Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is a relatively rare condition that is also known as rolling-skin syndrome, neurodermatitis, neuritis, psychomotor epilepsy, and prurtic dermatosis.
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Dr. Dodman is of the opinion that this is mainly an obsessive-compulsive disorder and he has had good results by administering anti-obsessional and anti-anxiety drugs such as Prozac and valium.
Many times this syndrome begins after an injury to the tail or dorsal spine region or surgery to that region as if it were possibly tied to the sympathetic nervous system.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is a relatively rare condition that is also known as rolling-skin syndrome, neurodermatitis, neuritis, psychomotor epilepsy, and prurtic dermatosis. The oriental breeds of domestic cats like the Siamese seem to be more predisposed then others to developing this condition.
The typical cat is otherwise healthy. It may be an excessively nervous or excitable animal, or may have a recent history of environmental changes that lead to emotional distress. The onset of feline hyperesthesia syndrome starts with the rippling of the skin at the dorsum of the back, biting or licking at the tail, flank or pelvis. The animal’s eyes can become glassy with widely dilated pupils and it may seem as if it is having hallucinations as it exhibits frantic meowing, swishing of the tail, running crazy around the house and attacking objects including the owner without provocation. The cats may even have generalized seizures. Signs may last seconds to several minutes with no apparent pattern as to when they occur.
There is no universally agreed upon answer as to what is, and what causes Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. I spent some time interviewing Dr. Nicholas Dodman, author of the book titled "The Cat Who Cried for Help". Dr. Dodman teaches at Tufts University and specializes in animal behavior. He has extensive experience treating this syndrome that he relates in his book. He lectures about this mysterious disorder as well and he spent some time conversing with me and explained that several theories abound.
Dr. Dodman is of the opinion that this is mainly an obsessive-compulsive disorder and he has had good results by administering anti-obsessional and anti-anxiety drugs such as Prozac and valium. Some of his colleges however, believe this is basically a neurological seizure disorder that if untreated will progress to frank epileptic seizures. These feline patients have responded to the anti-seizure medication phenobarbitol.
Dr. Dodman told me of a pathological study that reported on the condition of the muscle tissue taken near the spinal column of 6 different patients and each exhibited evidence of viral myrocitis, such as the very slow developing prion type virus, or even a type of encephalitis. And still others in the veterinary community feel it is a genetic disorder linked to heredity. Finally, some feel there are many different expressions of feline hyperesthesia syndrome.
What we do know is that it appears to flare up in periodic bouts, with different apparent triggering mechanisms and in some cases, no obvious reason for the bout can be determined. Many times this syndrome begins after an injury to the tail or dorsal spine region or surgery to that region as if it were possibly tied to the sympathetic nervous system. Dilated eyes also suggests the sympathetic nervous system is involved. However, this is not always the case. There are cases where no previous injury or surgery is known to exist.
Dr. Dodman related that some theorize it is the anesthesia that is the triggering agent, noting when it has surfaced after an operation requiring sedation. Ketamine and Telazol, drugs used to sedate are known to cause hallucinations and some believe that the animals afflicted are reliving “flashbacks” from receiving anesthesia previously.
Dr. Dodman relayed to me patient histories where a bout would be preceded by the animal jerking their head back, eyes dilate and the animal begins looking at the corner of the room as if seeing something and reacting to this hallucination. I expressed to Dr. Dodman that hearing this description, it seemed more likely to me that the poor animal was recognizing the unmistakable body queues of an oncoming hyperesthesia bout and the animal was aware it was soon going to escalate to severe body discomfort.
In their mind it had to be caused by somebody or something so they were looking for the cause to try to prevent it from happening. Imagine the fear and anger you would feel if you know you were about to experience pain. If this is true, it can explain why an animal would suddenly act crazy and aggressive, attacking you without cause all the while vocalizing. Perhaps they are screaming – Out demon, OUT!!!
With the heredity theory, the individual is believed to be pre-disposed to acquiring this condition but the exact timing can be triggered by external stimuli. It is pre-wired to happen though, regardless of injury, viral infection or drug reaction.
Confusing - definitely. More study is needed before the veterinary community will agree upon definitive answers. What is known however is that Feline Hyperasthesia Syndrome does occur in captive servals. Internet lists have posted several accounts of this condition in servals with pleas for help.
Many thanks to Lynn Culver of NOAH Feline Conservation Center, for allowing the use of this article on ExoticCatz.com.com in cooperation with the Feline Conservation Federation. This article is copyrighted 2003 by Lynn Culver, and originally appeared in the FCF Newsletter. All rights are reserved. FCF members receive a bi-monthly newsletter containing a wealth of articles like this one, and I highly recommend becoming an FCF member to learn more about exotic felines.