Feline Hyperesthesia syndrome is an uncommon medical condition that distresses the brain which then results in a couple of weird symptoms in felines. This medical condition affects cats of every age, however, it is typically common in older adult cats and the reason or causes for it is still a bit of a mystery. A couple of experts state that this medical condition could be brought on by seizures, a kind of brain disorder or a form of OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Veterinarians typically describe this condition as a rippling act that begins at the top of the cat’s shoulders and continues down along its back all the way to the cat’s tail. This description explains why it is infrequently called twitchy cat syndrome or rippling skin syndrome. Hyperesthesia is the term that is used to define heightened or increased sensitivity that distresses the senses of any animal, which in this case, is the skin of a cat. It is actually possible to view the movement of skin in some felines, however, it can sometimes be difficult to see in others, as it is dependent on the length and thickness of the cat; fur.
This condition has symptoms that could show up in any cat, regardless of sex or breed. That being said, Siamese, Himalayan, Burmese, and Abyssinian purebred cats appear to have a predisposition to developing hyperesthesia. The symptoms associated with Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome are occasional, which means cats could behave normally for prolonged time periods, feeding normally and drinking a sufficient amount of water, nevertheless, there are a couple of symptoms that an owner would notice. In this article, we shall be taking a look at what this condition is and all you need to know in dealing with it.
Feline Hyperesthesia can happen in any cat, regardless of age, however, it is more widespread in cats that are 1 to 5 years of age. Females and males are both equally susceptible. Although all breeds can be affected, a large percentage of Abyssinian, Persian, Burmese and Siamese breeds are more usually affected.
Just like its secondary name ‘rolling skin disease’, cats that are affected by this syndrome appear to have rolling or rippling skin near the lumbar spine. Signs of pain can be visible when there is a palpation of the lumbar musculature
As indicated by the name rolling skin disease, affected cats often show rippling or rolling skin along the lumbar spine. Palpation of the lumbar musculature may elicit signs of pain. Mydriasis is common during bouts of FHS. Affected cats commonly stare at their tail, then attack the tail and/or flanks.
Biting of the tail base, forelegs, and paws is common. These cats often run wildly around the home, vocalizing at the same time. Normally calm cats may display aggression toward people or other cats in the household, while aggressive cats may display increased affection. The behavior may be induced by petting or stroking the cat’s fur and most commonly occurs in the morning or later in the evening.2
Symptoms and Signs of Twitchy Cat Syndrome
Kittens affected with hyperesthesia often have the skin on their back ripple right from the top of the shoulders down to the tail. Sometimes this rippling extends even up to the tip of the tail. This movement is evidently visible in certain cats, however, it might be difficult to spot in others. The most glaring sign that numerous pet owners notice, however, is their kitten jumping around suddenly and turning towards the direction of its tail as if something along that area is bothering it. This scenario can also happen while the kitten is asleep. The cat could also try to bite or lick the affected location. Kittens plagued with hyperesthesia suffer from tail twitching, muscle twitches, and spasms.
If a cat has FHS, it might object to or evade being touched at certain spots along its back or spine. The cat might chase its tail, hiss after turning towards its tail, bite itself, cry out, jump and run. The cat might even exhibit signs that are similar to hallucinations. Examples of these are following movements that aren’t there and pupils might be dilated when these episodes are taking place. In very serious cases of FHS, some cats begin to self-mutilate by licking, chewing, biting and pulling hair out. Not only do these kittens suffer hair loss, but they also suffer painful skin lesions and get secondary infections from attempts to gain relief from painful sensations they might experience.
Cats that are normally calm could exhibit aggressive behavior that is directed towards other cats or people in the household. In Contrast, normally aggressive cats might display increased affection that is not of their normal character.
This behavior could be triggered by stroking or petting the affected cat’s fur and typically happens either early in the morning or late in the evening.
Potential Hyperesthesia Causes
There is no concrete evidence and scientists are currently at a loss as to why hyperesthesia occurs in cats, however, there are a lot of considered possibilities.
- The first thing cat owners should do if their cat has been exhibiting symptoms similar to those of FHS is to cancel out other reasons for twitching and itching. It is imperative to investigate and eradicate FAD or flea allergy dermatitis as a contributor or a reason for your cat’s erratic behavior.
- Cats that have a serious flea allergy can develop long-term skin irritation and itching just from a single flea bite. A severe case of FAD could cause a cat to scratch and lick very aggressively, typically at the bottom of the tail or its hindquarters, so much that it loses a large amount of fur on that section of its body. Occasionally itchy, dry skin could aggravate or induce hyperesthesia. When a cat has dry skin, it is usually a sign of an omega 3 deficiency. This fatty acid deficiency is frequent on cats that have been either fed with kibble or have a homemade diet that is unbalanced.
