Cat Schizophrenia

Cat schizophrenia, or feline hyperesthesia, is a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme levels of bizarre behavior. While all cats will act strangely from time to time—staring at thing that aren't there or running aroung quickly for no obvious reason, for instance—in extreme cases this behavior becomes dysfunctional and is categorized as the syndrome feline hyperesthesia.

Symptoms of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome, or FHS, causes extreme character changes. Cats with this disorder may act manic or schizophrenic; they may seem to hallucinate. Symptoms include:

  • Frantic grooming of the flank and tail, often leading to hair loss
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fixation with the tail, often manifested as swishing of the tail, chasing of the tail or attacking the tail
  • Bouts of hyperactive or aggressive behavior
  • Rippling of the skin
  • Apparent hallucinations
  • Loud vocalizations
  • Sensitivity to touch along the spine; often, stroking of the spine leads to bouts of strange behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Seizures

Bouts of FHS behaviors occur frequently in cats who suffer from this disorder. They may experience bouts of strange behavior once every few days, or constantly.

Causes of Cat Schizophrenia

Vets don't really know what causes Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome, but they have some ideas.

Some cats have seizures during or following an attack of FHS. This leads some vets to believe that FHS may be caused by abnormal electrical activity in the part of the brain that controls emotions, grooming and predatory aggression. Some cats with FHS respond to anti-convulsant therapy, a fact which lends weight to this theory.

Some vets believe that FHS may be a type of feline obsessive-compulsive disorder, causing cats to worry obsessively about grooming, predatory behaviors and personal safety. Because FHS grooming behaviors emulate obsessive-compulsive disorder and because some cats with FHS respond well to anti-anxiety medications, there may be some truth to this theory.

Some vets believe that FHS is a combination of both of the above. They point out that abnormal electrical activity in the brain leads to seizures, which then in turn lead to obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors. This explains why both theories appear to be true to some extent.

Vet have found that FHS appears to be linked to stressed. They also believe there may be a hereditary component to the disease. Some breeds, especially Oriental ones, seem predisposed to developing FHS.

Some cats with FHS have been found to have lesions in their spinal muscles. While vets believe that these lesions may contribute some how to FHS, they aren't sure exactly what role they might play.

Diagnosis and Treatment

There's no definitive test for the diagnosis of FHS, but if your vet is able to rule out medical causes of the above behaviors and if your cat responds to FHS treatment, a diagnosis of FHS is made.

Treatment involves anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication, as well as anti-convulsant medication. You should also do everything possible to give your FHS cat a stress free environment. You should make sure your cat gets plenty of exercise; feed him on a regular schedule; teach him tricks and spend more time with him. If there is tension between your FHS cat and other cats or pets in the home, do your best to minimize it.