Friday 29 August 2008

Feline Hyperesthesia

tuxedo cat
My cat - yes overweight. I've fought that for 16 years


I think that my cat may have a very mild form of Feline Hyperesthesia but I can't find anything on it in any of the reference books I use. Clearly this condition is not well known or veterinarians and physicians don't know that much about it. I have had to rely on the Internet exclusively for the answer, which I don't normally do as the information can sometimes be less than completely reliable.

My cat's skin on her back ripples when I talk to her (very gently always) and when I touch her lower back. The skin also twitches sometimes when touched towards the lower end of her back. I don't know if this is a disease. It has only started to happen over the last 6 months or so as far as far as I can tell. She has no fleas or mites etc.. She is on the face of it in good health and I am with her all the time. She is groomed 4 times daily. She is overweight. This is mainly because she is nervous and defensive so is more static. The nervousness may give the clue as anxiety may be a factor in the cause of this disease.

The disease - the symptoms

Anyway back to Feline Hyperesthesia. The word "esthesia" means the capacity for sensation and feeling (Mirriam Webster's Medical Dictionary). Hyper in medical terms means above normal or excessive (Medterms). That should tell us that the disease is a condition under which the cat feels sensations to an excessive degree. But is this what it actually is? The disease is also known as "rolling skin syndrome", rippling skin disorder" or "twitchy cat disease" and there may be an overlap with feline psychogenic alopecia ( (see Feline Endocrine Alopecia - a behavioral problem more than a hormone problem, it is thought).

Full blown Feline Hyperesthesia is more than a heightened sensitivity. The symptoms include:
  • biting the tip of the tail or attacking the tail
  • sensitivity to touching
  • dilated pupils
  • twitching of the tail
  • running around wildly
  • symptoms can look like epileptic fits
  • rippling skin as mentioned above
  • looks like crazy behavior but cat is distressed
  • loud meowing
tuxedo cat

Picture above: My cat having a nice time in the garden. She is a tuxedo cat. In the top picture she is looking anxiously upwards at the balcony of a flat above. This is testament to her underlying nervousness. If anyone wants to use the photo feel free to do so and if you give a link back to this website that would be nice.

The Causes

The causes of Feline Hyperesthesia are, it seems, simply unknown or there may be a number of possible causes. Some think it might be due to low grade food. Well that can be eliminated fairly easily and tested. Mind you high grade cat food is hard to come by. The better answer perhaps is that it is caused by an underlying health problem or behavior related which will need careful diagnosis based on blood and neurological tests. Possible causes are:
  • toxins such as flea treatments or something eaten
  • itching due for example to parasitic allergies may be confused with this condition
  • brain disease such as brain tumor or infection
  • a diet rich in unsaturated fatty acids and lacking vitamin E caused by feeding our cats with an unbalanced diet of say red tuna. This would be an unbalanced home made diet that may cause a disease called Yellow Fat Disease.
  • over vaccinating
As for my cat if she has a very mid form of Feline Hyperesthesia it might be caused by behavioral problems due to her nervousness (or at least this may be an underlying condition that contributes). She was an abandoned stray cat that I found in London near to where I lived. I believe she had a difficult early life that made her nervous. In other words she is emotionally a little disturbed, she occasionally has nightmares and cries out and wakes up.

So my theory is that this condition is a bit like Feline Endocrine Alopecia which is also probably more likely to be due to over grooming and over grooming is caused by behavioral difficulties due to anxiety and stress for example. The stress need not necessarily originate in the owner but may be underlying as for my cat or perhaps the introduction of a new cat into the household may cause it and sometimes our anxiety about it may exacerbate the Feline Hyperesthesia.

One last thing: this condition may occur more frequently in Siamese cats.

Feline Hyperesthesia to Cat Health Problems

Feline Hyperesthesia - Sources as stated in the text and:
Photos are by me and free for use by anyone but I'd appreciate a link to this website (if possible) and a credit (Michael at Pictures of


  1. I am so glad I read your information about the rippling skin disorder. I have a Blue Russian and she has had these symptoms at times and now her symptoms have gotten progresseively worse. Thankyou for giving me some insight on her problem. I now know I am not alone.

  2. Hi, thanks for the comment. I'm pleased it helped a bit.

  3. In the past few weeks, just as she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, my cat has begun attacking her "image" in the mirror, including loud meowing, blown-out tail, smacking at the mirror.I covered the mirror and now she has responded to her image in the glass of a hutch and, as of yesterday, in the bathroom mirror. We think this may be part of rippling skin sensation, something my vet proposed. I read about the behavior, which fits my cat all too well. Anyone else whose cat presents with this sort of aggression before a mirror and that has this skin/neurological disorder?

  4. I've had a cat 'family' all my life (30 years now) and all of them, including the cat I've inherited from my husband's house has had this rippling skin and sensitivity when touched near their back end. There's been no aggression, self harm or loud meowing, but they've all been like that at some time or another. The running around and dilated pupils was only evident in one of our cats, but we suspected her sweet tooth was being pandered to by an old lady across the road and put it down to too much sugar. I called her Candy as a kitten. I must've known because you could safely leave a roast chicken in-front of her, but never a doughnut!

