Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Symptoms and Treatment

Updated February 23, 2019
Cat preparing to attack its tail

Veterinarians aren't exactly sure what causes feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS), but they are sure of one thing. It causes fairly odd, episodic behaviors in cats that sometimes alarm their owners. Being aware of the signs of hyperesthesia in cats may give you a better idea if your own cat has it or if he's just being a normal, quirky cat.

Recognizing Hyperesthesia in Cats

According to Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, the term hyperesthesia essentially means, 'abnormally high skin sensitivity.' Cats with this syndrome seem to display abnormal sensitivity along the back and spine when touched. Typically, the muscles beneath the skin contract and make the skin "roll" along the spine.

The following video shows one of the more extreme episodes of FHS, also known as "twitchy cat syndrome" or "twitch cat syndrome."

Signs of the Feline Hyperesthesia

Skin rolling or rippling is only the tip of the iceberg. Cats with this syndrome display a variety of odd behaviors, often similar to those associated with psychomotor epilepsy.

  • The cat often stares at its tail in a trance-like state with dilated pupils.
  • The animal then suddenly attacks itself, biting at its tail, back, sides, or other body parts.
  • Some cats will tear around the house yowling and hissing.
  • Some felines may display behavior that's completely opposite from their normal disposition.

Dr. Becker notes additional symptoms such as

  • Tail twitching
  • Muscle spasms
  • Self-mutilation; chewing and pulling out hair
  • Skin lesions at the site of the discomfort

Is Feline Hyperesthesia Painful?

Cats with FHS can experience mild to severe pain depending on their condition and associated disorders such as arthritis. Some cats who suffer from the disorder may even mutilate themselves to relieve the sensations associated with the condition.

Diagnosing Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

Diagnosing a case of FHS is a process of elimination. Since the signs of this disorder are similar to many other conditions that cause itching and biting, a vet must rule out more common problems such as parasite infestation and flea allergy dermatitis.

Neurological disorders must also be ruled out before determining hyperesthesia as the cause of the symptoms. According to Pet MD, this is typically done via an MRI of the brain.

Treatment for the Feline Hyperesthesia

According to Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, treatment for this syndrome includes the following measures:

  • Behavioral modification to ease anxiety
  • Establishing a regular schedule for feedings and playtime to reduce stress
  • Refraining from any activity that triggers an episode of hyperesthesia

Medical treatments may include administering:

  • Amitriptyline or fluoxetine as a mood stabilizer
  • Phenobarbitol to prevent seizures
  • Prednisolone to ease inflammation
  • Gabapentin to relieve pain and prevent seizures

Cure for Feline Hyperesthesia

There is no specific cure for FHS at this time. Treatment, as described above, focuses primarily on alleviating the symptoms through medication and environmental changes. A veterinarian will work to find a plan for each individual cat that uses the most effective dosage of regular medication while keeping it as minimal as they can.

Preventative Measures

Since there's no established cause for FHS at this time, preventative measures are basically the same as those used in the treatment plan for modifying a cat's behavior. Basically, this means reducing environmental stress and avoiding anything that has previously triggered an episode.

Does Feline Hyperesthesia Affect All Cats?

All cats, regardless of breed, can be affected by FHS. It can affect any age as well although it tends to appear the most in adult cats. There are a few breeds that seem to have a higher incidence of FHS including Abyssinian, Burmese, Himalayan, and Siamese.

Prognosis for Cats With FHS

In most cases, FHS is a relatively mild disorder that only causes occasional disruption of a cat's daily life. The syndrome isn't a fatal one, but it's possible for a cat to develop an infection if it mutilates itself to the point of creating open sores. If your cat is diagnosed with FHS, work closely with your vet to reduce the symptoms associated with the disorder so your pet can have as normal a life as possible.

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Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Symptoms and Treatment