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Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

November 15, 2022

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome—which is also called rolling skin syndrome and twitchy cat disease—is a rather unique issue that we occasionally see in our feline friends. The condition is characterized by hypersensitivity of the skin, usually on the back. A local vet offers some information in this article.


Fluffy can’t tell you what is going on with her, so it’s good to know what to look for. You may see twitching or rippling skin on your pet’s back. Other red flags include dilated pupils, jumping and running frantically, excessive and/or unusual meowing, drooling, scratching, tail chasing, and excessive sleepiness. Your kitty may also bite or lick herself, particularly on her flanks, lower back, rear paws, bottom, and/or tail. She may also seem to feel pain or discomfort when being petted or held. Contact your vet if you notice any of these issues in your feline buddy.


There are actually several potential causes of feline hyperesthesia syndrome. Skin problems, such as allergies, are one of the common ones. However, it can also be caused by neurological issues, such as seizures or nerve pain. It may be sometimes a psychological issue, as it has been linked to anxiety, stress, compulsive behavior, and even attention seeking. Food sensitivity is another potential culprit.


Feline hyperesthesia is most common in cats that are under seven. However, the average age at onset is just one year old. Breed may also play a role. For instance, Burmese, Persian, Abyssinian, and Siamese kitties are particularly prone to this condition. While this condition primarily affects younger cats, it’s important to note that older cats may face different health challenges. For information on age-related issues in senior cats, you might want to read our article on Cognitive Decline in Senior Cats.


Feline hyperesthesia syndrome isn’t fatal, but it can impact Fluffy’s quality of life. If you know or suspect that your kitty is afflicted, contact your vet immediately. A mild case can be scheduled as an appointment. However, severe episodes would warrant immediate emergency care.

The good news is that there are treatments available. Your vet will need to run some tests to determine if Fluffy does have feline hyperesthesia syndrome. It’s also important to identify or rule out other issues, as several medical conditions can cause similar problems. These include spinal arthritis, intervertebral disc extrusions, skin problems, parasites, allergies, and fungal infections. As far as treatment, medication is often successful, though some cats respond differently than others. Your vet may also recommend behavioral counseling and/or environmental changes. For specialized support in managing your cat’s behavior, consider our Veterinary Behavior Counseling service.

Our Advice on Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome in 2024

What is the prevalence of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome in the general cat population?

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is relatively rare in the general cat population. While comprehensive prevalence data is limited, it is occasionally observed in veterinary practice, indicating it is not a common condition. The syndrome is most frequently diagnosed in certain breeds such as Burmese, Persian, Abyssinian, and Siamese, suggesting a possible genetic predisposition. The typical age of onset is usually around one year, but it can occur in cats under seven years of age. Given its specific breed associations and age of onset, the overall prevalence remains low.

Are there any genetic factors that contribute to the development of FHS?

Yes, genetic factors appear to contribute to the development of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS). The condition shows a higher incidence in certain breeds, suggesting a genetic predisposition. Breeds such as Burmese, Persian, Abyssinian, and Siamese are particularly prone to developing FHS. This breed-specific prevalence indicates that genetic makeup may play a significant role in the syndrome’s onset. However, the exact genetic mechanisms are not fully understood, and ongoing research is needed to better clarify these genetic associations.

How is Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome definitively diagnosed?

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS) is typically diagnosed through a process of exclusion. Since there’s no specific test for FHS, veterinarians first rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as spinal arthritis, skin disorders, and neurological issues. This involves a comprehensive evaluation that may include blood tests, skin scrapings, allergy testing, and possibly imaging studies like X-rays or MRIs. Once other conditions are excluded, a diagnosis of FHS is considered based on the presence of characteristic symptoms like skin twitching, sensitivity, and behavioral changes.

Is there any connection between FHS and other feline neurological or behavioral disorders?

Yes, Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS) is often linked to other neurological and behavioral disorders in cats. The condition is associated with manifestations such as seizures and nerve pain, suggesting a neurological component. Additionally, behavioral issues such as anxiety, stress, and compulsive behaviors are frequently observed in cats with FHS, indicating a psychological aspect as well. These connections imply that FHS may be part of a broader spectrum of neurological and behavioral abnormalities, necessitating a holistic approach to diagnosis and management.

Are there any preventive measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of FHS in predisposed breeds?

Preventive measures for Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS), particularly in predisposed breeds, focus on minimizing stress and managing environmental factors. Providing a stable, calm environment can help reduce episodes in susceptible cats. This includes regular routines, safe spaces for the cat to retreat to, and avoidance of overstimulation. Engaging in regular, gentle play can help manage stress and prevent compulsive behaviors. Although specific genetic predispositions cannot be completely prevented, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and reducing stressors can mitigate the severity and frequency of FHS symptoms.

Do you have questions about your kitty’s health or care? Contact us, your local animal clinic in Peterborough, ON today!