  5. Thanks for the info, I was wondering what the heck was wrong with my cat - apparently she has a mild form and does not chew at her fur or overgroom. She is fed the best of foods. So I dont know what could have triggered this off, she is a 1 1/2 yr old Japanese bobtail-female. Shes not nervous and she was purchased from a reputable breeder. So go figure on this one.

  6. The sensitivity of the lower back isn't a disease! It's just a place where they have a lot of nerves. I have three cats and they all do this, they also all have little 'crazy' moments where they run around the whole house wide-eyed and bushy tailed, I think people are just looking into this a bit too much. My theory is it's more like little bursts of hyperactivity.

    1. No, when they keep attacking and biting their tail to the point where it is swollen and there is blood everywhere... that's a disorder not our imagination.

  7. In the wider use of the word it is a disease - sorry.

    Disease means: a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body.

    A hyper sensitive feeling is a disorder and it impairs normal function.

  8. My cat has a remarkably similar problem. Does the condition always escalate into such a severe state? Or can a cat simply pass through "fear of tail" phases all its life, having them fade and recur but never worsen? Must the tail necessarily be amputated? I'm hoping not....

  9. my cat has started with this now.. hes usually a laid back boy but is now a complete freak..its not just twitching of the fur..its more than that..
    its the posessed look.. the glazed eyes the staring into space.. the skirting around the room sitting in corners..hiding under blankets with a freaked out look in his face
    traumatic for me so what must it be like for him?

  10. I also have a kitty with hyperesthesia. For her its brought on by a food allergy, because she only has attacks after eating my other cats food. She is also overweight, however she started with this condition about 6 years ago when she was eating Wellness chicken. It is very frustrating b/c I don't know what ingredient causes it (my 1st thought was chicken/duck but then I bought her a salmon herring mix and shes still having attacks) :S I wish there was more information out there!

  11. My cat too has had this for years.. One vet told me years ago, that it was hypersensitivity to fleas..he's been on frontline generally, although I dont let him out anymore so have stopped unless maybe 1-2 times in summer so he can come out and play with me.. he will seem fine, then suddenly have to bite and lick his lower back, sometimes he'll be walking and suddenly stop and do the same. he often has wet fur spikes in one or mare places from excessive grooming and often he gets so agitated that he will lick his front legs as well. Lately (since his brother died last week) he's been laying on the floor, licking his front foot and rolling to the other side and licking that foot, then rolling back - he'll spent 15 minutes doing this before he'll go sit in the window or take a nap. he's a little heavy, so I figure its easier to lick his foot than his back, so he settles for that for some kind of relief. I used to call it his "nervous lick" before I actually could find anything helpful about his behavior or causes of it. he also has his little "tics" many times his fur will twitch, or he'll shake his paw or back foot, sometimes his ears. although he looks peaceful enough, his little twitches always make me feel bad for him. Aside from his rabies and distemper vaccs I dont give him anything. he eats dry and canned food, nothing special, but not the bargain stuff either. He does have a propensity to eat plants sometimes, and of course I have many that are toxic to cats and keep them out of his way, he's had blood work a couple years ago showing nothing noteworthy. personally I feel like its some type of stress reaction, odd that it is manifesting in thin fur on his back beginning about 4-5" from tail base and pretty well centered over spine. skin seems dry and flaky but not red or scaly. there are no scabs (surprisingly) but if you lightly touch his fur,anywhere near his lower back he'll become immediately annoyed and flick his skin and usually leave. So Ive learned to keep my affection centered on his head and neck and toes...he's about 13 yrs old now, and Ive noticed this since probably 8-10 years ago, seems a little worse now, but he's older and fatter now, so I imagine things bother him more, like all of us.

  12. This is very interesting - I fostered and adopted a mother and kittens last year (from a wonderful cat charity in SE London), and the mum shows very similar behaviour - it's only recently that I've been able to really stroke her, and as soon as I stroke down her back and behind her shoulders, she twitches violently and looks round at my hand. She's very, very nervous (but getting better), and has undoubtedly been hit and/or kicked but I've now had her for 8 months, so any short term damage from that would have gone, and long term damage I think would show in her gait, which is fine.
    Skye became quite plump too - I was keen for her to gain weight whilst feeding her kittens (who she fed supplementary until they were at least 5 months!) that I probably continued to feed high protein when she no longer needed it (she's losing the weight now).
    At least I now have a starting point - unless it really starts to bother her I don't want to set her back by a trip to the vet.

    Thanks again

  13. It's unfortunate that you believe your cat is overweight because she is "static." She's actually overweight because she takes in too many calories (i.e., she eats too much).

    1. @ Adverb........Really????? THAT is what you got out of this article???....shame on you!!....find something better to do than pick at people who are trying to help others with their pets!!!

    2. There is no excuse for obese cats. Stop making them that way. If they lose weight you would see a healthier, happier and a much more playful cat.

  14. I am using food grade Diatomaceous Earth with success. A teaspoon a day mixed with wet food.


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