Conscious Cat

May 7, 2012 81 Comments

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

Posted by Ingrid

Feline_hyperesthesia_twitchy_cat_syndrome

By Dr. Karen Becker

I often write about the uniqueness of felines. Your kitty is not only very different from dogs – she stands apart from most other species.

Her physiology is distinctive. Her nutritional requirements are unique among mammals. Even the way her body is constructed – her incredible physical flexibility – is distinct from most other creatures.

Another thing that is very unusual about our kitty companions is their tendency to develop a weird disorder called feline hyperesthesia. This is a medical term for what is more commonly referred to as “rippling skin syndrome,” “rolling skin syndrome,” or “twitchy cat syndrome.” Other technical names for the condition include neuritis and atypical neurodermatitis.

Signs and Symptoms of Feline Hyperesthesia

The word hyperesthesia means “abnormally increased sensitivity of the skin.” It’s a condition in which the skin on a cat’s back ripples from the shoulders all the way to the tail. The rippling is visible in some cats, but more difficult to see with others. What many pet owners notice first is the kitty turning toward her tail suddenly as though something back there is bothering her. She may try to lick or bite at the area. And most cats with this condition will take off running out of the blue as though something scared them or is chasing them. Kitties with hyperesthesia also have muscle spasms and twitches, and twitching of the tail.

If your cat has the syndrome, he may show sensitivity when any point along his spine or back is touched. He may chase his tail, bite at himself, turn toward his tail and hiss, vocalize, run and jump. He may also seem to be hallucinating – following the movement of things that are not there – and he may have dilated pupils during these episodes.

In severe cases of feline hyperesthesia, cats will self-mutilate by biting, licking, chewing and pulling out hair. These poor kitties suffer not only hair loss, but often severe skin lesions from trying too aggressively to seek relief from the uncomfortable sensations they experience.

Causes of “Twitchy Cat Syndrome”

No one knows for sure what causes hyperesthesia in cats, but one of the first things you should do if your kitty is having symptoms is to rule out other causes for itching and twitching.

It’s important to investigate flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) as a cause or contributor to your cat’s behavior. In pets with a severe flea allergy, the bite from a single flea can cause serious, long-term itching and skin irritation. A bad case of FAD can cause your cat to lick and scratch so aggressively – most often at the base of the tail or hind quarters – that he loses a significant amount of hair on that part of his body.

Sometimes dry, itchy skin can induce or aggravate a hyperesthesia condition. This is more common in cats fed a dry food diet.

Another cause of the condition might be seizures. Or more precisely, feline hyperesthesia may be a type of  seizure disorder. Some kitties experience grand mal seizures during an episode of hyperesthesia or right afterwards. Experts theorize the syndrome might be caused by a problem with electrical activity in areas of the brain that control grooming, emotions and predatory behavior.

It may also be a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, with the obsession being fearfulness and/or grooming and/or aggression. Also, seizure activity is known to lead to obsessive compulsive behavior.

Another theory is that certain breeds are predisposed to develop mania as a result of stress. Oriental breeds seem to have more hyperesthesia than the general population of felines, and stress often seems to be the trigger for these kitties.

Also, cats with the condition have been found to have lesions in the muscles of their spine. It’s possible the lesions cause or contribute to the sensations and symptoms that are a feature of hyperesthesia.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis of feline hyperesthesia is arrived at through eliminating other conditions and diseases that cause similar symptoms and behavior, including:

  • skin conditions (allergies, parasites, infections
  • hyperthyroidism
  • poisoning
  • underlyking painful conditions of the back, spine, joints or muscles; also, pain associated with bite injuries, abscesses, anal sac disease, organ damage or cancer
  • a problem in the brain (trauma, tumors, infection)

It could be beneficial for you to video your kitty during an episode of what you suspect is hyperesthesia, and take the video with you to your vet appointment.

The vet should perform a physical exam on your kitty, take a behavioral history, and order a complete blood count, chemistry profile and thyroid hormone level test. Other diagnostic tests might also be required, for example, skin tests and x-rays. It’s possible your vet will make a referral to another DVM who specializes in dermatology or neurology.

When all other potential causes for your pet’s symptoms have been ruled out or treated, feline hyperesthesia can be confidently diagnosed.

Treatment of True Feline Hyperesthesia

The treatment for feline hyperesthesia syndrome involves reducing stress on the cat. However, I recommend looking at what you’re feeding your cat first. She should be eating a balanced, species-appropriate diet that contains no carbs, moderate amounts of animal fat, and high levels of animal protein. This will help eliminate any food allergies she may be dealing with, and will improve the condition of her skin and coat. You can also consider supplementing with a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids like krill oil.

To address stress-related triggers, you’ll need to take steps to make your cat as comfortable as possible with his living arrangements. This means building a great deal of consistency in your cat’s daily routine, while at the same time enriching the five key areas of his environment, including:

  • Safe, secure food, water and litter box locations.
  • His own place to climb, scratch, rest and hide.
  • Consistency in all your interactions with him.
  • Appropriate sensory stimulation.
  • The company of another or other non-adversarial cats.

Set aside time each day to play with your cat. This helps him get aerobic exercise and gives him the chance to flex his hunter muscles. Use interactive toys like a feather wand or a toy at the end of a string. Many cats also love chasing laser toys, ping pong balls and even rolled up bits of paper. Since cats have very short attention spans, try to break up playtime into three or four short sessions a day.

Drug Therapy

Giving your cat anti-depressants, anti-convulsants or drugs to curb obsessive behavior should be considered only as a last resort.

A species-appropriate diet, environmental enrichment, and natural remedies like Spirit Essences or OptiBalance pet formulas should go a long way toward alleviating the stressors in your cat’s life that may trigger episodes of hyperesthesia.

