Has your cat ever ran across the room suddenly then looked behind them scandalously as if someone had yanked their tail? They may not just be acting insane or quirky; they may have Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome, or 'rolling skin.' The word hyperesthesia means 'increase sensitivity of the skin' and cats who suffer from Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome have chronically sensitive skin that can leave them stressed and seemingly crazy. This syndrome is difficult to diagnose as some of the symptoms may in fact be caused by other problems, however many cats can go their whole lives with this disorder having their odd behavior chalked up to their unique personality.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Symptoms
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is a condition when the skin on a cat's back ripples from the shoulders all the way to their tail. For felines with shorter fur, the effect can actually be visible; however for cats with longer or thicker fur it may go unnoticed unless physically touching the cat at the time. The tell tale symptom is when a cat suddenly bolts across the room before stopping and looking behind them. However, it can also manifest as a cat suddenly turning and looking back at their tail in a panic.
The cat may then try to lick or bite the area in question. Prolonged Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome can result in cats licking the area to the point of fur loss or even self mutilation from over biting, causing the area to become inflamed or even bleeding and infected.
Other lesser recognized symptoms include sudden muscle spasms or tail twitches which also will attract the cats own attentions. If a feline shows sensitivity or even alarm when it's back is touched or stroked, this can also be a sign of the syndrome.
As the cat gets more irritated with this involuntary reaction, they may have more aggressive reactions to it. This can include hissing at themselves, meowing, chasing their tails, and dilated pupils during the episode. It may seem as though the cat is hallucinating, which may be cute to the owner, but excessively stressful for the cat itself.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Causes
The most frustrating aspect of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome for cat owner's and veterinarians alike is that no one knows for sure what actually causes it. However, several other factors are thought to be linked to this syndrome.
Some veterinarians believe there may be a link between hyperesthesia and flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). They believe that FAD may be a cause or at very least a contributor as a severe flea allergy can cause serious and long term itching and skin irritation. FAD is also the reason why true Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is hard to diagnose, as the bite of a flea can cause many of the same symptoms.
Itchy skin itself can also be confused as hyperesthesia, but in many cases also serves to aggravate it. For cat owners who suspect either hyperesthesia or dry skin, it can often be caused by a dry cat food diet. Dry cat food lacks the essential oils to keep feline skin moisturized, so consider switching to a wet cat food diet to see if it eases the symptoms.
Many veterinarians theorize that Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is caused by seizures, or rather, is a type of seizure disorder. When their skin rolls, it is essentially a type of mini-seizure before or after the main event. This is why many cats can often experience full body seizure right before or right after. These veterinarians believe that there may be a problem with the electrical activity in the cat's brains that controls their grooming behavior, causing them to stimulate the need to lick themselves by rolling the skin.
A final theory on what causes Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is stress. Certain veterinarians believe certain breeds, such as oriental cats, to be more predisposed to hyperesthesia and show more cases of it than other breeds. This sensational in oriental cats is often triggered by stress.
Diagnosing Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome
Because Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome symptoms can often be signs of other problems, it is excessively difficult to truly diagnose.
When a veterinarian is diagnosing your cat, they will first have to rule out other conditions. These include skin conditions such as allergies, parasites, and infections, underlying spine and muscle pain, hyperthyroidism, a brain problem including trauma and tumors, poisoning and finally a nutritional deficiency.
To help you veterinarian make their diagnosis, consider taking a video of your cat during one of their hyperesthesia episodes. A true diagnosis may include skin tests, x-rays and, depending on how well supplied your veterinarian is, a referral to a specialist in dermatology or neurology.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome Treatment
Once all the other potential causes have been ruled out and true Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome has been diagnosed, the main treatment usually involves either a change in diet or reducing the stress on the cat.
Veterinarians will recommend making sure that your cat has a balance and cat-appropriate diet. This includes no carbohydrates, high levels of protein and medium amounts of fat. This will help eliminate any sort of food allergies that may be causing skin rolling. It may also be suggested that Omega-3 fatty acids are added into food as supplements to assure healthy skin and coat.
As for reducing the amount of stress on the feline, it is recommended that owner's set a daily routine for the animal so they do not have to stress out about dealing with new things. Assure that a cat has a set location for their food, water, and litter boxes so they do not have to go searching. Give the feline a place where that they climb, rest, scratch or hide to reduce their daily stress. It is recommended that owners set time aside to play with their cats or otherwise give them attention. For those who do not have a lot of excess time to consistently spend with their cat, some veterinarians may recommend getting another feline for their cat's own companionship.
Since some veterinarians theorize that Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome may be caused by problematic electrical activity in the brain, they may recommend that owner's have one or two short play sessions daily with their cat so that they can exercise their predatory instincts, as rolling skin can be stimulated in that same area of the brain.
An example of the Rolling Skin affect you see with this disorder.