns about the switch from incandescent to fluorescent lighting was that while the ballasts are higher frequency now - humans do not have to hear that annoying hum - they were right in the range that pets still hear.
Those are still low volume. Some pet owners say high-pitched noises are a problem, but when the charity International Cat Care asked veterinary neurologists for information regarding cats having seizures in response to high-pitched sounds, the answer was that the problem was not documented.
So Mark Lowrie and Laurent Garosi from Davies Veterinary Specialists and Robert Harvey from the University College London School of Pharmacy compiled a questionnaire for owners to complete. The survey went viral and the problem was dubbed "Tom and Jerry syndrome" because the cartoon cat, Tom, has a strong startle reflex and often reacts with involuntary jerks to sound stimuli.
Unsurprisingly, they then received survey responses saying their cats were also hypersensitive to sound and had seizures - a lot of cats hide under the bed when even a door opens - but the owners said their local veterinarians did not believe that a sound had triggered the seizure.
A recent paper used information from 96 of these cats, looking at the type and duration of seizure and the triggering sound. It says that some cats do indeed suffer from audiogenic reflex seizures - those which are consistently caused by sounds. Certain sounds induced 'absences' (non-convulsive seizures), myoclonic seizures (brief, shock-like jerks of a muscle or a group of muscles), or generalized tonic-clonic seizures. This last category is what most people think of as a 'seizure', with the cat losing consciousness and its body stiffening and jerking, often for several minutes. The new syndrome has been termed feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS).
The investigation found that FARS occurred in pedigree and non-pedigree cats, but that among the pedigrees, the Birman breed was over-represented. This is also a problem of older cats - the average age of seizure onset was 15 years, with cats ranging in age from 10 to 19 years.
The most commonly reported triggers for FARS were the sound of 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). There are more. So many more in such a small sample that it could just be cats are having seizures for all kinds of reasons, the authors did not bring cats into the lab and give them seizures with sound, this is all anecdotal. They did have medical records for the cats, so the seizures were real.
Citation: Lowrie M, Bessant C, Harvey RJ, Sparkes A and Garosi L. Audiogenic reflex seizures in cats. J Feline Med Surg. Epub ahead of print 27 April 2015. DOI: 10.1177/1098612X15582080.