Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

The term ‘Hyperesthesia’ refers to an increased sensitivity of one of the senses. 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 – that’s why it is also known as rippling skin syndrome or twitchy cat syndrome.

This article is on my site because my 12-year-old Ragdoll cat Charlie got it – skin rippling, flipping around to bite, itch, or scratch. He was never at peace – constantly attacking his body. I don’t think he slept for an hour for three weeks or more until I put him on steroids (not the recommended thing to do).

What’s happening is that, basically, their bodies are raging with inflammation from toxins that are continually circulating in their bodies.

This isn’t a rare, strange, or mysterious syndrome. A moderator on the Feline Hyperesthesia Group on Facebook told me that five people a day join the group there – 5 people a day! This is starting to be an epidemic with our cats, and we need to help educate our veterinarians as to why this is happening.

But first, let’s walk through the formalities…

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 disease.’

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 FHS

Diagnosing Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is not straightforward, and there are a number of tests that a conventional veterinarian will do.

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.

You can also post a video in the Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Group on Facebook, and those experienced FHS cat owners can tell you if it looks like it.

Neurologic

Some of the neurological conditions that will be ruled out before a diagnosis of FHS are epilepsy, spinal diseases 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.

Behavioral

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.

Ragdoll Cat Charlie at Mission Veterinary Emergency

Musculoskeletal

Myositis and myopathy are two musculoskeletal conditions that can have similar symptoms – these will be checked for by your vet before confirming FHS.

Dermatologic

As mentioned 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.

Clinical Signs

The clinical signs of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome include sudden bouts of either hyperactive or aggressive behavior from the cat, frantic grooming that’s directed toward 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. In contrast, loving cats can become more aggressive due to their sensitivity.

Insidious Form

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.

Pathophysiology

Some veterinarians believe Feline Hyperesthesia to be related to obsessive-compulsive disorders, which can be triggered by varying chemical levels in your cat:

Serotonin

If your cat’s brain isn’t producing enough serotonin, it can lead to incidences of compulsive disorders, which some believe are related to the behaviors triggered by FHS.

Opiates

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.

Dopamine

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.

You’ll learn from the videos included in this post, though, that there is another school of thought – that it comes from a toxic overload in the cat – vaccines, flea medications, fragrances in the home, chemicals used in the home, drugs from anesthesia and more.

10-Year Old Seal Mitted with a Blaze Ragdoll Cat Charlie

Toxicity and Imbalance – A Holistic View of FHS

Because the formal cause of FHS is still debated, it can leave cat owners feeling frustrated.

But it may be that there are a number of causes that cumulate, including stress and imbalance in your cat’s body because of toxicity.

Dr. Richard Pitcairn, a veterinary homeopath, stated that conditions like FHS (considered a type of psychomotor seizure) are indicative of rabies vaccinosis.

Toxicity doesn’t refer to poisons – but instead to a variety of factors that can affect your cat’s various systems in their body, triggering imbalance and causing them to work ineffectively.

There are a huge number of potential factors that could be causing this toxicity. Pam of Purrfectly Holistic identifies flea treatments and vaccines as two prominent potential causes, but it differs for every cat and every home and could be dietary issues, chemicals within the products in your home, chemicals in the air, and more.

Pam was the one who healed my 12-year-old (at the time) Ragdoll cat Charlie.

In July 2021, my 12-year-old Ragdoll cat, Charlie, started showing signs of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. Our vet confirmed what was going on. Our veterinarian didn’t have a lot of experience with it – only had one other cat that had had it in her 20 years of veterinary care.

Knowing that Gabapentin was the drug of choice to “control” the syndrome, I knew it wouldn’t work for my Charlie based on prior experiences with another veterinarian. So, I started seeking holistic help. And we saw many folks and did many consultations before I finally tried Pam – and she’s the only one that truly helped him heal.

Feline Hyperesthesia Treatment

Most veterinarians only know how to treat the cause of the syndrome – few know how to go after the problem of the syndrome…and that’s medicating these kitties, so they don’t mutilate their bodies.

