February 19, 2005

Curious George: Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome... I'm wondering if anyone has had any experience with this.

One of my cats has always been twitchy, but I started to realize it's specific to her back, and if petted there would act almost like it was ticklish, or hurt, and would make complaining noises even though there appeared to be no reason for it. Now I realize that it *does* feel strange, and possibly painful to her, and spent some time figuring out that scruffing her neck and shoulders like you would a dog and scratching the top of her head is feels good but any touching at all on her entire back, and, I think, her tail, feels bad. The site I linked to does not seem to suggest it's a progressive disorder but others do. I'd never heard of this before tonight.

  • Just wanted to add that it's *not* a mechanical back problem. I've been sort of testing her the last few days, and she has no problems at all and shows no discomfort leaping and twisting about as she plays. I am going to take her to the vet to double-check this, but it's usually fairly easy to tell if somebody's back is hurting, and she shows none of the signs.
  • My cat, a manx, suffers from spina abifida, and sometimes reacts the same way to petting. You might want to have her checked out, though I don't think there's anything the can do for SA,if that's her problem.
  • My uncles cat had it - it was a reaction to fleas in her case. If I recall correctly they gave her cortisone and used a cone when she would tear her hair out in huge patches. I felt bad for her, she always seemed miserable. I'd definitely get a vet to look at it, hopefully it is something that is easy to treat - like a food allergy.
  • My cat may suffer from this, but I'm not sure, as we've never confirmed it with a vet. About once a day he completely freaks out, running around like mad, twitching his back and swishing his tail and everything. We call it the "heebie jeebies" and have no idea what sets it off. But the line in the article which says that "hyperesthesia syndrome should be distinguished from the normal, playfully "crazy" behavior displayed by most domestic cats" makes me wonder if he is just being a cat. He definitely seems to be in distress while doing it.
  • It's a weird thing to have a cat whose back can't be touched, but is also very affectionate. We've just now worked out a thing where she flops down near me with her back facing away from me, and I hold one of her back feet. Odd, but seems to work :)
  • I guess I didn't actually answer moneyjane's question, so my answer is I may have some experience with this, but it hasn't been bad enough to seek out a vet's advice. Having read some more on the syndrome via Google, you may want to be prepared for your vet to just dismiss it as nothing, and maybe consider trying different diets, etc. to see if that helps.
  • I've checked a whole bunch more sites now, and I've read everything from it being a mild behaviour quirk to being freaky seizures, self-mutilation and death. I have a feeling one could be taken for a financial hellride with something so little understood by even the veterinarians. Other than the freak out when her back is touched she is utterly healthy, so I think unless there is a change, we'll just work around it. I *do* feel like a bit of a dick it took me eight months to figure this out, but I'll make it up to her.
  • I've had friends with dogs who were allergic to wheat who exhibited some of these symptoms. The dogs got better on a rice-based food. Maybe the same could work with a cat?
  • Also, kitties do their best to hide it when something's wrong, mj, so don't feel too badly.
  • I *do* feel like a bit of a dick Don't. Cats are wierd people (did I just say people - don't ask) in that they have a pretty unique physical and chemical makeup. Just ask the guy who's mom has 14 (or so) of them.
  • They're already eating Felidae cat food, which one of the sites recommends for twitchy cats...am I bad that typing "twitchy cats" makes me laugh every single time? But I will check to see the rice content. I'm hoping it's a behavioural thing. She was a stray, so other than knowing she dug hanging out under dumpsters, I don't know much about her behaviour before I got her. If it's behaviour-related, it can be resolved, they say, by figuring out what's bugging her and fixing it. That, I can probably do. And cats ARE totally weird. Weird, weird, weird...:)
  • Just so you know? Petting a cat without mindlessly petting its back is amazingly difficult. It's a automatic movement sequence, and *extra* hard with a moving cat. That was today's contribution to Science. As you were.
  • Definately take her to the vet, but assuming that goes well just scritch her where and how she likes, and stay the hell away from her back. All cats are weird, almost by definition, and you have to get to know them as individuals, just like people, to know what kinds of affection they like and what kinds they don't. One of our cats enjoys being picked up and the other one really doesn't, and will let you know that in painfully violent ways. Loves a good chin scritching, however.
  • Does the cat liked being petted underneath or around the head? On top of the head ur under the chin? You can retrain yourself to reach to the happy places.
  • Just read the comment about her being a stray. Then she's almost absolutely going to have trust issues. Treat her as a punk-rock kitty who lived on the streets and ate out of dumpsters and fought off sleazy catnip dealers and the like. We had a cat like this, who HATED being petted. I just got to the point where I had to think of her as having flashbacks to abuse if I came up behind her or touched her in places she couldn't see my hand coming first. Occasionally she would jump in my lap, and I let her sniff and lick my hand, then held it out and let her tell me where the scritching needed to happen. To a wild animal, going for its back is an attack.
