In a moment’s time, a sweet cat turns into an animal that’s hard to recognize. It may appear to hallucinate, chase things that aren’t there or exhibit symptoms of anxiety. The skin along its spine may twitch without the cat’s control.
Sound familiar? If your beloved kitty has ever exhibited these symptoms, it may be suffering from a condition called feline hyperesthesia, also known as twitchy cat syndrome. It’s a relatively uncommon condition, but when it occurs, it is upsetting to cat owners and potentially dangerous to the cat itself.
One owner described his cat’s bouts of feline hyperesthesia as a quick onset of paranoia and twitching. He explained, “She couldn’t settle, the skin on her back was rippling, she kept twitching her ears, she would run around like she was being chased, and she was gnawing on her front forelegs.”
Another owner described a scene in which her mellow cat suddenly turned on itself. “The other day, we got home and there was blood all over the apartment,” the owner said. “Molly had attacked her tail and bitten all the fur off the tip and cut it badly enough that our vet thinks it may require surgery.”
The sudden arrival of disturbing symptoms is enough to sound the alarm for many cat owners. Unfortunately, small animal veterinarian Dr. Jessica Vogelsang states that the condition is not well-understood. “Feline hyperesthesia appears to be neurological in origin,” she says. It can affect any cat at any time, and there’s no known trigger for its onset — although Vogelsang explains that older cats and certain breeds, like Siamese, are more prone to the condition.
If you’ve ever noticed that your cat has a disturbing quirk or tic, stay on the lookout for the other calling cards of feline hyperesthesia, so you can seek treatment as necessary. “Affected cats may exhibit excessive scratching on their back and sides, zooming around the house or a rippling of the skin on their back like a little rolling earthquake,” Vogelsang says. Make an appointment with your veterinarian if you notice these symptoms. The condition is rarely life-threatening, but it can be uncomfortable for your cat and can put it at risk for self-injury.
According to Vogelsang, treatment for feline hyperesthesia is first aimed at eliminating other causes of sensitivity. “Your vet will try to rule out problems like arthritis, which is a common issue for senior cats,” she explains. Once hyperesthesia is diagnosed, treatment may involve a mixture of anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, anti-seizure meds or anti-inflammatories in order to address the neurological etiology of the syndrome. With proper treatment, it is possible to manage your cat’s symptoms and improve its quality of life.