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Could It Be Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome?

Could It Be Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome?

Posted by Andrea on 30th May 2021

Generally thought of as a rather uncommon and bizarre feline condition, feline hyperesthesia is likely more common than previously thought.

First, let’s look at what it is and what it isn’t. Does Kitty act perfectly calm before suddenly running around, jumping many feet up in the air then screaming at the top of her lungs? This could be an episode.

Does Kitty suddenly take a big bite out of your hand after a petting session that has ended up a bit close to her lower back and tail? This is likely not feline hyperesthesia syndrome, just over-stimulation which is not unusual.

What is Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome? Increased skin sensitivity is the hallmark of feline hyperesthesia. This increased sensitivity is what causes them to freak out and display abnormally exaggerated and sometime dangerous behaviors. This is what makes it frustrating for both Kitty and his fur family. It is not curable, but it can be managed with medication if necessary.

There are certain breeds who are genetically predisposed to feline hyperesthesia, including Persians, Siamese, Burmese and Abyssinians. The condition usually begins to appear in the first five years of life. It favors neither males nor females.  The exact causes of FHS are still unknown, but since it is most common in certain breeds, genetics must play a part. Various theories have it caused by obsessive/compulsive disorder or as a kind of feline epilepsy since it is thought there are abnormal electrical impulses in the brain that trigger FHS.

What are the Symptoms of FHS? Episodes usually occur at dawn and dusk when felines are at their most active. However, symptoms can vary widely.  Episodes range from a few seconds to a few minutes. Once it has started, it is impossible to reverse. This is what is so disturbing to pet parents. Here is a list of the various symptoms, but keep in mind your cat may only display with a few.

  • Seizures
  • Dilated pupils
  • Skin twitching
  • Self-mutilation
  • Attacking the tail
  • Pain when petted
  • Licking or biting the paws
  • Vacant staring into space
  • Running and screaming through the house
  • A sudden stop in normal behavior, with a startled look
  • Sudden and drastic behavioral changes (e.g., increased or decreased aggression)

Diagnosis and Treatment: Please keep in mind that the above symptoms don’t automatically signal the onset of an FHS episode. They can certainly have other causations like feline over-stimulation, as mentioned previously. This is why it is important to seek veterinary intervention and testing before diagnosis is made.

The vet must test to rule out other indications such as dermatologic or skin conditions, neurologic, and musculoskeletal conditions. If these categories of causation have all been excluded, it is possible the vet will diagnose Kitty’s condition to be FHS. They will ask you about his various symptoms and their frequency, as well as the duration of the episodes.

The vet will offer a treatment plan that could involve behavioral changes and medications. Amongst the behavioral modifications suggested are to keep Kitty away from environmental stressors, to maintain a specific and regular schedule, and to make sure to provide environmental enrichment with toys and regular play times. Kitty’s Armarkat cat tree provides awesome environment enrichment by giving him his own place to play, scratch, climb, rest, and to oversee his territory.

If medical intervention is suggested, it will likely take the form of low dose SSRIs like Prozac or Zoloft. These regulate the cat’s serotonin which determines his mood and can reduce obsessive-compulsive proclivities. Of course, Kitty will be closely monitored and hopefully can be eventually taken off the medication.

FHS is a frustrating problem for you and a debilitating condition for Kitty. For his best quality of life and ultimately your best relationship with him, it is imperative to get him to the veterinarian if you suspect this condition could be occurring.

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