Tails magazine presents...

The Cause of My Cat’s Crazy, Maybe

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2008 at 5:59 pm

My cat, or shall I say the family cat, Jake, can be one crazy kitty. He was a stray who wandered into our yard and then hearts over 10 years ago so we don’t know anything about his origins or health history. As he got older, we noticed he began acting stranger; he’d stare at his tail as it began twitching and then viciously attack it as if he didn’t know he was biting himself, he’ll meow loudly at night and it sometimes sounds like a human cry, he’ll “clean” his paws in his water dish, spill the water, and then meow at that, sometimes we’ll be petting him while he purrs and suddenly he gets aggressive and starts swatting at our hands, and so on. The tail twitching and biting seems by far the oddest. His vet said he had a neurological disorder and prescribed meds but as you may know, getting a cat to swallow a pill is quite the feat.

I did some investigating about this behavior because “neurological disorder” is such a broad term. I, of course, am no professional, but when I found an article about Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS), it seemed to fit the bill. Cats affected by FHS display bizarre character changes which make them seem schizophrenic, manic, or even possessed. Clinical signs of FHS include:
-sudden bouts of bizarre hyperactivity or aggressive behavior
-frenzied grooming of the flank and tail that may lead to hair loss
-tail swishing, fixation with tail, tail chasing, and/or vicious attacks directed toward tail (this sounds very familiar!)
-large pupils and/or a strange look to the eyes
-skin rippling/rolling (sometimes known as “Rolling Skin Disease”)
-apparent hallucinations – seemingly following the movement of things that are not there or running away from some unseen adversary.
-vocalization, crying, loud meowing
-acute sensitivity to touch (this is the “hyperesthesia”) along the spine – stroking can precipitate a bout of the behavior.
-sudden mood swings such as: extremely affectionate to aggressive
-any or all of the above signs progressing to seizures
-bouts occurring almost constantly, all day, every day, or once every few days

FHS usually arises for the first time in cats which is fitting if Jake really is affected by the syndrome. No one yet knows what causes FHS but there are a few theories: the condition may arise as a result of aberrant electrical activity in areas of the brain that control emotions, grooming, and/or predatory behavior (an explanation for the seizures), it could be a form of feline Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, seizure activity that leads to obsessive-compulsive behavior, an inherited tendency of mania precipitated by stress, or possibly pathological lesions in the muscles along a cats spine (which have been reported in some cats). There is no rule for diagnosing FHS but if the cat displays the clinical symptoms to the exclusion of other medical issues, then a diagnosis is typically confirmed. A way to help a cat with FHS is to relieve stress which is thought to set off the symptoms. There are also anti-obsessional, antidepressant, and anti-convulsant drugs available, all with success differing on the particular cat.


-Amanda Giffi

  1. I too thought my cat had FHS. For years she exhibited behaviors like tail twitching and biting and suddenly running like something was chasing her. At times she was really miserable. Two different vets diagnosed it as stress related and prescribed some kind of kittie downers. Neither seemed to make much difference. I was suspitious of the diagnosis because this cat has the best life ever and no stresses at all. After doing more research online I decided to try giving her 1/2 tsp. brewer’s (nutritional) yeast in her food 2-3 times a week. I read that it helps cats with allergy symptoms. To my amazement it worked like a charm. Within a month she stopped all of the FHS-like behaviors and has not had a problem now for 3 months. This is the first time in years she has been symptom free. The yeast is also good for her coat and repels fleas. Make sure you buy it in small quantities so it is always fresh. Some health food stores sell it bulk. It is very inexpensive. Hope it helps your cat too.

  2. My cat had all the symptoms of FHS, I thought however that it was due to some sort of urinary tract infection or constapation. I started to think the look in her eyes was as a result of the continual discomfort. In fact I started to think something was eating her from the inside out. I tried deworming and didn’t have much success. She was 18 yrs old when she passed away. She went missing just before she passed. I searched for three days before I found her. On the third day I heard this faint meow and was able to locate her. She had lost the ability to use the back half of her body which was always it seemed, sensitive to touch. She was also covered in tiny maggots which almost seemed to be spreading from internal sources. This is not a pretty picture I only submitt this in case it helps someone to solve what seems to be more than just a mental feline disorder. I’m thinking, because cats can’t really talk, in spite of what some people think, that FHS is of comfort to those without real answers, sort of a end all answer. I now have a young cat that after a few month of living here, and it’s important to say my cats go outside at will, is starting to display the same kind of symptoms. Unfortunately I’m more apt to think something of a natural enemy type is attacking the cat internally, I’m just not sure what or how to stop it.

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