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Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

What is feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS)?

feline hyperesthesia syndromeThe word "hyperesthesia" literally means increased sensitivity to touch, and this perfectly describes a unique disorder in felines known as  feline hyperesthesia syndrome. Other names it is known by include "rolling skin disease, twitchy cat syndrome, twitch-skin syndrome and self-mutilating syndrome".

Feline hyperesthesia is a somewhat mysterious condition characterised by bizarre behaviour such as rippling skin along the back, sudden bouts of frantic biting and licking at the tail, pelvis or flank, eyes wide open, dilated pupils, running crazily around the house and aggression. During an attack, your cat will behave as if he is reacting to a hallucinatory stimuli.

Despite so much understanding of feline disorders, feline hyperesthesia syndrome is still rather misunderstood. The condition appears to start in early adulthood, Siamese cats are most commonly affected but it can occur in any cat, regardless of breed or age.

What are the symptoms of feline hyperesthesia syndrome:

Aside from the common symptoms listed in the first paragraph, other symptoms may include:

  • Twitching.

  • Drooling.

  • Swishing of the tail.

  • Seizures.

  • Tail chasing.

  • Vocalisation.

  • Sensitivity to touch, especially along the spine. This may result in the owner being attacked by the cat.

  • Severe cases of FHS may include self-mutilating by biting, licking and pulling out the hair on the back and tail.

What causes feline hyperesthesia syndrome?

The cause of feline hyperesthesia syndrome still isn't entirely known. One hypothesis is that feline hyperesthesia syndrome is actually a form of seizures, while others believe it is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. Other possible causes include neurological disorders, stress and anxiety.

How is feline hyperesthesia syndrome diagnosed?

There is no diagnostic test for feline hyperesthesia syndrome, diagnosis is based on eliminating other possible causes of the behaviour such as  parasites, food allergies, hyperthyroidism,  spinal diseases and other neurological disorders. Tests your veterinarian may wish to perform include:

If possible, record the number of attacks your cat experiences. Certain triggers may initiate an attack such as petting, grooming, contact with another cat.  It is important to be aware of these cues and inform your veterinarian.

If all other possible causes (listed above) are ruled out, your veterinarian can assume the cat is suffering from feline hyperesthesia syndrome.

How is feline hyperesthesia syndrome treated?

Treatment is directed at the underlying cause, if this can be identified and may include:

  • Reducing stress in the household, including addressing any fighting between household cats.

  • Providing your cat with an enriching environment such as plenty of play to burn off energy.

  • Providing him with his own bed, food and water bowls, scratching post.

  • Providing your cat with a regular routine such as feeding at the same time every day. Several small meals are better than one or two large meals.

  • If grooming or petting cause an attack, avoid these activities.

Drug therapy:

  • Anticonvulsant medications such as phenobarbital.

  • Anxi-anxiety drugs.

  • Corticosteroids such as prednisolone.

  • NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

It may take a little time to develop a suitable drug regime for your cat and his particular circumstances, and will take several weeks before you begin to see an improvement. Your veterinarian will gradually reduce the dose of any medications your cat is receiving until he is on the minimal dose required to manage the condition.

Also see:

Twitching in cats   Flea allergy dermatitis   Feline hyperthyroidism