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Does Your Feline Companion Suffer From 'Twitchy Cat' Syndrome?

Felines are unique creatures. Your cat's physiology is distinctive, as are her nutritional requirements. Even the way her body is constructed -- her incredible physical flexibility -- is distinct from most other creatures.
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Felines are unique creatures. Your cat's physiology is distinctive, as are her nutritional requirements. Even the way her body is constructed -- her incredible physical flexibility -- is distinct from most other creatures.

Another thing that is very unusual about cats is their tendency to develop a weird disorder called feline hyperesthesia. This is a medical term for what is more commonly referred to as "twitchy cat syndrome." Other technical names for the condition include neuritis and atypical neurodermatitis.

Symptoms of Feline Hyperesthesia

Hyperesthesia is a condition in which the skin on a cat's back ripples from the shoulders all the way to the tail. The rippling is even visible in some cats.

What many pet owners notice first is their cat turning toward her tail suddenly as though something back there is bothering her. She may try to lick or bite at the area. Many cats with this condition take off running out of the blue as though something scared them or is chasing them.

Kitties with hyperesthesia also have muscle spasms and twitches, and twitching of the tail.
If your cat has the syndrome, he may show sensitivity when any point along his spine or back is touched. He may chase his tail, bite at himself, turn toward his tail and hiss, vocalize, run and jump. He may even seem to be hallucinating - following the movement of things that are not there.

In severe cases of feline hyperesthesia, cats will self-mutilate by biting, licking, chewing and pulling out hair. These poor kitties can suffer not only hair loss, but severe skin lesions.

Causes of "Twitchy Cat Syndrome"

One of the first things you should do if your kitty is having symptoms of hyperesthesia is rule out other causes.

It's important to rule out flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) as a cause. In pets with a severe flea allergy, the bite from a single flea can cause serious, long-term itching and skin irritation. Sometimes dry, itchy skin can induce or aggravate a hyperesthesia condition. This is more common in cats fed a dry food diet.
Another cause of the condition can be seizures. Or more precisely, feline hyperesthesia may be a type of seizure disorder. Some kitties experience grand mal seizures during an episode of hyperesthesia or right afterwards.

It may also be a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, with the obsession being fearfulness and/or grooming and/or aggression. Also, seizure activity is known to lead to obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Another theory is that certain breeds are predisposed to develop mania as a result of stress. Oriental breeds seem to have more hyperesthesia than the general population of felines, and stress often seems to be the trigger for these kitties.

Also, cats with the condition have been found to have lesions in the muscles of their spine. It's possible the lesions cause or contribute to the sensations and symptoms that are a feature of hyperesthesia.


A diagnosis of feline hyperesthesia is arrived at through eliminating other conditions that cause similar symptoms and behavior, including skin conditions, hyperthyroidism, poisoning, an underlying painful condition, a problem in the brain, and a nutritional deficiency.

The vet should perform a physical exam on your cat, take a behavioral history, and order a complete blood count, chemistry profile and T4 (thyroid) hormone level test. Other diagnostic tests might also be required, for example, skin tests and x-rays.

When all other potential causes for your pet's symptoms have been ruled out or treated, feline hyperesthesia can be confidently diagnosed.

Treatment of True Feline Hyperesthesia

The treatment for feline hyperesthesia syndrome involves reducing stress on the cat.

I recommend feeding balanced, species-appropriate diet containing moderate amounts of animal fat and high levels of animal protein. This will help eliminate any food allergies she may be dealing with, and will improve the condition of her skin and coat. You can also consider supplementing with a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids like krill oil.

To address stress-related triggers, you'll need to take steps to make your cat as comfortable as possible with his living arrangements.

This means building a great deal of consistency in your cat's daily routine, while at the same time enriching the five key areas of his environment, including:

• Safe, secure food, water and litter box locations

• His own places to climb, scratch, rest and hide

• Consistency in all your interactions with him

• Appropriate sensory stimulation

• The company of another or other non-adversarial cats

Also set aside time each day to play with your cat. This helps him get aerobic exercise and gives him the chance to flex his hunter muscles.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at:

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.