With the holistic approach, the opposite view is taken. Instead of tackling the symptoms with treatments, you can work with a holistic specialist like Pam at Purrfectly Holistic, and they will help identify the common causes. They’ll then give you a plan on how to detox your kitty from those causes and the products you should use.

Every cat is unique – what made your FHS kitty become a FHS kitty could be entirely different than what made Charlie one. It’s essential to have a specific detox plan designed for him/her. That’s why I loved working with Pam – before working with her, I was throwing things against the wall to see if they stuck, and Charlie suffered through it.

One thing that’s harder with the holistic route is knowing which product will work, etc., and having no guidance. Pam gave me detailed guidance on what to use, how much, how often, etc.

There are six main steps to the holistic approach:

  1. Nourish – Make sure your cat has the energy they need to tackle the issue. Depending on your cat’s existing diet, this step might not be necessary. It was not necessary for my Charlie
  2. Detox – removing the bad energies from your cat using detoxifier products
  3. Rebuilding a healthy gut – 100% of the cats with this syndrome have leaky guts.
  4. Rebuilding a healthy immune system – this ties in with the healthy gut since 70% of the immune system is in the gut.
  5. Diet modification – Getting your cat onto a species-appropriate diet, which may need to be a novel protein diet
  6. Home modification – Removing toxins from your home, including chemically-treated products, plugin “air fresheners”, fragrant laundry soaps, and detergents

There is no single list of products you should use to treat FHS holistically. That’s because the causes will be different for each cat. A specialist can evaluate your cat’s energy and lifestyle and determine from there what the likely stressors are.

The goal then is to remove the triggers in your cat’s environment, detox them to remove the negative influences in their body (such as heavy metals from vaccines and more), and then use products to help rebuild your cat’s systems. Healing your kitty in this way can help to put an end to FHS symptoms.

Here’s a video interview with Pam that talks through the process:

Some of the products that Pam recommends in that video are:

Important – these products should only be taken as part of a treatment plan as discussed with a holistic specialist, and you should consult with your veterinarian as well. Don’t give your cat some/all of these products without specific advice, dosage, etc.

Pam mentions that these are not physical medicines, but they are energy medicines, and so they need to be used only if they fit the cat’s particular problems and in the proper doses.

You’ll need to consider removing toxins from your home, too, including many products that have fragrances, fire-retardant and other chemicals. Sometimes these things can be found in laundry soaps and detergents, hand soaps, and more. While the toxins used in some of these products may seem low, remember that your cat is smaller than you and so more susceptible.

And also, if they have other issues with imbalance, these toxins can tip the balance to trigger symptoms, so they still need to be addressed.

And you may also be recommended to make changes to your cat’s diet, including making sure they’re getting plenty of antioxidants in their food and switching away from processed and kibble dry foods, potentially to a raw cat food diet. Always talk to your veterinarian before you make any big changes to your cat’s diet.

Other Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Natural Treatments

Adored Beast’s Feline Gut Soothe is a supplementary blend of pre and probiotics with anti-inflammatory herbs. I was able to keep my Ragdoll cat’s FHS at bay with this product, although it returned over and over until I sought the help of Pam. A few others have been able to use this product as well – according to reports in this Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Support Group on Facebook.

Adored Beast Feline Gut Soothe Anti-Inflammatory

Although the Gut Soothe was essential at the time, it wasn’t addressing everything, and it wasn’t until I paid for Charlie to have a Mind Body Spirit Release (was called an Optimal Cat Health Analysis when I bought it) that I was able to get to the root of the problem. Pam of Purrrfectly Holistic talks more about that process in the video above.

Here’s what Pam did that NO ONE ELSE SUGGESTED OR DID = DETOX!! It’s imperative.

