What is Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome?

By Langley Cornwell

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS) is an unusual medical condition that affects the brain and causes some very strange symptoms in cats. It can affect felines of all ages, but it is most common in adult cats and the cause is still somewhat of a mystery. Some of the experts suspect that this condition could be caused by seizures, a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder or a type of brain disorder.

Veterinarians describe the condition as a rippling motion that starts at the shoulders of the cat and runs all the way down to its tail, which explains why it’s sometimes called “rippling skin syndrome” or “twitchy cat syndrome.” Hyperesthesia is the word used to describe a heightened sensitivity that affects the senses and in this case, it’s the skin. You can actually see the skin moving in some cats but it can be hard to see in others, depending on the thickness and length of the cat’s fur.

Symptoms of the condition may occur in any breed or sex of cat. Even so, Abyssinians, Siamese, Burmese and Himalayan purebred cats seem to be predisposed to develop hyperesthesia.

FHS symptoms are occasional, so cats may act normally for long periods of time, eating their nutritious CANIDAE cat food and drinking plenty of water, but then an owner will notice some of the following symptoms.

Feline Hyperesthesia Symptoms

There are several different symptoms associated with this condition. For example, a cat with hyperesthesia will usually turn around and start biting or licking its hindquarters near the tail. It will be so intent that it’s obvious something is wrong, even if you can’t physically see anything when you look. Tail twitching, spasms and body twitches are also signs of this feline condition that you should be aware of.

Sometimes the cat will even take off running uncontrollably like its being chased by a huge animal. Likewise, the cat may appear to be looking around intently for something or following something around its body when nothing is actually there. Cats with this condition will often hiss and whine at their tails or will chase their tail while jumping around. Urinating uncontrollably is another sign that can be linked to this disorder.

If you can get close enough, you may notice that many cats will have dilated pupils while they are having an episode of feline hyperesthesia, and if you touch their backs along the spine, they may run away quickly or hiss and bite at you due to the sensitivity in this area. Biting and chewing their hind quarters and tail hard enough to draw blood or even mutilate their bodies is not uncommon, which leads to hair loss and skin lesions that can make the cat very uncomfortable.

What to Do If Your Cat Is Showing Symptoms

If you notice these symptoms in your cat, the first thing you need to do is look for a cause. Fleas, allergies and certain skin conditions can also cause your cat to bite and act strangely. Inspecting your cat will often reveal these problems and they can be treated easily. If you don’t see anything that could be causing this type of behavior, then make an appointment to see your vet.

A number of other serious disorders could also cause some of these hyperesthesia symptoms, so it’s very important for your cat to see your veterinarian. Explain all of the symptoms you noticed along with anything else that might be of importance. If diagnosed with feline hyperesthesia, your vet will work with you to find a treatment plan that will help.

Top photo by John Morton
Bottom photo by Alisha Vargas

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One thought on “What is Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome?

  1. Geez, many of those “symptoms” sound like normal cat behavior. (“the cat will even take off running uncontrollably like its being chased by a huge animal. Likewise, the cat may appear to be looking around intently for something or following something around its body when nothing is actually there. “) Sometimes it is very difficult to determine when an animal has a disease or illness — especially those that have no known cause or are very difficult to diagnose!

    Thanks for this info, I learned something new!

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