Cats With Hyperesthesia

Hyperesthesia is a disorder that causes cats to exhibit strange behaviors.
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All cats can be a little odd at times, but if your cat develops hyperesthesia syndrome, erratic episodes will become more frequent. Feline hyperesthesia is also known as rolling skin syndrome, self-mutilation syndrome and twitchy cat disease. If Max exhibits unusual behavior, seek diagnosis and treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

Cats with hyperesthesia may act normal for extended periods of time, as the kooky episodes are generally sporadic. Clinical signs may last only a minute or two before your cat returns to his normal self. At times, you may notice rippling or twitching of the skin, spasms that cause the body to jerk, or a hyperactive tail. Instead of scratching, Max may obsessively bite or lick at his tail, back, or flank. This behavior may be followed by excessive grooming.

Max may experience sudden bursts of hyperactivity, often accompanied by dilated pupils and sudden loud meowing or crying. Cats with hyperesthesia may be highly sensitive to being touched on the back. Petting or scratching along the spine can sometimes trigger your cat's strange antics. The rolling or rippling of the skin is due not to the skin itself but to the hyper-responsiveness of the skeletal muscles (cutaneous trunci) under the skin when the area is touched.

Other clinical signs may include uncontrolled urination, sudden and/or loud vocalization, and salivation. Self-mutilating behavior, such as excessive compulsive scratching, is often associated with a seizure disorder, according to Dr. Alexander de Lahunta, DVM. A common episode may begin when you scratch your sleeping cat’s back in the lumbar region. Max awakens with eyes wide open and focused, his tail twitching and him scratching himself like crazy with his back paws. After 20 to 30 seconds, Max stops his abnormal behavior and falls back asleep like nothing happened.


While Max's hyperesthesia has no definitive cause, the condition is often associated with seizures, as anti-convulsion medications seem to stop episodes of agitation. Another possible explanation for the condition is the development of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, often related to excessive grooming habits. In many cases, anti-obsessional medications help eliminate the symptoms of hyperesthesia in cats. According to, Asian and Siamese breeds are more susceptible to this syndrome.


Since there is no test to diagnose feline hyperesthesia, your vet will need to rule out other possible conditions according to clinical signs. Blood work, physical and neurological exams, urinalysis and a fecal exam, spinal X-rays and skin cultures are common forms of diagnostic testing that your vet might use to rule out medical conditions commonly confused with hyperesthesia. Your vet may recommend changing your cat's diet to determine if food or environmental allergies are to blame for Max's peculiar mannerisms.

Treatment Options

Controlling Max’s manic episodes may be as easy as making a few changes at home. Certain environmental factors may trigger behaviors caused by too much stimulation. Consider your pet’s stressors and try to prevent these occurrences. For example, if Max gets too excited when people walk by the window, simply keep the shades closed. Boredom can also be a major stressor for felines, so be sure to spend quality time petting and playing with Max. When an episode begins, try and redirect the cat with his favorite toy or a treat. In severe cases, your vet may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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