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.