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Everything you need to know about feline hyperesthesia

Ginger kitten looking scared advice © Pixabay

Feline Hyperesthesia syndrome, otherwise known as rolling-skin or twitchy-skin syndrome can be very difficult to diagnose. If your cat is acting strangely, don’t worry, this condition is treatable.

By Dawn Parrish

It’s no secret that some cats can be a bit precious, sometimes fickle and with genuinely unique mannerisms. However, sometimes your cat’s strange behaviour can be linked to a medical condition. If your cat is acting rather weirdly, get her checked out for twitchy cat syndrome, aka feline hyperesthesia or rippling skin disease.

What is feline hyperesthesia?

Is your cat extremely sensitive on her lower back area? If you touch this lower body does she cry, scratch, lick or bite at her tail or flank area? Look at her skin, does it ripple or twitch? She might run crazily around the room for a minute or so until the episode passes. This feline hyperesthesia is extremely rare. It’s also a worrying health condition as, during an “episode”, the cat can self-mutilate in an attempt to alleviate symptoms. It affects any type of cat breed and cats of any age.

What causes this illness in cats?

flea can be linked to feline hyperesthesia
A single flea bite can make your cat jump around ©Pixabay

There are no certain causes for feline hyperesthesia but many possible reasons. Because of this, it’s important to first rule out any other possible sources. Check for any flea allergy problems causing the twitching and itching sensations.  A single flea bite can cause your cat to scratch aggressively at her skin. A seizure disorder can also bring about these twitchy sensations and movements. Immediately after an episode of hyperesthesia, some cats will have a grand mal seizure. Some feline experts suggest that this health issue is caused by brain activity and electrical pulses.

Symptoms of feline hyperesthesia

What you will initially notice is the way your cat suddenly jumps up and turns around towards her tail. This weird action can even happen while the cat is asleep. Your kitty might attempt to bite or lick at the area that is bothering her. Look out for symptoms that show your cat is in distress:

  • The skin on the cat’s back ripples from the shoulders down to the tail.
  • This triggers a series of odd behaviours and sensations in the cat
  •  Look for muscle twitches and spasms and tail twitches
  • Cat will not like her back or spine touched
  • She may cry out and even appear as if hallucinating – her pupils will dilate
  • Self-mutilation caused by chewing, licking and biting at her skin and hair

In more severe cases of this health condition, some cats will pull out their own hair resulting in skin lesions and hair loss.

cat pouncing
OCD in cats can lead to feline hyperesthesia ©Pixabay

OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder related to grooming, fearfulness and aggression could also be the instigator of this behaviour. Similarly, Oriental cat breeds can be affected by stressful situations. It is a possibility that this is a trigger for hyperesthesia.

Diagnosis of hyperesthesia in cats

As the symptoms vary in each situation, there is no definitive test to diagnose feline hyperesthesia syndrome. As the main cause is thought to be a type of seizure-related problem, the best way to diagnose is to rule out other issues.

Possible medical investigations that can aid the diagnosis are X-rays and MRI scans to check for neurological problems. Skin cultures, biopsies and scrapings are all possibilities of ruling out specific causes. Certainly, if no other diagnosis can be made, the medical professional might report a verdict of feline hyperesthesia.

Recommended treatment options

As a result of your cat’s behaviour, it is highly probable that she is feeling stressed. One of the most important treatments, therefore, is to reduce her stress levels. Look at her diet. An incorrect diet can affect not only metabolic stress levels but also physiologic balance too. Offer a diet low in carbohydrate, which probably means no kibble. Provide fresh animal protein, especially fish, although be aware that some cats can be allergic to seafood. Cats that suffer from hyperesthesia are known to be sensitive to preservatives and additives. Because of this, it’s best that you eliminate these from her diet.

Anti-seizure medications may help if the problem appears to be a seizure disorder. Anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety medicines are also known to have some success in treating feline hyperesthesia. Similarly, if your cat reacts when you touch her back, avoid doing this as much as possible. With the use of long-term medication and a stress-free environment, the prognosis is quite good.

feline hyperesthesia
Do you have a twitchy cat? ©Pixabay

It appears that one of the main trigger foundations of feline hyperesthesia, is stress. For this reason, you need to make sure your cat is comfortable and has a consistent daily routine. Likewise, if you maintain a stress-free environment and offer the following solutions in your cat’s living space:

  • Secure safe areas for eating, drinking and toilet use
  • Her own hiding place, somewhere she can rest, scratch and climb
  • Ensure that all your interaction with your cat are consistent
  • In some cases, another friendly cat in the home can help the situation

Set aside beneficial playtime each day. Use toys to interact with your cat and offer the opportunity to flex her muscles and do some aerobic exercises. It’s best to break playtimes into shorter periods during the day if possible. If it’s nice weather, take your cat outside to play. This can only help her mental and emotional well-being. Hopefully, this stress-free environment will also help to eliminate the symptoms of feline hyperesthesia.