I have had good success in reducing symptoms using adjunctive therapies. Acupuncture can commonly reduce the “nerve wind up” many of these cats experience. Chiropractic care can also reduce the dermatome neuritis hyperesthetic cats are plagued with. Tellington Touch, a special form of massage, can also help reduce skin sensitivity in some cats. I’ve also had good success with kitties using homeopathic Aconitum and Hypericum orally to help dampen emotional and neurologic reactivity that can lead to physiologic symptoms.

Dr. Becker is the resident proactive and integrative  wellness veterinarian of HealthyPets.Mercola.com. You can learn holistic ways  of preventing illness in your pets by subscribing to MercolaHealthyPets.com,  an online resource for animal lovers. For more pet care tips, subscribe for  FREE to Mercola  Healthy Pet Newsletter.

Photo by Luke Hayfield Photography, Flickr Creative Commons

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81 Responses to “Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome”

  1. What a great post. I didn’t know any of that. Thanks.

    pawhugs, Max

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Max.

    • Kristen says:

      My female cat was diagnosed with Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome
      At the age of 6. It was a terrible experience leading up to the diagnoses because she was actually chewing on her tail until it was bleeding and she would cry and howl as she did it. We went to I don’t know how many night time emergency clinics and we talked to vet after vet. Finally we found a vet that knew what he was talking about was able to sucessfully disgnose her. In the end we ended up amputating her tail. As fast as this all started, it ended as soon as we removed the tail and she went back to her normal self.

      • Ingrid says:

        I’m so sorry you and your cat had to go through all of that. I’m glad she’s back to normal.

      • Theresa Salvaterra says:

        We have contemplated doing the same to our cat. We have him on phenobarbital and a lot of the symptoms are under control. However his tail is still an issue. He attacks it smacking at it and biting it. It seems to be worse when he gets agitated about something like if he wants to sit outside in his stroller and I won’t take him out because it’s raining or something. We have just successfully changed his food to something without corn, wheat or soy, no fillers or anything like that. That doesn’t seem like it made much of a difference. So are you saying your cat has been fine since the amputation?

      • Theresa Salvaterra says:

        Kristen, I am curious…..was your cat having all the symptoms of FH? Was it having the rolling skin on the back and dilated pupils? Just curious as I have thought of doing the same thing with my cat as far as the tail. I would do it if I thought that it would take care of all the other symptoms he has.

      • sheila simms says:

        I am experiencing the same exact problem. Vet only amputated one or two bones at tip of her tail and sewed it up. I never heard of FHS and obviously this vet didn’t either. My question is: how much of your cat’s tail was amputated?

  2. Margaret says:

    This is so interesting as we have a cat who has displayed many of these symptoms. One of the most notable things I have observed is that his pupils are always very large, even when another cat is in the same room, his are twice as big, so the light can’t be blamed. I have mentioned this to my husband in the thought that the enlarged pupils indicate some kind of brain problem. When we first brought him home (street stray) he used to attack me if I patted him too much and his back often ripples. He also attacked me when he wanted some kind of specific food and the options I gave him were not right. Eventually we got him onto a raw diet but it didn’t help until I put him onto raw chicken. That was an improvement and I presumed it was (as did vet) allergy. He also has gingivitis (is not FIV+) and vet said it is basically his immune system and he found little scabs where he had picked at himself. He also used to try and pull his fur out at the back near toward the tail. We did laugh because we observed him on the verandah and his tail would twitch and it looked like it wound up like a propeller and then he would dart forward a few steps and stop, then the winding would happen again. I know it isn’t funny because he is very uncomfortable. About three weeks ago I started him on a supplement of bovine colostrum and the itching has settled quite a lot but flared up when I let him eat mince beef. He can eat beef but the mince must contain some kind of additive. Vomiting has also been an issue and that stopped after the colostrum was given. For the past two days I have added fish oil to the colostrum and what we do is to syringe it into his mouth along the gums to help with the gingivitis. Thanks for your article, very interesting and helpful.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m glad you found the article helpful, Margaret. Your boy certainly has been through a lot. It sounds like he’s sensitive both physically and energetically.

  3. Debbie Willoughby says:

    I JUST found your website the other day and subscribed to it only to find this in my inbox on day 2! Thank you so much for addressing FHS. My cat has this and I have been working very hard to make her as comfortable as possible through her “episodes” over the last few years. I did resort to meds (a low dose of phenobarbital) even though I did not want to give them to her at first. I have seen a tremendous decrease in her episodes. I’d rather her not take any meds, but it was breaking my heart to see twitch so much and seem so bothered by it. I took a video of her and have Bela’s story in the “info” section of the video if anyone is interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTbH9H2j5Ds

    Debbie

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m glad you found my site, Debbie! Thank you for sharing Bela’s story (she’s beautiful!). I’m glad the phenobarb is working for her.

    • Wolfeather79 says:

      Great video, your kitty looks so much like my Ibanez that they could be identical twins. After seeing your video im starting to think this is what is going on with my poor Ibanez. He does the excessive licking like he has fleas but is an indoor cat so isn’t exposed to fleas. I myself am allergic to fleas so none here in my home. Anyway much thanks for your video not only did I see a beautiful cat just like mine but now realize this could be what’s driving my poor baby crazy lately.

  4. Bernadette says:

    When Cookie was young, 15 years ago, she was tentatively diagnosed with this, though not much was known about it and it was a guess on my veterinarian’s part. Her back sometimes rippled constantly, her tail flapped, she paced around and would fall down and kick herself in the face! She would end the session by chewing on her toes. Coincidentally, I had begun studying diets and for a period of several months fed them homemade raw and cooked diets, but moved off to premium quality canned food because I couldn’t find enough organic meat at the time to feed nine cats every day. But the symptoms stopped and never returned. I’ve wondered if that was the issue. I would look at her and think of poison ivy.

