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Feline Hyperesthesia: What Is Twitchy Cat Syndrome?

by Naomi Rogers
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Hyperesthesia Syndrome is also known as Rolling Skin Disease or Twitchy Cat Syndrome in the veterinary community. The terms refer to cats that are chronically hypersensitive to stimuli at their lower back and tail base.

They may act painful when petted or you may see their skin twitch or roll as if they have an itch. Some cats growl or attack their own body. Others lick their paws uncontrollably when scratched. In extreme cases, cats with hyperesthesia may even have seizures when petted a certain way.

twitchy cat syndrome

Diagnosing Hyperesthesia

Most cats develop hyperesthesia before the age of five. While it can affect any cat, the condition is most common in Oriental breeds such as the Burmese, Siamese, Abyssinian, and Persian.

Since hyperesthesia syndrome is a compulsive disorder, there is no simple blood test to diagnose it. Instead, your veterinarian will ask you a series of questions about your cat’s history and lifestyle.

The issue usually begins in response to stress such as moving to a new home or being transitioned from indoor/outdoor to indoor-only. When the cat can no longer perform its usual routine it excessively grooms instead. After a while, the behavior becomes compulsive.

Your vet will also want to rule out pain in the lower back or tail so be sure to report any old injuries or pre-existing conditions. Cats that have suffered tail fractures or hip injuries may have sudden nerve or muscle spasms. In these cases the treatment will focus on pain management.

Treatment Options

The treatment for hyperesthesia differs from cat to cat. For some it is as simple as avoiding the type of touch that triggers the episodes. The ultimate goal is to provide the pet with a life as free from discomfort as possible.

Manage Itching

Make sure your cat has healthy skin and is free from itch-causing stimuli. Itchy skin leads to grooming, which can lead to compulsive licking and chewing. Keep your cat and its environment flea-free and watch for signs of redness, inflammation, or scabs on the skin.

You may also want to discuss diet choice and Omega 3 fatty acid supplements with your vet to help maintain healthy skin and coat.

Control Your Cat’s Environment

For some cats, the stress of a chaotic environment is enough to cause compulsive behavior. Try sticking to a strict schedule of feedings, litter box cleanings, and attention. In multi-cat households, make sure there is no bullying or competition for resources. If environmental changes do not work, anti-anxiety medications may be necessary. 

Neurologic Medications

For cats that have seizures or do not respond to other treatments, neurologic medications may help sooth over-sensitive nerves.

Prognosis

The key to a positive outcome is to find the right approach or combination of approaches. Your cat may never be completely cured of hyperesthesia, but your vet can help you provide relief and an overall high quality of life.

Sansa, a pretty white rescue kitty with heterochromia and polydactylism, lives with Twitchy Cat Syndrome. Read about her happy ending here on Cattitude Daily!

H/T to Veterinary Partner

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