Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is a disease which causes an abnormal and increased sensitivity to the skin—mainly at the spine, the back and the base of the tail. It is more commonly known as the “rolling skin syndrome” or the “twitchy cat disease” because of the seizure-like symptoms that it displays. Although feline hyperesthesia is rare, there are treatments available which can help ease the suffering of your cat.

What Causes Feline Hyperesthesia?

There is no proven cause of feline hyperesthesia. While some veterinarians hint at over-vaccinating and low quality diets as a possible suspect, the cause remains unknown. Additionally, it is believed that certain stressors and excessive anxiety can lead to a change in brain chemistry, triggering the aggressive behavior associated with this disease.

Symptoms of Feline Hyperesthesia

While some of the symptoms exhibited with this disease can be mistaken for other ailments or simply aggressive behavior, it is important to know what the identifiers of feline hyperesthesia are.

  • Muscle spasms and excessive twitching (in general and, specifically, in the tail)
  • Dilated pupils
  • Annoyance with the tail
  • Biting at the tail
  • Self-directed aggression or mutilation
  • Biting, licking, and chewing causing hair loss and/or lesions
  • Rippling skin on the back
  • Sensitive to touch in the tail area
  • Vocalizing, hallucinating and running in a maddened state

Stressors Associated with Feline Hyperesthesia

Again, there is no scientifically known or proven cause of feline hyperesthesia. However, there are some stressors thought to cause or intensify the symptoms of the disease. They include:

  • Moving to a new home or location
  • Exposure to new people and new animals
  • Introducing a new animal into the home
  • Boredom and frustration
  • Underlying pain, attributing to anxiety

Diagnosis and Treatment of Feline Hyperesthesia

Because there is no medical diagnostic test available, the diagnosis is made by process of elimination. A veterinarian will usually run a series of blood tests, skin tests, viral tests, biopsies and x-rays to check for any underlying conditions. If all testing appears normal, and in combination with the symptoms listed above, a diagnosis of feline hyperesthesia can be made.

Treatment normally consists of decreasing stressors, decreasing boredom, increasing playtime and more one-on-one affection time. It is important to remember not to punish your pet for displaying symptoms, such as biting and chewing, because it essentially adds to their stress level.

If a simple change in lifestyle is not effective, or in severe cases, an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication can be prescribed. Anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications increase the amount of serotonin that is released into the brain. The use of such medications is known to restore brain chemistry to its normal state, which essentially should lessen the effect of the disease on your cat. Such medications have been known to be very effective in treating feline hyperesthesia.

Although medication can help to ease the behavior and uneasiness of the disease, it is important to note that it cannot cure the disease. There is some likelihood that the medication will need to be administered indefinitely to ensure a better quality of life.

Prevention of Feline Hyperesthesia

Prevention of feline hyperesthesia consists on maintaining a high quality diet and reducing stressful triggers. Poor nutrition and stress can cause an array of underlying health conditions such as thyroid disease, diabetes, cancer, and liver or kidney disease. The pain and discomfort associated with such health conditions can be precursors to feline hyperesthesia.