    • Ingrid says:

      That’s really interesting that the change of diet seemed to have stopped Cookie’s symptoms, Bernadette.

      • Bernadette says:

        I forgot to mention that most of the “premium” dry foods at that time included corn, to which she had some sensitivity. It may also have been an allergy, but my vet was pretty sure. One of the things that ensured a long healthy life!

  5. Stacy Hurt says:

    Holy Roly Cats! We have one cat who is this condition to a T! I had no idea and I’ve had cats all my life. I like to think I’m pretty in tune with my six but I always attributed Miss Scrappy’s behaviour as being the ‘beta’ cat. She is always getting the bad end of the deal from every cat we have! Poor thing eats and eats and eats and sometimes, more frequently lately, just vomits it all right back up. Her tail flips out and her skin too, just before she takes off like a, well; a cat outta hell! LOL. Poor thing! All our group has just switched to grain free food and I am hoping this will elieviate much of her skin irritation. Wet food is simply not an option given the cost. I do give it as a treat when we can.
    Thanks for the great post. I’m going to print & forward to my vet.

  6. Never knew about this problem and strongly suspect my precious tortie Tasha, OTRB Sept 2011 had it to some degree. Certainly the rippling along spine when petted, and in the midst of playing stopping abruptly to bite, scratch herself. My poor little girl. Probably some diet issues I guess, but also stress becasue we introduced a rescue cat into our family when she was about 6 years old and she never tolerated him well, hissed, whacked him. He was completely non-aggressive.
    Sigh. Thank you for this information

  7. Julie says:

    Its really interesting to read this. Lolly developed a strange behavioural problem back in Dec 10 when she started tearing around the garden in fits and spurts and would stop and lick herself furiously then dart off again. Her back would ripple and she would carry on like this for about 5 minutes and then be herself again. We took her to the vet and were told its was a flea allergy most likely. Lolly started licking all of the fur off her inner back legs and so we were advised to change her diet. What a nightmare, trying to feed all 3 cats a new diet when all the boys wanted was meat, the vet advised us to feed her dry food only.. anyhow when she started being sick we just assumed it was hairballs.. little did we know she had her tumor growing away inside her. I know that her Lymphoma is unrelated to the odd behaviour she displayed but interestingly enough her recent anemia was probably linked (according to the vet) who has now treated her with antibiotics. Suffice to say the licking has stopped and so has the frantic darting and furious licking. Her anaemia is now under control too. Complex isnt it? The point of my post is that I didnt know a thing about this condition until about 3 weeks ago. When Lolly was licking her hair off, I must have googled every single key word I could to find a condition or syndrome that could explain her odd behaviour and yet I found nothing. I cant help wondering if there was anything I could have done for her to reduce her distress, had I found this info and luckily the vet who failed to even contemplate this condition has now moved on and our current vet is totally amazing. Thanks Ingrid for bringing this to me on your site. x

    • Ingrid says:

      It’s a very complex disorder, Julie. I’m sorry to hear about Lolly’s cancer diagnosis, but it sounds like you have a great vet now. Best wishes to her, and you!

  8. Joy says:

    I recently heard about this disorder when researching some of my cat’s symptoms–tail biting and chewing–to the point of her making herself growl and cry. Missy is such a laid back cat who loves everyone (on her last vet visit, she was described as a very “happy” cat, so not sure what the trigger(s) are for her. She is very overweight, but otherwise quite healthy. She’s always been very sensitive to anyone touching her back feet, back toward her tail, and of course, her tail itself. She has scabs on her tail where she has bit herself. I haven’t consulted the vet about this yet, but will be doing so. I’ve never had a cat with these symptoms before.

  9. Erik says:

    Wow….just plain ol’ ‘wow’. I had no idea. I have a 13 year old cat named Hambone who is on a very light dose of tapizole for hyperthyroidism. He always showed signs of having this condition. I have him on Wysongs dry food and a raw diet from Stella and Chewies. In the last six months he started having seizures. This is when his hyperthyroidism was treated. My vet decided to temporarily put him on an anti-seizure med (very light dose) while using an herbal approach to try and rid him of his seizures. Hambone only has seizures within five to ten minutes after he eats. He is fine otherwise. I keep trying to connect the dots between thyroid, diet, blood sugar and neurology. For a layman, it is hard, but this article really shed a lot of light on his circumstances. Thank you for this article and by the way, very well written format! Any thoughts on the seizures post food consumption?

    • Ingrid says:

      I don’t know what to make of the seizures after eating, Eric. I’m assuming your vet is aware of the timing of the seizures?

      • Erik says:

        Yes indeed. Her belief is that he is very emotional and that he associates food with ‘party time’ and it sets him off.

  10. Jehanne says:

    Very interesting! My cat does a few of these things (his skin twitches, he will turn quickly as if something was agitating his skin, take off running and vocalize) every now and then, but his demeanor is not aggressive or upset but more energetic and playful. He eats mostly a dry food diet with the occasional wet food supplement. He is a Persian and sometimes gets small knots in his coat, sometimes I wonder if they pull at his skin a certain way and that may contribute to his reaction. They are usually small, coin sized perhaps and come right out with a comb, but maybe that’s what is bothering him? I will have to keep an eye out for the enlarged pupils. Thank you for the info! Always like to keep up to date on what is best for my kitty >^-.-^<

  11. Theresa says:

    We went on vacation for 4 days and came home to find our cat with dilated pupils, panting, having apparent hallucinations and attacking his tail. He also has the rippling of skin and shaking of head. He was fine before we left and we came home to a different cat. I took him to the vet immediately and he found 1 flea on him. He is an inside cat but we let him sit outside and watch the birds in a cat stroller. He has been on the same food all his life, it is the only thing he will eat. It is a dry food which is supposed to be top of the line. You have to get it through your vet or feed store. He has been in one continuous episode with only one short break, for 3 days. We started him on phenobarbital but he is a strong willed difficult cat and it has been almost impossible to ge the med in him. I don’t think any bloodwork has been done. Any advice would be great. It is breaking my heart!!

