Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Title

Cinco (left) getting upset with his tail while Manna watches.

Sometimes cats have really unusual behaviors. Over the last several months I have been noticing my cat, Cinco, developing a behavior that strikes me as odd. All of the sudden, he will get really upset with his tail. He will vocalize at it, bite it, and then hiss at it when he realizes that the bite hurts. He will do this over and over. Usually this is accompanied by a frenzy of running around the apartment. This led me to look for possible causes of the new behavior. It seems that this may be a case of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome.

What is Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome?

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Cinco

Cinco catching his tail during on of his episodes.

The truth is that no one really knows exactly what Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is. Currently, it is believed to be a rare neurological disorder that typically affects adult cats (though it can affect cats of any age). It is called by several different names like Rolling Skin Syndrome, Twitchy Cat Syndrome, Rippling Skin Syndrome, Neuritis,  and Atypical Neurodermatitis ( I’ve even seen Feline Schizophrenia though that seems a little off).

Cats suffering from Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome will have sudden, short bursts of uncharacteristic activity. The cat could be laying in your lap peacefully and in an instant jump up and begin making unusual vocalizations or madly scratching, biting, or licking it’s flanks or tail. This may also be accompanied by frantic running around. Other symptoms could include:

  • Rippling/rolling of the skin on the cat’s back.
  • Muscle spams
  • Twitching tail
  • Salivation
  • Uncontrolled urination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hissing or vocalizing at their tail (or unknown object)

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is generally considered to be a mild illness and not life threatening. However, in severe cases, cats may self-mutilate. Wounds should be carefully looked after to insure they do not become infected.

Causes of the Crazy Crawlies

Veterinarians have several different thoughts for what could be causing Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. None have been proven correct as of yet. There are 3 theories that seem to be the most plausible:

  1. It is an illness within the scope of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
  2. It is caused by epileptic seizures in the part of the brain that controls things like grooming, predatory behavior, and emotions.
  3. It is a genetic predisposition for mania that is caused by stress. Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome does seem to be most common in oriental breeds of cat.

There are, however, several different medical conditions whose symptoms can mimic those of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. It is really important that a veterinarian rule out all of these conditions before assuming that Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is the diagnosis. Other possible diagnoses could include pinched nerves, slipped disks, arthritis of the spine, legions in the muscles of the spine, brain tumors, food allergies, flea allergies, skin infections, poisoning, hyperthyroidism and more.

Have a Veterinarian Diagnose Your Cat

As you can see, it is very important to talk to your veterinarian if you think that your cat might be suffering from Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. It will be worth the extra money to know that you are not dealing with something more serious. It may not be possible to determine the cause of the problem by observation of the cat alone.

There is no single test that leads to a definitive diagnosis for Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. If it is possible, try to take a video of your cat during one of his/her strange episodes to the veterinarian. Your veterinarian will need to go through a list of other tests to rule out everything else. You can expect the usual physical and neurological tests as well as blood tests, urinalysis, MRIs, x-rays, a thyroid test, skin tests, and potentially even biopsies if other tests render them relevant.

Soothing Solutions

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Cinco Scratching

You can tell whenever Cinco is starting to get anxious because he compulsively grooms.

There are treatments that seem to work well for cats with Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome – and not all of them are drugs! It seems that the most important thing is to find ways to reduce the cat’s anxiety levels. Creating regular feeding times and play times is very important. The more predictable a cat’s life is, the less anxiety they have. If there is a part of the cat’s back (or anywhere else on their body) that seems to be sensitive, don’t touch that area. For Cinco, I have been using a calming treat by VetriScience (this is an affiliate link) that works really well.

Pharmaceuticals can be helpful in some cases, but the pros and the cons should be carefully weighed (as with any time drugs are considered). Remember, with this option you will likely have to give your cat a pill every day for the rest of his or her life. Common drugs that are prescribed to help Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome include serotonin enhancing drugs, anti-seizure drugs, and anti-inflammatory medications.

Holistic options are available as well. These are not necessarily any less expensive than the pharmaceutical options, but they do tend to have a lot less side effects. First, make sure that your cat is on a balanced, species appropriate diet. Cutting out carbs and preservatives can help improve the body’s function while lessening the chance of skin irritation due to food allergies. Using a animal protein based Omega 3 supplement (like Krill Oil) can help improve function in the brain. To help with anxiety, there are a number of natural calming remedies based on essential oils and on cat pheromones available on the market. Dr. Karen Becker, DVM even claims to have had success with alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and certain types of massage.

Do you know a kitty (besides Cinco) who actually catches their tail?

Sources & Digging Deeper

Does Your Cat Suddenly Bolt From the Room, Looking Back Like Something’s Chasing Her? – Dr. Karen Becker, DVM

Hyperesthesia Syndrome – Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome in Cats – PetMD

Hyperesthesia Syndrome – Cat Behavior Associates