  • They told her the first bag was free... She actually loves being petted, but would never remain in one place if you were petting her, and I just figured it was restlessness. Now I realize that she was trying to get as much petting as she could until the touching on her back was unbearably annoying, and then she'd move away and try it again. She would never ever sit still as most cats do when they are being petted, until tonight when I tried just touching her shoulders and feet, and for the first time ever in the eight months I've had her she laid still and closed her eyes like a regular kitty, for like twenty minutes. It was pretty cool.
  • Cool! It sounds like you're beginning to pay attention to what she's trying to tell you about affection. Cats can be difficult pets, because some of them demand communication on their own terms, and aren't accomodating like dogs can be. But on the other hand, when you begin to really work on developing a relationship with a cat, it can be more rewarding in the long run because you fell like you've really created a relationship together. Cats are good pets if you like developing a relationship with an equal, otherwise, get someting else. Where did you read that this food could help your cat's behavior? I discovered that peeing on my bed meant "it hurts when I pee" and that crappy pet food was the problem. But a vet told me this after taking a urine sample. I spent a year feeding them the Good Stuff and recently moved down to Purina One urinary formula, but I'm sure that I needed a year on the good stuff to help fix the problem first. Why do you think that the problem is food-related instead of action-related?
  • I had a girlfriend who was kind of like that...
  • A friend adopted a stray female cat who also hates having her back and hindquarters touched but is otherwise very affectionate. Based on behavior and things the vet has said, she wonders if this cat had been bred repeatedly at something like a kitten mill. Sounds like you're keeping a watchful eye on things, and that's half the battle with cats. Good luck.
  • After a lifetime with cats, I've concluded that they all seem to have a 'touch threshold' whereby touch seems to swiftly change from pleasure into something they can no longer tolerate. This seems most noticable during brushing them. Usually there can be a warning that they've had enough, but if one continues then warnings can and will progress to more obvious objections. It always seems to be along the spine and particularly at the base of the tail. I have the same reaction to touch. But then I have extremely sensitive skin. Am I strange or doesn't everyone have this to certain types of stroking?
  • My youngest cat (also a stray, whom I rescued at about 6 weeks) is known around our house as "Princess Don't Touch My Butt". With her it seems to be a trust issue; she's two now and is much easier about having her upper back petted, although I still leave her hind end alone. She isn't much for being picked up, either, even though she's very affectionate and likes to kiss me and sleep on my feet. My middle cat is the one who gets kitty crazies, but she's generally fine with having her back touched. I've been through a course of diagnostic treatment/surgery/medication with an animal (ferret with cancer) and the costs to both you and the animal, both financial and emotional, add up rapidly. If your cat seems to do fine with a change in petting and possibly also a change in food, moneyjane, you may find that it's easier on both of you to deal with symptoms rather than investigating the underlying problem.
  • Why do you think that the problem is food-related instead of action-related? I don't, neccessarily, but it is mentioned a number of times in various web-sites. In any case, turns out I'm feeding her one of the foods they do approve of, so I doubt it's the problem.
  • immlass Those are my thoughts exactly. This syndrome sounds like the cat version of fibromyalgia, in that it's not well understood, symptoms vary widely, and, taking in all the info I've read, seems like something tolerable if worked around. The big difference? My visits to the doctor for the fibromyalgia, here in Canada, are free, where kitty will probably get a battery of inconclusive tests that are super extra not free... But it definitely is something other than normal cat weirdness, because she does the normal 'don't touch my tummy thing' with no skin rolling, without vocalization, without the lashing tail, and without lunging her face to where you've touched her on her back. It's quite amazing to see, once you know what to look for, and test it when she is not moving so you can isolate it from other movements.
  • Pets can have weird food issues, particularly since they didn't evolve to eat hard little pellets from a bag :) I had a friend with a dog who got horrible skin issues on certain foods. It wasn't like a hot spot, where you could obviously see the sore, her dog just got very touchy and uncomfy, and it took them a while to figure out what was going on. I swear that my sister's cat is allergic to cats. He's very sneezy wheezy and his eyes run, poor guy. A switch to rice-based food helped, though. We think there might be some pollens or something in the wheat-based food? Whatever it is, it works. As for the Purina One: I put my dog on that a couple of months ago, and even though it's the lamb and rice kind (and even though he likes it better than the "good" stuff), boy is it doing a number on him. While little flatulent dogs are funny for a day or two, it gets old fast :)
  • I had a girlfriend who was kind of like that... I knew you were going to say that...(the perils of having your devilish ex on the same forum)
  • My cat trained me to scritch her between the shoulderblades, instead of stroking her back. My parents' dog trained me to scratch around his ears. They're as good at positive reinforcement as people when it comes to physical affection.