  12. Erik says:

    Theresa….have you tried transdermal phenobrbital? I use it ad rub it on the inside of his ear with ease.

    • Theresa says:

      Erik,

      How does that work for your cat. We were at the vet today and she is going to order this for us. She said sometimes it is not as effective. She also said it may take 2 weeks to start working. I am afraid he is going to starve by then as he is not eating and drinking very little. I am so distraught, I have had him since he was about 10-12 days old. Bottle fed him and all that goes along with a kitten that young. He is 2 now and I am just sick thinking we may have to put him to sleep. He is in a continuous state of stress.

  13. Erik Jay says:

    Theresa – Greetings! My cat was started initially on an anti-seizure drug called ‘Zonisamide’, a relatively new drug that acts quickly. It is a pill form, but it doesn’t need any time to build up in the system. I opted to do this to remedy the immediate need. Problem is, one has to ween their cat off of it a little at a time. During this time, I began administering him the transdermal pheno (yes, it takes about two to three weeks to build up according to my vet) without issue because although the to are both seizure meds, they both attack the same issue differently thus avoiding a potential overdose type of situation.

    The transdermal pheno, from my observations have been a blessing. It calmed him down within two days. He is experiencing the most common side effects (excess food consumption and water drinking along with a ‘drunk’ type of stagger on occasion). Yes, it takes time to build up, but it seems to be quite effective and it seems to work as it builds up. To me, I think transdermal applications are the best. It bypasses all the digestive process and goes right to work. It goes right into the blood stream.

    I also have him on a second transdermal called ‘Methimazole’ for hyperthyroidism. I don’t know how your kitty’s thyroid is, but Methimazole is an excellent choice in my opinion….and once again I got it in a transdermal form. How is his thyroid?

    I have complete faith in the bond between me and my cat as I am picturing with you and your cat. I know that exercising each and every single option both known and unknown is a pain to do before having to do something so incredibly drastic. I am glad I did it and I am sure that if your drive is as solid as I suspect, you will find the right solution and not do anything prematurely. there are options like administering fluids, Zonisamide (immediate seizure drug) and limping him/her along for a few days until the pheno starts to work….and it will….every bit as good if not better than orally in my opinion. With all due respect to your vet, I would recommend reaching out and thinking of every option to put out there for YOU to decide. Also, fish oil and a good pro-biotic will kick some serious butt in these guys (that’s more of a sidenote and not to be taken as part of an immediate resolution).

    I hope this helps. I will be looking for any messages from you and will do my best to immediately reply.

    • Theresa says:

      Erik,

      You don’t know how encouraging you have been!!! When I say I am just sick about this I mean litterally. I have not had much sleep and haven’t been able to each much either. It is killing me to watch him suffering. I will do whatever I have to do to him back to the boy he was before. I have been researching and working with two vets to see who is going to go on this journey with me. I will now ask my vet about the Zonisamide to get him some relief until the pheno starts to work. How were you able to get a pill in your guy?

      • Erik Jay says:

        Theresa – We have walked down the same road, my new friend. I stayed up countless nights, combing through every piece of info I could get. I went to several vets for opinions, reached out to the experts that I could get to and I did so to the point of turning into a nocturnal and pale person who was exhausted to the point of tears at inappropriate moments. You ever watch Mash with your spouse and cry because a soldier found a Korean boy’s dog and returned it to him? Well, I have. :) Don’t get me started on the last episode of Three’s Company! There wasn’t even a pet in that one!

        Pilling my cat is a pain to the point that I have considered buying a suit of armor to perform this brave act. With the Zonisamide, they come in oval capsules. I pre-wet it with butter, use a syringe type of pill shooter and pray. I tried to open the caps and use various methods to no avail. It must taste like the worst stuff on earth to them. Perhaps use a mild tranquilizer in a transdermal to mellow him out then administer the Zonismaide??? There must be some sort of applicable kitty xanax to use on a very temporary basis to be able to administer the drug. If time and fuel allows, take him to the vet every day to have them do it until the pheno kicks in. Something tells me that pheno is going to kick some butt quicker than you think.

        What foods have you tried? Tuna water? The vet can give a shot for fluids and electrolytes and vitamins to keep the system working. They just fill up the cat in an area between the shoulder blades and the body absorbs it. You can keep the kitty full of nutrients, but the work involved and time needed will be challenging until the pheno kicks in. But again, it WILL kick in.

        Thoughts on having your vet tranquilize and then pill the zonisamide? Maybe get a pill gun?

        • Theresa says:

          Erik,

          He won’t even let me near him with any type of apparatus. My husband and I tried the liquid phenobarbital the other night with him wrap in a towel. He was so wild he got out of my hands and hit his head on the floor. He will only eat dry cat food, no treats, no tuna, no salmon, not even canned cat food. He eats Science Diet and they don’t make it in a soft kibble. He will eat parmesan cheese though. If I could open the capsule and mix it with that it might work. I hope the vet can get the pheno quickly. Thank you for talking to me, I was so depressed earlier this evening but you have given me new hope. My cat’s name is Lucky, we named him that because he was found during the Nashville floods 2 years ago. We think the mother got swept away. He had a sister but she died. I thought he wasn’t going to make it through the night the first night we had him but I was determined to keep him alive. We named him Lucky because my husband did not in any shape form or fashion want a pet. He decided to give it a try. So with all that has happened with him we figured he is pretty Lucky. I hope he will be again.

  14. Erik Jay says:

    He still is Lucky by name and meaning.

