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Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

November 15, 2022

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome, also known as rolling skin syndrome and twitchy cat disease, is a rather unique issue that we sometimes see in our feline friends. The condition is characterized by hypersensitivity of the skin, usually on the back. A local vet offers some information in this article.


Fluffy can’t tell you what is going on with her, so you need to know what to look for. You may see twitching or rippling skin on your pet’s back. Other red flags include dilated pupils, excessive and/or unusual meowing, jumping and running frantically, drooling, tail chasing, scratching, and excessive sleepiness. Your kitty may also bite or lick herself, particularly on her flanks, lower back, rear paws, bottom, and/or tail. She may also seem to feel discomfort or pain when being petted or held. Contact your vet if you notice any of these issues in your feline buddy.


There are actually many potential causes of feline hyperesthesia syndrome. Skin problems, such as allergies, are one of the most common ones. However, it can also be caused by neurological issues, such as seizures or nerve pain. It may be sometimes a psychological issue, as it has been linked to compulsive behavior, anxiety, stress, and even attention seeking. Food sensitivity is another potential culprit.


Feline hyperesthesia is most common in cats that are younger than seven years old. However, the average age at onset is just one year old. Breed may also play a role. For instance, Abyssinian, Burmese, Persian, and Siamese kitties are particularly prone to this condition.


While feline hyperesthesia syndrome isn’t fatal, it can still affect Fluffy’s quality of life. If you know or suspect that your kitty is afflicted, contact your vet immediately. A mild case can be scheduled as an appointment. However, severe episodes would warrant immediate emergency care.

The good news is that there are treatments available. Your vet will need to do some tests to determine if Fluffy does have feline hyperesthesia syndrome. It’s also important to identify and rule out other issues, as several medical conditions can cause similar problems. These include parasites, allergies, spinal arthritis, intervertebral disc extrusions, skin problems, and fungal infections. As far as treatment, medication is often successful, though some cats respond differently than others. Your vet may also recommend behavioral counseling and/or environmental changes.

Our Advice on Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome in 2024

What specific diagnostic tests are used to confirm feline hyperesthesia syndrome?

To confirm feline hyperesthesia syndrome, veterinarians use a combination of diagnostic tests. These include physical examinations to observe symptoms like skin twitching and behavioral changes. Blood tests and urinalysis help rule out underlying medical conditions, such as infections or metabolic disorders. Neurological exams assess potential nerve-related issues, while allergy tests identify possible allergens. Imaging techniques like X-rays or MRIs can detect spinal problems or intervertebral disc issues. Skin scrapings and biopsies may be performed to check for parasites or skin diseases. Accurate diagnosis often involves ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Are there any known genetic factors that contribute to the development of this condition?

Genetic factors do appear to contribute to the development of feline hyperesthesia syndrome. Certain breeds, including Abyssinian, Burmese, Persian, and Siamese cats, are particularly prone to this condition, indicating a hereditary predisposition. While the exact genetic mechanisms are not fully understood, the higher incidence in these breeds suggests a significant genetic component. Research is ongoing to identify specific genetic markers and understand their role in the syndrome’s manifestation. Understanding these genetic factors can help in developing targeted treatments and management strategies for affected cats.

How frequently do episodes of feline hyperesthesia typically occur in affected cats?

Episodes of feline hyperesthesia can vary in frequency among affected cats. Some cats may experience episodes sporadically, while others may have frequent occurrences. Typically, these episodes involve sudden bouts of skin twitching, frantic behavior, and self-directed grooming or biting, often triggered by touch or stress. The frequency and severity of episodes can depend on underlying causes, such as stress, allergies, or neurological issues. Monitoring and managing potential triggers, along with veterinary-recommended treatments, can help reduce the occurrence and impact of these episodes on a cat’s quality of life.

What types of medications are commonly prescribed for treating feline hyperesthesia syndrome?

Common medications prescribed for treating feline hyperesthesia syndrome include anti-anxiety drugs, such as fluoxetine or clomipramine, to help reduce stress and compulsive behaviors. Anticonvulsants, like gabapentin, are used to manage neurological symptoms and reduce nerve pain. In some cases, corticosteroids may be prescribed to address underlying inflammation or allergies. Each cat’s response to medication can vary, so veterinarians may adjust treatments based on individual needs and reactions. Behavioral counseling and environmental modifications are often recommended alongside medication to improve overall management of the condition.

Are there any potential long-term complications associated with untreated feline hyperesthesia?

Untreated feline hyperesthesia can lead to several long-term complications. Persistent self-mutilation from excessive biting and scratching can result in severe skin infections, wounds, and hair loss. Chronic stress and anxiety associated with the condition may affect a cat’s overall well-being and behavior, potentially leading to further health issues. Additionally, the underlying causes, such as neurological or allergy-related problems, may worsen over time without proper management. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential to prevent these complications and improve the affected cat’s quality of life.

Do you have questions about your kitty’s health or care? Contact us, your local animal clinic in Waterdown, ON!

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