The term ‘Hyperesthesia’ refers to an increased sensitivity of one of the senses, and in humans, it can take many forms, including auditory (when painful loud sounds are heard despite nothing actually happening in the environment) and smell (when powerful scents are detected despite no trigger).
In cats, Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome specifically refers to a heightened sensitivity to touch.
What is Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome?
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome – sometimes called rippling skin syndrome – is a condition that can affect some cats. It gives them extremely sensitive skin which can cause them distress, particularly if they are petted in that area. It has other names too, including neuritis, atypical neurodermatitis, and ‘twitchy cat syndrome’.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Signs and Symptoms
There are various signs that your cat might be suffering from FHS. You may see the skin itself reacting – rippling or rolling from the shoulders, down the back, and up to the tail. It’s not always visible. What you might see instead is a change in your cat’s behavior – they might suddenly react to their tail or flanks as if they are being pestered – even in their sleep – or they might try to lick or bite at the area. Their tail might twitch, and they may react badly if you try to stroke them in the affected area.
Diagnosing Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is not straightforward, and there are a number of tests that will be carried out. Many of these tests will be done to rule out alternative causes of the behavior in the cat, such as spinal arthritis, skin parasites, allergies, and fungal infections. These could include x-rays and MRIs. This is called a diagnosis of exclusion – working out what it isn’t, before ending up at hyperesthesia.
Some of the neurological conditions that will be ruled out before a diagnosis of FHS are epilepsy, spinal disease such as neoplasia, and brain tumors. Because Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is not always simple to treat, these serious but understood conditions need to be removed from the potential causes first.
There are a couple of behavioral conditions that could be causing your cat to act in ways similar to those with FHS. These are compulsive disorders and displacement behaviors. Your vet will look at whether your cat may be suffering from these before considering a formal FHS diagnosis.
Myositis and myopathy are two musculoskeletal conditions that can have similar symptoms- these will be checked for by your vet before confirming FHS.
As above, there are several dermatological conditions that may cause skin irritation that could see a cat reacting to the area near their tail, including flea allergy dermatitis, atopy, or a food allergy.
The clinical signs of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome include sudden bouts of either hyperactive or aggressive behavior from the cat, frantic grooming that’s directed towards the tail or the back, a sudden fixation with the tail including chasing or attacking it, and the rippling of the skin.
Some cats may also show dilated pupils and may appear to be hallucinating – following the movements of something which is not there. Many cats suffering from FHS will also be very vocal, and may display a change in mood – aloof cats may suddenly be more affectionate, while loving cats can become more aggressive due to the sensitivity.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome often takes an insidious form, which means that it comes on gradually over time rather than suddenly appearing. The result is that it can be harder to spot – the changes in your cat’s behavior may occur slowly over a long period of time and not be as noticeable. If you start to notice subtle changes, try to look back over their behavior over the past few months, to determine whether your cat has been showing signs for longer than you realized.
Some veterinarians believe Feline Hyperesthesia to be related to obsessive-compulsive disorders, which can be triggered by varying chemical levels in your cat:
If your cat’s brain isn’t producing enough serotonin, it can lead to incidences of compulsive disorders which some believe is related to the behaviors triggered by FHS.
Some theorize that increased levels of opiates in the brain create a pleasure sensation in your cat when they are acting on their compulsions, which reinforces the behaviors and encourages the cat to keep doing them.
Cats with increased dopamine levels can sometimes show an increased frequency of compulsive behaviors.
However, it’s important to note that only some veterinarians believe that FHS is linked with compulsive disorders. A Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine professor believes it could instead be linked to problems related to seizures.
The definitive cause is still widely debated, and seizure activity is sometimes related to compulsive behaviors too.
Feline Hyperesthesia Treatment
Because the definitive cause of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is still unknown, there is no cure. Instead, treatment is given to help reduce symptoms and make it more manageable. Lowering stress levels in your cat is seen as one prominent way to control the symptoms.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome natural treatment
Natural treatments will include looking at your cat’s diet and ensuring they are eating the optimal foods. Animal Wellness Magazine recommends cutting down on ultra-processed foods that contain high levels of Maillard Reaction Products (MRPs) which can cause inflammation. It also recommends removing any chemical preservatives and using a variety of proteins in your cat’s diet to prevent any sensitivities or allergies from developing, which can trigger hyperesthesia. Always talk to your veterinarian before you make any big changes to your cat’s diet.
There are also homeopathic treatments and health supplements available which can reduce inflammation which could help to reduce symptoms of hyperesthesia.
Adored Beast’s Feline Gut Soothe is a supplementary blend of pre and probiotics with anti-inflammatory herbs. I am able to keep my Ragdoll cat's FHS at bay with this product and a few others have been able to as well - according to reports in this Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Support Group on Facebook.
Please read my story of how Feline Gut Soothe helped soothe my cat's Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. Although it was essential, it wasn't addressing everything and it wasn't until I had an Optimal Cat Health Analysis that I was able to get to the root of the problem.
Other Things That Help My Charlie's Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome:
- Optimal Cat Health Analysis and doing exactly what was asked of me
- Red and green light therapy
- Chiropractor adjustments
- Cold laser therapy - usually following chiropractor adjustments
- Going outside - read about "grounding" to understand how the Earth's energy can help ground your cat
- Finding allergens in the diet through a blood test
- Feeding meats and other ingredients that do not cause inflammation (so less fish, for example and less dry food or none at all)
- Balancing his microbiome with Adored Beast's products
- Fecal Pills - getting the good gut bacteria back into his system
- Steroids - this is how I found out that Feline Gut Soothe might work.
- Slippery Elm - this is an ingredient in Feline Gut Soothe, but I use it as needed to help him poop. When he needs to poop, it seems like his FHS flares up.
- Eliminated a toxic laundry detergent
Some veterinarians may recommend medication to help either lower anxiety in your cat, or to directly target some of the symptoms. Also recommended by Cornell University, in some situations, is Gabapentin, a seizure medication that can help to control the nerves. Some other vets may recommend Phenobarbital, a similar drug.
Because there is considered to be a link between anxiety and hyperesthesia being triggered, behavioral treatment will be recommended. This is all about looking at stress management techniques for your cat and will involve looking at factors in their life that could be causing them to be nervous, and changes that can be made to improve their routine.