    I don’t know where you are located, but I am in the Los Angeles area, so it is not a long process to get meds here. In the event you need a capable compound pharmacy to expedite and work with your vet, I do know of one here that would accommodate long distance demands. I don’t know how the webmaster feels about endorsements, so out of respect I will give you my email and you can feel free to email me in the event you need that information –erikpjay@yahoo.com–. I think that there must be some sort of rub-on transdermal or injection you can do from behind when you’re petting the cat that will relax him. There must be something and again, given it is temporary until the pheno does its thing…it may not be so troublesome to accomplish for a few weeks at worst. Oh, I almost forgot, use vinyl (latex alternative) gloves when applying the pheno to his ear. Latex seems to leave a residue for some reason. There must be a transdermal tranquilizer out there to calm him enough to launch a pill in him. I know the ol’ parmesan trick, but when I saw Hambone get a taste of the med, it was an immediate vomit issue. Then again, Hambone is not the authority on meds. Are you able to take him to the vet once a day so they can give him the pill? Let me see what is out there as an option.

    • Theresa says:

      I am going to check with the vet tomorrow and find out how long she thinks it will take to get it here, we are in Kentucky close to Tenn border. I will let you know what she says and if you think I can get it quicker through your source then I will definitely have her go that route. Thank you for the tip on the gloves, also I know that some people have an allergy to latex, that’s why the alternative, but not sure if cats would. I could take him to the vet every day as they are in close proximity however it has always been a traumatic experience for him to ride in the car in the carrier, it is much worse now that he is more agitated. I thought he was going to hurt himself today when we took him to the vet. I think you are right, if I tried to slip it in with the cheese he would taste it right away. Thank you so much for helping me research. I’ve written down your email and I will let you know about the pheno!!! Thanks so much my new friend:)

  15. margaret says:

    Hi Theresa,
    I don’t know if you can get one but with difficult cats we usually cage them as we have more control on medicating them that way. I have this big fellow in a cage at present with a UTI and I kind of have to lay over him with a bit of blanket and I sing to him and do ttouches to calm him down before dosing. We have the cage on a table so it is easier. Another cat we had with severe gingivitis we kept in a rabbit hutch for a month. He stayed in the hutch part willingly and I mixed the meds with milk and Ensure powder (for invalid people) which has lots of vitamins and minerals in it and then would pray he took it. He used to come out and drink it and go back in the hutch. Often when cats are sick they want to hide anyway and eventually we let him out and kept up the treatment the same way. We kept him going on Ensure and milk for quite a while (pet milk that was) until we got the problem sorted out. I’m really sorry to hear about your cat. It is a common problem that some cats appear to be addicted to dry food and I think some cats can eat dry food and never have a problem but with others, it seems to to all sorts of damage. I know what you mean because we have them here too, would rather starve than eat anything else. We have a cat which I am sure has this condition and he can’t eat any commercial catfood which is challenging. Actually he can eat it but he throws it up almost immediately so now I won’t give him any. I’m trying to refine a raw diet for him but he can also eat cooked chicken. Your cat might have a severe allergy to the dry food and I’ve heard it said that being allergic to a food often makes us crave that food. Worth thinking about but at the moment you have the first steps of treating him with Erik’s suggestions. Best of luck and keep us up to speed on it.

    • Theresa says:

      Margaret,

      Would the vet be able to tell if he were having an allergic reaction to his food? He is not eating much and is still having symptoms. I understood that with Feline Hyperesthesia that the episodes came and went. He has been in the same state pretty much since we got home last Sunday. He feels better when he is wrapped up in a blanket. The first two nights we were home he ran the house all night. The past couple of nights he has slept with me but only when I cover him up and tuck him in so he can’t see his tail. He has been sleeping most of the day today which is normal for him. When he wakes up he seems a little more normal for a while but then starts to exhibit symptoms again. Should I try another food?

  16. Ingrid says:

    Theresa, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with all of this. I’m also sorry I didn’t see this sooner – for some reason, I wasn’t notified of yours and Erik’s comments until today.

    I urge you to demand that your vet run more diagnostics. At a minimum, your vet should have done a complete blood panel! I don’t think it’s wise to start phenobarb without a complete baseline. You also need to rule out thyroid disease. You may also need to consider allergy testing – this could be a food allergy, or an environmental allergy. Without diagnostics, you don’t know what you’re treating, and randomly trying medications based on symptoms can do more harm than good.

    Has he been treated for fleas? While I’m not usually a proponent of topical flea treatments, with a severe reaction like what you’re describing (If the reaction was due to the flea bite), it may be woth the potential risks of the treatment.

    As for his diet, at this point, it’s important that you try anything he will eat. For the longterm, I urge you to stop feeding him any type of dry food. As Dr. Becker mentioned in the article, a species-appropriate, balanced diet is key to treating this. For a cat, that means a grain-free raw or canned diet, not dry.

    Best wishes for you and your kitty – please keep us posted.

    • Theresa says:

      The vet did do blood work yesterday and they sent it off. She said she did not see any fleas and he has had a flea treatment. We took him when this first started and there was one flea and the vet gave him a treatment then (that was our regular vet). The vet said she did not see any signs of an allergy. How would they detect a food allergy?? I am going out now to get some canned cat food and see if he will try it. I just don’t understand why he has been in the state continuouly for days now.

      • Ingrid says:

        A RAST test (blood test) might show food allergies, but the best way to determine food allergies is through an elimination trial. Your vet can advise you on how to do this.

        I believe the only definitive test for flea allergies would be a skin test.

        If you have access to a veterinary neurologist in your area, you may want to consider taking him there.

        I an only imagine how distressing this is for you.