Pam and I sat down and discussed how she helped to get to the root cause of the FHS problem in Charlie

Things That Helped My Charlie’s Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome:

  • An “Optimal Cat Health Analysis” (now MBSR) from Pam at Purrrfectly Holistic – this is all you really need to do to start your cat’s journey back to being a normal cat as Pam will guide you…but here are other things I did in the process
  • Gave him all the supplements, etc. that Pam recommended specifically for him – this included herbs, homeopathic remedies, etc.
  • 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
  • Removed dry food from his diet – look up “glyphosate” to learn how they are in our pet food.
  • Removed wet/canned food from his diet
  • Got him on a 100% fresh/frozen raw diet – 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
  • Stopped using scented soaps – and only use ones approved by EWG – for my hands, so that when I touch him, he is not in contact with fragrance. If you use ANY fragrances, try to remove them to see if that makes a difference.
  • Stopped giving him topical (neuro-toxin) flea medications
  • Stopped giving him vaccines

Please note I didn’t do all the things above overnight. Many I hesitated on and wish I hadn’t. We would have gotten to peace far sooner.

The years I gave them vaccines, flea meds, dry food, crappy wet food, antibiotics, drugs when they were sick, and more caused LEAKY GUT which is what starts all this mess – then comes inflammation, and they start attacking themselves. If the LEAKY GUT never heals, then it just gets worse and worse.

The detox journey was NOT easy – it’s a lot of hard work – but so is pilling a billion times a day.

This disease is NOT a mystery. It is from poor food, over-vaccinations, over-medicating, over-exposure to household toxins, over-exposure to household chemicals in carpets, fabrics, mattresses, etc., and over-pilling. Traditional vets don’t address leaky gut (they treat problems, not causes) – it’s a huge contributor to all of this and more.

Charlie had lost muscle mass, and his body felt like an emaciated, diseased cat – now he has regained muscle mass, his coat smooth and silky, and his eyes are bright and clear – I could have never dreamed of this result. He’s happy. I am happy, and my body is no longer in fright or flight mode.

Some FHS cat owners have reported that this music for cats has helped calm their kitties when they are having an episode.

Again though, it’s better to get to the source of the problems and fix them outright.

Medications Treatment

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.

Be aware that some of these drugs can have nasty side effects, leaving your cat devoid of energy or almost looking like they are paralyzed until the effects wear off. A lot of people choose to avoid using these medications for these reasons.

Behavioral Treatment

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.

Again though, the holistic approach will get to the root of the issues.

Further Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrom Resources:

Julie Anne Lee of Adored Beast Apothecary talks FHS and her kitty at 47 minutes in:

Dr. Karen Becker talks about FHS.

Duke’s FHS Success Story

Elisa, who owns Duke, a FHS cat, healed her guy in a similar fashion, but did not use Pam. Here is what she did:

  1. We started with FMT with Animal Biome (there was a big improvement just on this but not fully). Then I realised microbiome had a lot to do with this, probably
  2. Did a whole lot of research on the microbiome and realised there is a gut/brain connection
  3. Raw – species-appropriate diet. Diet needs to be species-appropriate and be balanced / complete to include all vitamins and minerals – it’s not about just throwing raw meat or table scraps. It’s got to be done right. Too many people don’t. A vitamin and mineral deficiency from incorrect feeding will add to the FHS issue. I engaged a small animal nutritionist and had something formulated for him taking out chicken. He was on raw, but the wrong raw for him (it was too inflammatory ie to chicken-based)…. things improved but not fully.
  4. Engaged an Integrated vet here in Brisbane (Australia), face to face, she is quite well-known. Saw her, and we did a complete timeline and face to face work up on him, and she said that she believed the trigger was the vaccination at 1 year old
  5. Acupuncture – We do regular acupuncture with this vet and it is a game changer.
  6. Thundershirt for calming therapy – as an alternative to heavily medicating.
  7. She put him on a detox (this involved Chinese herbs, which was a pancreas and liver tonic detox) plus and we did this for a week twice day and then we got some serious traction in fact the whole thing vanished. We also added PEA and I think this helped as well and then i started not need the Gabba.
  8. Followed with the Adored Beast Leaky gut protocol – ie Gut Seal, Healthy Gut, Liver Tonic for 6 weeks.
  9. Did another round of FMT with Animal Biome.
  10. During the detox went back to the nutritionist and we reformulated his diet to take out beef and shellfish and things got better and have stayed better, on a low histamine diet and he’s been stable. He’s now on a home-prepared diet which is Pork based (neutral TCM) with some lamb and goat, and supplements to balance it all out. I have since got myself qualified at a small animal nutritionist with a uni of in the States (SIU), so i have a better idea of how to make my own cat food and avoid commercial food all together

He is now symptom-free and has no meds or supplements at all (apart from Heart meds – he has a heart condition, but its managed)
I weaned him off the remaining very low dose of Gabapentin 4 months ago, and has been off it for at least 4 months.

