Feline Hyperaesthesia Syndrome

What is feline hyperaesthesia?

Feline hyperaesthesia syndrome, or “rolling skin disease” is an uncommon disorder of cats that causes a sudden onset of agitation and rippling or twitching of the skin over the back. The sensation of the twitching results in the cat producing a range of strange behaviours including biting and over-grooming at the back and tail area, dilated pupils, darting around the house and vocalising. It is a disease that is not fully understood but is considered to be a seizure disorder and is found to be more common in certain breeds such as Siamese and Burmese.

Diagnosis of feline hyperaesthesia

Feline hyperaesthesia is a diagnosis by exclusion. This means that all other alternate causes of these symptoms must be ruled out in a step wise fashion. This includes excluding musculoskeletal diseases such as myopathies, arthritis, intervertebral disc disease and other causes of spinal and hip pain. Dermatological diseases that also need to be ruled out include food and flea allergies, skin parasites, fungal and bacterial infections and autoimmune diseases.

Your vet will commence with performing a thorough physical and neurological exam of your cat along with laboratory blood and urine testing. Further diagnostic tests will depend on your vet’s initial findings and may include:

  • Further skin testing such as skin scrapings, cytology, fungal culture
  • Imaging such as x-rays, or sometimes referral for advanced imaging such as MRI
  • Muscle biopsies

Treatment of feline hyperaesthesia

Recommended treatment for cats with hyperaesthesia syndrome will often include a combination of environmental modification to lower anxiety and stress, along with prescription medications. For detailed information on environmental enrichment please refer to our web page “Environmental Needs for Cats.” Medications commonly used for treating feline hyperaethesia include SSRI anti-depressants such as fluoxetine, or gabapentin. Use of the synthetic feline facial pheromone Feliway mimics the cat’s natural pheromones and provide a calming effect in stressful or unfamiliar situations.

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