- Another possibility could be that feline hyperesthesia is linked to seizure disorders. A couple of kittens might experience grand mal seizures either during or just after hyperesthesia episodes. Some experts believe hyperesthesia could be caused by issues with electric activity in parts of the brain that have to deal with emotions, predatory behavior, and grooming. It could also be a type of OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder, with the obsession, in this case, being fearfulness, aggression or grooming. Sometimes seizure activity has been known to cause obsessive-compulsive behavior. One of the best ways to sort out or soothe this bizarre condition is to engage in chiropractic processes. This could mean that it could be that an unnoticed neuromuscular disorder might be the culprit. It is also imperative to consider that feline hyperesthesia could be a culmination of behavioral, musculoskeletal and electrical neurological issues.
- A secondary theory brandished around is that some breeds of cats are predisposed to become manic as a cause of stress. For example, oriental breeds, seem more at risk of hyperesthesia than other feline breeds and stress does most times appear to be a trigger for these cats. Additionally, cats plagued with this condition have been noticed to have developed muscle lesions in their spine. It is plausible that these lesions are responsible for or at least contribute to symptoms and sensations that are common with hyperesthesia.
What to Do If a Cat has developed Symptoms
If there are symptoms developing in a cat, the very first thing that needs to be done is to look for what caused those symptoms. Allergies, fleas and some skin conditions could also cause a cat to scratch, bite and act oddly. Closely investigating the cat would most likely expose these issues which can be sorted easily.
If there is nothing that is seen upon close inspection of the cat, then it is best to make an appointment with a veterinarian to find out the cause of the cat’s bizarre behavior. A couple of serious disorders could be the culprit as they also have symptoms that are similar to some hyperesthesia symptoms, which is why it is imperative for the cat to visit a vet. Expatiate on the symptoms that were noticed, along with any other information that might be of import. If the cat is diagnosed with FHS, the veterinarian will help create a treatment plan to help and alleviate the condition.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is a condition that can only be diagnosed by exclusion. This translates to it being the sole condition left after all other diseases and conditions have been eliminated. If it is possible, you should record a video of the cat in question when an episode that is suspected to be hyperesthesia is occurring. That video can be of help to the veterinarian.
It is also best to ask that the vet perform a physical exam, conduct a behavioral history while conducting full blood, chemistry, and Thyroid T4 hormone level work. Some other diagnostic tests like x-rays and skin tests might be required. Your vet might be able to refer the cat in question to a vet that specializes in neurology or dermatology. FHS can only be diagnosed confidently when all other symptoms that your cat has had, have been either treated or ruled out
Treatment Recommendations: Diet
Feline hyperesthesia syndrome, just like almost every other condition that can affect cats can be treated by lowering the stress levels of the cat. The initial place to begin would be diet, as the wrong diet could create metabolic and physiologic stress.
The cat should be feeding on a nutritionally balanced yet species-appropriate free food diet, which has no carbohydrates. This means kibble is out, as it has carbohydrates in it that help it form the feed. The cat’s diet should have moderate levels of animal fat as well as large levels of fresh yet whole protein from animals. Having a range of varying proteins in the feed is imperative for nutritional variety and to also lower the risk that the cat could become hypersensitive to a certain food.
It is also recommended that all chemical preservatives are eliminated from your cat’s diet. It is preferable that a cat’s diet has no dyes, GMOs, or synthetics. Cats that have hyperesthesia are usually sensitive and it is best to eradicate anything that could exacerbate that. It is best to consider supplementing the cat’s diet with a supplement of omega 3 fatty acid and curcumin to lower inflammation in the body of the cat. It is also recommended to purify the water used for the cat and to switch to cleaning products around the house that are not non-toxic. It is also best to not allow any form of smoking where your cat usually is.
Using Drug Therapy
It is possible to give your cat anticonvulsants, anti-depressants or medication that curb this obsessive behavior. However, this process should only be given as a last resort. Environmental enrichment, species-appropriate diet and natural remedies such as OptiBalance or Spirit Essences and cat formulas are things that go a long way in helping to alleviate the stressors that occur in a cat which could then trigger hyperesthesia episodes.
Things like fluoxetine or amitriptyline could be used as a mood stabilizer, prednisolone could be used to ease inflammation, phenobarbital can be used to help prevent seizures, while gabapentin can be used to also prevent seizures and relieve pain.
As there has been no research that has concretely shown an established reason as to why FHS exists and occurs in some cats, preventative measures are the best way to help prevent it. These preventive measures are also similar to the treatment plan that would be used to modify the behavior of a cat. Essentially, this translates to lowering environmental stress and evading anything that activated an episode in the past.