I think the thing for me was we did things the wrong way around and that I should have done the detox first, then work on gut repair, and then replenish it. Detox was the thing that turned things around.

FAQs

What triggers Hyperesthesia in cats?

Hyperesthesia can have a number of triggers, and often there won’t seem to be any link between episodes. If you listen to Pam’s talk above, it mostly results from vaccines, flea meds, and other environmental toxins. Some experts believe it’s a behavior disorder brought on by stress that can be treated with anti-anxiety drugs, while it has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder too.

What is Feline Hyperesthesia?

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is a condition that can affect cats, giving them exceptionally sensitive skin, often on the lower back towards the tail. It can cause your cat a lot of stress as they seem to react to intense sensations, and they may find it painful to be petted in the area, causing them to lash out.

Does Feline Hyperesthesia affect all cats?

Feline Hyperesthesia can affect all breeds of cat, although it tends to be more common in Siamese, Burmese, Persian, and Abyssinian cats. Cornell University has noted that Siamese cats tend to have a genetic disposition, so affected cats shouldn’t be bred.

Is Feline Hyperesthesia painful?

Feline Hyperesthesia can be painful for your cat. It causes the nerves in certain areas to be extremely (hyper) sensitive, and so even the air can cause them discomfort. It can be very difficult for your cat to be petted in that area, which can cause affected cats to be very upset. It’s important to seek treatment for your cat if you notice potential signs.

What are the symptoms of Feline Hyperesthesia?

The main symptoms of Feline Hyperesthesia include a particular sensitivity on your cat’s skin, often towards the tail on their back. They may seem jumpy, or they could react to nothing (which may be the air just causing a sensation to make the cat think they’ve been touched).

Less common symptoms include pupil dilation and the sense that your cat may be hallucinating. Expect increased vocalization, too, as your cat tends to be more upset due to sensitive nerves.

How do you help a cat with Hyperesthesia?

There are various potential ways that you can help a cat with hyperesthesia. These can include some treatments to handle the symptoms or distractions to soothe your cat. A holistic look at the causes of FHS in your cat can help you to eradicate it altogether over time.

Can Hyperesthesia in cats be cured?

There is no medical cure for hyperesthesia in cats, and most treatments recommended by veterinarians will be designed to manage symptoms of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. However, a holistic approach can help to determine the causes and detox your cat from them, preventing the symptoms from reoccurring.

How can I treat my cats’ Hyperesthesia at home?

The best at-home treatments for hyperesthesia include looking at your cat’s diet and, in collaboration with your veterinarian, making changes to remove over-processed foods and ensure there are no allergies that could be triggering symptoms. Also, consider speaking to a holistic specialist to identify environmental toxins in your home and ways of detoxing your cat.

What can I feed my cat with Feline Hyperesthesia?

The best foods for cats with Feline Hyperesthesia are those that aren’t heavily processed. Processed foods contain toxic by-products that can cause inflammation, which can trigger symptoms. Chemical preservatives, GMOs, dyes, and other additives are also best removed. If you’re making wholesale changes to your cat’s diet, talk with your veterinarian first.

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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

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4 Comments

    1. Steroids aren’t ideal for long-term use…and definitely not holistic. They treat the problem, not the cause – so the problem persists if steriods are removed. Who wants to pill their cat every day?

  1. Patti Johnson says:

    WOW! What a fascinating topic! TYSVM for all the great info, as usual, Jenny honey! 🙂 <3

    Big hugs & lots of love & purrs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3

    P.S. So grateful that Miss PSB does not have this condition and I hope and pray she never will… <3 Soooo very happy that Charlie is responding so well to the protocol you have him on… YAY Feline Gut Soothe!!! 🙂 <3

    1. Thanks, Patti – it can be challenging for sure!

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