  17. Erik Jay says:

    Theresa – Didn’t your vet do a complete panel? One would assume (there’s that word) that any vet would run a panel prior to determining if pheno is the right answer. I hope I assumed correctly and you don’t have a vet that missed that…..oversight. I did ask you about the thyroid before….any word on that? Again, that would have come up in the panel, so my assumption is you ruled that out. If no or little panel has been done, then you need to open a can of butt kick on your vet and get the bare minimal expectations fulfilled. Good luck on everything. You have the email and if I can ever be of help…. I won’t be returning to this website after today, so you have my best wishes.

    • Theresa says:

      Erik,

      You are correct the vet did do blood work, we are waiting for it to come back. She did not feel it was a food allergy or thyroid. She said he was free of fleas and he had a flea treatment for one flea my regular vet found on Monday. Would he have these symptoms if it was a food allergy? Every time he goes in to eat he starts swishing his tail and runs out. Sometimes he will get a couple of bites in but not much. He is losing weight. I wanted to go ahead and start the medication so he could have some relief of symptoms. I certainly don’t want to keep giving him this food if it is making him sicker. I tried some canned cat food today and he walked away. I even tried rubbing it on his nose, he had a fit. What do you think about a raw diet and what does that really mean? Will most cats naturally eat raw meat, I wonder if he will even eat that. I would rather medicate him than have him starve. I am sorry to hear you are leaving this site, you have been very supportive and helpful. I will email you though after today.

      • Theresa says:

        Hey Erik,

        I just got out the paperwork from the vet yesterday and they did a “Total Panel” and a “CBC at BVC” whatever that means. Vet said his examine was good, (only some constipation) and that his skin looked good. Did not see evidence of skin allergy. His symptoms get worse at night.
        Today he has been sleeping almost all day! While that makes me happy on one hand because that is what is “normal” for him, it bothers me on the other hand because he is not eating or drinking. Now I am afraid for him to eat the dry food. Have you ever tried raw chicken?

        • Ingrid says:

          A total panel is a complete blood chemistry, which gives you information on various organs and how they function. A CBC is a complete blood count. You can find detailed information on what all this means here: http://consciouscat.net/2009/05/06/bloodwork-for-your-pet-what-it-means-and-why-your-pet-needs-it/

          I’d encourage you again to pursue a referal to either a veternary internist or neurologist. I’d probably start with an internist.

          You can try baby food (make sure it contains no onion powder) or a small amount of tuna or tuna juice added to canned food to see if that gets him interested in eating. Warm his food a little to make it more enticing.

      • Ingrid says:

        Theresa, you can find information on raw feeding in the Feline Nutrition section on this site. The easiest way to get started is with commercially prepared raw diets – you’ll find information about those in several of my articles. Some cats take to it immediately, others take a while to transition. You’ll also find information on transitioning. Generally, hard core dry food addicts will take longer to transition, and since you’re dealing with a sick cat right now, it’s more important that you get him to eat anything at all – even if it is dry food.

        • Theresa says:

          Ingrid,

          Thanks so much for the information. I have tried tuna in the past but he turned his nose up at it, same with salmon. I will try it again though and see if he will go for it. I look at the articles aslo. Thanks!

  18. Theresa says:

    A bit of hope…..Lucky has started playing with us a little bit this evening. He is playing a little with the feather toys we have!! He has not done anything like this since last Sunday. I am hoping it is the end of this week long episode he has been in. That is another question I have for anyone who might have experienced an episode that lasted this long. Is that typical with this disorder? I thought it was something that would come and go with periods of normacy in between. He is still looking at his tail like it is his enemy but he has not attacked it in a while.

  19. Jamie Roth says:

    My cat, Bodhi was exhibiting all the signs of Hyperesthesia for months, including seizures. I had her on phenobarbital for months. My cousin is a vet and,after attending a large veterinary seminar, she learned.that the veterinary world now believes that Hyperesthesia may not even exist. That these symptoms are a result of ALLERGIES. It can be either Flea allergies or Food allergies. Well, it turns out that my cat Bodhi had a flea allergy causing all of these symptoms including the seizures. After treating her with Advantage, the seizures and skin rolling stopped. She is now almost completely withdrawn off of the phenobarbital with no sign of symptoms. She is now a happy, healthy cat again and for this I am so happy and soooo grateful….
    I hope this information helps all those people trying to figure out this Hyperesthesia mystery.

    • Ingrid says:

      This is why allergies should always be ruled out when a cat exhibits symptoms of hyperesthesia, Jamie. I’m surprised your vet didn’t do this before putting Bodhi on phenobarbital. Either way, I’m glad she’s happy and healthy again!

    • Theresa Salvaterra says:

      Jamie, I was wondering if maybe allergies to other things could be the cause. Our cat is an indoor cat but we let him sit outside in a cat stroller. We have noticed him sneezing and his eyes watering like crazy. He had a flea treatment right after he started having symptoms. The vet found one flea on him. If you have the chance would you mind asking your cousins about seasonal allergies? I really would like to get him off the phenobarbital. He hates me putting the gel in his ear and sometimes I cannot get the dose in because he hides from me. I have gone a far as moving furniture to try to get to him. Any info would be great! Thanks, Theresa

      • Ingrid says:

        Allergies are part of the differential diagnosis for hyperesthesia, and should always be ruled out, Theresa.

        • Theresa Salvaterra says:

          Ingrid, I am going to keep him indoors and see if that makes a difference. Sometimes his eyes water so much it looks like he is crying. Sometimes it looks like he is winking at me.
          He is on pheno right now but I think I would like to wean him off and see how he does. He is much better than he was a month ago. The only symptoms he is having is attacking his tail and that is only in the morning and late at night.

