Hyperesthesia Syndrome in cats is known by several names – self-mutilation syndrome, rolling skin syndrome, twitchy cat disease. It is marked by abnormal skin sensitivity.
Cats will experience extreme sensitivity along the spine, down the back and base of tail. Signs include biting, licking or chewing the hair causing hair loss and skin problems, rippling of the skin, twitching of the tail or muscles, odd behavior including high speed running, vocalization, shows of aggression. Cats in heat (estrus) and some types of seizures exhibit similar behaviors.
Chronic anxiety and stress bring on hyperesthesia in sensitive cats. Cats generally do not like change. Moving to a new home, changing schedules such as feeding times, introducing other pets, aggression with other cats, boredom and pain can initiate hyperesthesia.
Since there is no test for hyperesthesia, your veterinarian will determine the cause of your cat’s behavior by eliminating other diseases such as allergies, arthritis, infections, cancer, etc. In severe cases, hyperesthesia can be controlled by corticosterioids and anti-anxiety drugs. If drugs are prescribed, watch for any side effects – loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination. After 6 months, medications can be tapered off gradually. If symptoms return, your vet usually prescribes the last effective dose of medication. Some cases require life-long meds.
There are other ways to relieve your cat’s anxiety and stress and help with hyperesthesia. Set aside the same time daily to play with your cat for a minimum of 10 minutes. Talk to your cat in a calm voice to ease anxiety. Have scratching posts and hiding places readily available. Teach your cat tricks. Introduce him/her to catnip and add some new toys and puzzles. Keep to a regular schedule.
Never punish your cat, this will only worsen the condition. Have frequent vet checks in case there is an underlying problem that shows up after a period of time.