  20. Debbie says:

    Just curious – how do vets check for cat allergies? The same way humans are tested? Before starting phenobarbital we removed everything from the house that we thought MIGHT be an allergen – went all natural with cleaning products, changed her food to grain-free, stopped using candles and air fresheners, etc.
    What other things are cats commonly allergic to?
    I would LOVE to get Bela off drugs if I can! :)

    • Ingrid says:

      There are two ways to check for allergies in cats, Debbie: a skin test and a blood test. The skin test involves shaving a patch of fur. Then small markings are placed on the skin in a specific pattern. At each pen mark, a potentiall allergic substance is injected. Twenty-four to 48 hours later, the patch is examined for any signs of an allergic reaction. The blood test, also known as an RAST test (radioallergosorbent), checks for the presence of different antibodies. Depending on the lab the sample is sent to, this test can take up to two weeks. Unfortunately, neither of the tests is 100% accurate, and false positives can result in cats being needlessly treated for allergies that don’t exist.

      Neither of the testes will accurately identify food allergies, these are best determined by a food elimination trial.

      Homeopathy can be an excellent choice for treating allergies. The aim of treating allergies homeopathically is to support the immune system so that it no longer reacts to potential allergens. If this is something you’d be interested in for Bella, I recommend working with a veterinarian who is trained in homeopathy.

  21. Debbie says:

    Thank you for the information Ingrid. I will talk to my vet about doing allergy testing. The only thing that worries me if I have to wean her off phenobarbital only to is treat her for a false positive and have to go back to phenobarbital.
    Thanks again for giving attention to this mystery “disease!”

  22. sharyn says:

    We shaved our maine coon today because his matts were bad. Since doing so he has been twitchingbadly and running around hot and breathing eratic.we have shaved him before and took him to the vets for blood tests which came back clear. Do you have any suggestions why this happens. Dont think i will shave him again.

    • Ingrid says:

      It’s possible that being shaved stressed him out. I’d keep a very close eye on him. If he is panting/open mouth breathing, you may need to rush him to an emergency clinic.

  23. Jessica says:

    I am so glad I found this article. My cat Saber, 3 yrs old, just recently started “spazzing” out and I got a little scared the other night because he just wasn’t acting right, seeming to be spooked by something that wasn’t there. His back has always rippled and paws twitch as well as licking his back close to his tail. This past week all of that seemed to increase and he has been hiding under the bed and I just realized I had started giving him poultry and beef canned food. He usually eats the seafood variety but I thought I would give him a change. The vet said in his blood work it showed he might have a slight allergy to something. All these symptoms got worse when I changed his food, so I think this is it. He has always been on this dry food and had twitchy paws and his back would ripple now and again but nothing like this. I will call my vet tomorrow and see what she thinks, but it looks like I may have just found the solution and will look into slowly changing his dry food over to something different, possibly grain free? Thank you so much. I feel relieved, this may be an easy fix and will get my cat back to his old crazy kitty self.

  24. Hollyanna says:

    Wow, this thread is enlightening! My 1.5 year old Leo has just started exhibiting this kind of behavior – twitching, excessive licking on his back, tearing around the house as if trying to get away from the itch. And hiding. The worst part of it is that he’s usually a very social guy and he clearly wants to be alone right now. There have been no changes in his environment so I’m having a hard time figuring out what set him off. He has hidden before after seeing a big buck out the window. He and his sis last had Frontline in Oct., and she seems fine, so I don’t think it’s fleas. His appetite is fine so I’ll just watch him closely and take him to the vet on Mon. if there’s no improvement. Thanks for the information.

  25. Hollyanna says:

    Well, it’s a tad embarrassing to admit, but Leo’s problem was an allergic reaction to a flea bite. I had inspected his back for fleas, which is the area he was tending to most, and didn’t find any. But the vet showed me that there was a small amount a flea dirt on his belly, near his genitals. The poor fella. It only takes one bite from the wrong flea to cause a reaction, apparently. I told the vet that I usually suspend use of Frontline for a few months in winter because we live in an area that gets very cold. She told me that the fleas have been very resilient this year. She also said that if you live in a log cabin or a house with a dirt-floored basement (which we do), the fleas may make their way into your living quarters during any season. So both my cats are back on the Frontline 12 months a year and Leo is back to his sociable self. He is still having an occasional twitching attack, but otherwise, he’s acting normal, which is a great relief.

  26. Sandra Baldwin says:

    I got my cat when she was only 8 weeks old. Her mother was hit by a car. I took her in when at 1 year old she started showing signs of the rolling skin problem. And she was put on prozac and is doing fine today.Her Doctor is keeping an eye on her with check ups

  27. Stacey says:

    A few days ago when I woke up to feed my cats one was missing. He’s always the first one out to the kitchen. We looked all over for him and eventually found him in the closet where he sometimes slept. The door was open so he could have easily come out. He was just laying there dazed. He was holding his head up but his pupils were huge and when I picked him up and set him back down he seemed wobbly but could walk. He did not eat and did not seem himself so I took him to the vet. They ran a blood panel and an urinalysis and said that his # was 220 and 200 high that he has a mild case of diabetes. He is 4 years old, thin and does not drink frequently or pee a lot. He also does not eat a ton of food. So hearing this was a shock. I did mention to the vet tech that sometimes he has this twitching on his bottom right foot but they didn’t seem to think anything of it.

    The more I think about the way my cat was it makes me wonder. The floor was not wet where he was laying but the right side of his mouth was matted like he had drooled and it had dried. He’s had this foot twitching for awhile now where he will bit at his toenail on his right foot. It’s off and on and not every day. When he has this foot twitch the skin on his back also twitches and sometimes he will run a little ways then bite at his toenail. Then the episode ends for hours or even for a week or so.

    I go back to the vet for another blood test to see if the diabetic food is working but after reading this blog I’m wondering if maybe he had a seizure and the stress of that made his levels rise appearing that he had a mild case of diabetes? Thoughts on this???

    • Ingrid says:

      From your description, it sure sounds to me like your cat had a seizure, Stacey. Extremely low blood sugar in a diabetic cat can cause seizures.

  28. Samantha says:

    My cat Barnabas seems to have a few of these symptoms. Tonight, for the first time he began acting really strange. He was gone for like an hour then came running through the living room like he was being chased. He kept looking around and he would twitch. He would take off running again only to stop and lick his paws. Then resume running. He would try to hide on top of my counter top. After a couple of hours he seemed to be his self, rubbing and cuddling on me. But then he started to do it again. Especially biting and licking at his paws. It’s like he couldn’t focus on anything other than that. Is there any advice you can give me? I have not contacted a vet just to see if the symptoms would subside. I don’t want anything to be wrong because I rescued him as an abandoned kitten.

  29. Theresa Salvaterra says:

    Samantha,

    The same thing happened with our cat. We went on vacation and he was fine when we left. When we got back he was running through the house licking his paws and attacking his tail. Our vet diagnosed him with Feline Hyperesthesia. He is on medication and is doing much better. I hate medicating him and am still trying some other things to see if they help. Definitely would take him to your vet to make sure.

    Theresa

  30. Lucy says:

    Thank you so much for this site, my poor cat Austen has been suffering from this and has taken the fur from under her belly, runs away from her swishing tail and pants, pupils always massive. Will use your advice and hopefully she’ll feel better. Thank you :) X

  31. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for the wonderful article. My 10 yr old Manx was recently diagnosed with FHS. He literally goes into having a seizure after grooming himself. He starts off normally, like any kitty – then really gets into it – the hind quarters. He will mutilate himself and pull out his fur. This only lasts a few seconds but it can be very violent! From the waist down he is almost hairless! He has bitten through his paws and even mutilated his private parts!! A terrible disease. He is fine now and only has the occasional ‘seizure’. He is on phenobarbital and gabapentin and doing great. Grateful for all the other kitties out there – thanks for getting the word out.

  32. Cheryl Lynn Robbins says:

    Hi my boyfriends mother has a black cat called Smokey I don’t know how old the cat is but the cat has many problems 1 she tries to rip her fur out constantly 2 she’s been trying to bite the tip of tail off. 3 she has severe seizures and no one knows why. Can somebody give me an answerplease what this could be or what could be causing it. Furthermore his parents have nine other cats 3 dogs all with fleas house fleas and can barely take care of the animals as well lose yourself. Please do not be judgemental rude or crueljust needing some of the ice I have suggested many times they take their cat to the vet and keep getting told can afford it I’ve even offered to pay myself and have been turned down

    • Ingrid says:

      It’s possible that Smokey has hyperesthesia syndrome, Cheryl. Unfortunately, only a veterinarian can provide a definitive diagnosis and treatment. I suspect that the fleas may also be either causing, or contributing to, Smokey’s symptoms. At a minimum, the house and all the animals in it need to be treated for fleas.

  33. Lisa says:

    My cat is going through this right now and what has given her relief is putting a tshirt on her. The back rippling and crazy mad dash away from her discomfort stopped once the shirt went on. The emergency vet has her on oral antibiotics and once those are done I will see if the symptoms return after taking off the tshirt. She is eating and drinking and playing but goes nuts with biting at her rippling back once the shirt comes off. I am thinking a good grooming may give her some relief, as well. So frustrating and worrisome!

    • Ingrid says:

      That’s interesting that the shirt helped, Lisa. I wonder whether it’s almost the same principle that is behind the Thundershirt for cats, which is supposed to help calm anxious cats?

  34. Joyce says:

    My cat had this. It got to be so severe it was so sad to watch her in such pain. We switched her from normal cat litter to sawdust kitty litter(you can get it almost anywhere you get kitty litter.) and it STOPPED! She is completely cured now. I wanted to share with others to hopefull help other kitties with discomfort.

  35. Michele says:

    We have been dealing with this for two summers now. Last summer, I would take my cat in to the vet describing her as being twitchy in the back and bolting from the gazebo at the lake. We had her and her ‘sister’ treated for fleas (no evidence of them however). She was also treated for parasites and anal glands checked. Neither seemed to be of great help, but her condition wasn’t too frequent or severe. It seemed to go away in winter. Then in May this year (going back to the lake every weekend) she started again. We treated for fleas again in case, not better. She started to spend more time under the bed at the lake than normal, but in the past loved being there (indoor or teathered outside). In mid-August, two days before leaving on a camping trip without the cats, she self-mutilated the tip of her tail. Vet figures one or two vertebra missing. She was then hiding more and bolting and chasing her tail which is normal while healing her tail. We have seen a few different vets as she was also dealing with constipation and vomitting which needed emergency trips to the vets after hours (not impacted). One finally diagnosed her with FHS and put her on Pheno – 15 mg/day. It did nothing for her and 2 wks later the bloodwook barely registered any levels for pheno. She was then increased to 30 mg/day and started to show some improvement behaviourally, but her therapeutic levels were too high after 2.5 wks on the increased dose. She is now on 22.5 mg/day and experiences many cluster episodes a day around feeding time and mornings. In a trance, staring and attacking her tail, bolting, grooming or petting can trigger it. I cannot trust her when she is alone, so spends some time in a cone for safety. Tried Lorazepam with the Pheno, but she is wild on it. Am waiting for the vet to get gabapentin in and try that. We have always fed a higher quality combo diet of dry and wet. I am now switching her to a raw diet and have dropped the dry completely.
    A new problem noticed in the last week or so, my OTHER CAT is now showing signs of a head shakes and attacking her flank and grooming aggressively for a few seconds!! She has had about 4 episodes in the last two weeks. I thought FHS is rare!! Could this be something else with both cats, learned behaviour by the second one, stressed out second cat due to the first one’s condition, allergies?? HELP!! Nothing has changed in our home for ever, we are a relatively quiet, routined household.

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