Feline Hyperesthesia


              By Dr. Michael W. Fox 

From “Animal Doctor” syndicated newspaper column October 2022

DEAR DR. FOX, My wife and I are exhausting every single resource, looking for information about feline hyperesthesia. We knew nothing of this condition up until just days ago, and now we feel it’s turning our world upside down. We’ve read a couple of your articles about the matter, and hope you’d consider looking at our case.

Louie is our 2.12 year -old cat, who we adopted at 6 weeks old. He had been extremely social and loving his whole life, but the last three months have been very different. We’re worried he has Feline Hyperesthesia. We have multiple examples of video evidence for this claim.

We’re getting desperate for help, as we can barely live our lives. Louie has my wife and me so scared to even be at the house, as his outbreaks are incredibly aggressive and scary. We’re hoping for any sort of guidance, and can provide more information, but at this point we’re desperate for help. Thank you, B.T., Prairie Village KS

DEAR B.T., Who has diagnosed your cat having hyperesthesia? It is a symptom, not a medical condition, about which I will post a synopsis of possible causes of hyperesthesia with or without aggression and excessive grooming and fur-pulling . Louie, it seems, has become hyper-aggressive. When is he most likely to attack? Probably early evening is my guess. If he has not yet been neutered, that could be a problem.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find the root-cause of a sociable cat becoming aggressive and attacking their human companions and detective-work is called for plus a full veterinary Wellness examination and ruling out hyperthyroidism. I know of one very disturbed cat who cornered the woman-owner in her bathroom until her spouse came home and the trigger turned out to be some expensive French perfume she had been putting on that contained Civet cat musk. Knowing how these poor creatures are caged and kept for this anal gland secretion still used in some perfumes I would join the cat in protest!

B.T. Replies: Thank you so much for getting back to us quickly. We really appreciate it. No one has diagnosed Louie with feline Hyperesthesia yet. We are still trying to get in contact with someone who can help us with answers. We came up with that possibility after doing a lot of research ourselves the past two days. It’s the first thing we’ve come across where he’s displayed nearly every single symptom.

He’ll be sleeping and then wake up to immediately and intensely groom is back / tail. His back has been twitching and we’ve notices the skin ripples during these outbursts. In the past few months he’s become extremely jumpy and skittish. The worst part has been his three aggressive attacks, two in the last month. We have details documented and would be happy to share. Attached a video for reference.

All symptoms have been heightened in the evening. We have not introduced any new smells into the house that we can think of. We did get his blood work done last week, which came back with high triglyceride. We are waiting to hear back from our vet (Fairway VCA) to get him in for more tests to rule out any other possibilities. He was neutered when he was a kitten.

DEAR B.T., before I can offer more suggestions re your cat, is he an indoor-only cat or gets outdoors? What is he being fed? Have you given any anti-flea treatments? Any new fitted carpets in the home? Any cat or cats outdoors he sees, hears or smells their spray? Any electronic devices setting of startling/disturbing sounds? All of these can be factors in cats having mini-seizures or becoming highly agitated and even attacking family members, human and feline!

B.T. Replies: Louie has been on a consistent diet of Now Fresh Adult Cat food for the majority of his life. We now understand this has a very high fat %, so our vet prescribed him Hill’s Science Diet w/d, which we have slowly started incorporating over the past couple days. He is not on any flea/tick medication, as he is never outside.

He loves spending time in our sunroom, where he can watch birds and squirrels. Only on one occasion have we ever seen another cat outside our house.

We haven’t installed any new rugs or carpeting within the last year.

The one electronic device that we’ve noticed can startle him is the doorbell, although it’s rarely used, and he’s slowly become accustomed to it.

We’ve also been incorporating Welactin ( an omega 3 supplement) to his diet, receiving about 100mg with his morning breakfast. We have him on 100mg of Gabapentin in the morning and 100mg of Gabapentin in the early-evenings. It’s been a great stabilizer, but we’re looking to switch to Amitriptyline, as a more permanent solution to the problem. Thanks to your good advice our cat is quickly improving!


Feline hyperesthesia, also known as “twitch-skin syndrome” and “psychomotor epilepsy”, is a symptom, not a single disease, of feline discomfort, (pruritis-itchiness) often accompanied by other behaviors such as touch-aversion and sometimes aggression or excessive self-grooming. A full veterinary check-up is warranted and consideration of several possible contributing factors, notably:

Food allergy/intolerance or nutritional deficiency; inflammatory bowel disease; hyperthyroidism; chronic pancreatitis; brain tumor, inflammation or infection, as with Toxoplasmosis; painful ear, anal glands or dental problems; fleas and other external and internal parasites; neurotoxic insecticides to kill fleas and ticks which could also cause mini-seizures; fear/anxiety, in part genetic or due to lack of socialization or PTSD which can also lead to paw and tail-sucking; I have had several cases where cats have developed trichotillomania ( fur-pulling) when one family member left the home for college or died; disturbance by cats outside; in-home sounds from electronic devices; in-home volatile chemicals from room fresheners, floor-cleaners and new carpets; in-home dust and dust mites; dust, volatile fragrancies and cedar oil in various cat litters; contact with wool blanket material ( which can also lead to obsessive chewing and ingestion); perfumes and hand and body lotions containing volatile chemicals, notably perfumes with Civet cat musk; natural aversion to some body parts being touched as detailed in my book The Healing Touch for Cats; periodic irritability in spayed cats who may have remnant and active ovarian tissue so they come into heat; un-neutered male cats who may also spray-mark in the home and are frustrated, wanting to get out; boredom and frustration, calling for interactive games especially in the evening and ideally having a compatible companion cat to interact with along with provision of scratch-posts and window-shelves to look outdoors and best of all, an environmentally stimulating outdoor enclosure/”catio”

Boulder, Colorado, Feline veterinary specialist Fern B. Slack, DVM, states that “DIET is always my first question for cats with any symptoms that might be pruritic in nature. After 5 years of having my patients on evolutionarily appropriate diets, I have been astounded at how much dermatitis and pruritus goes away. This makes sense to me. Bad diet > dysbiosis > IBD > leaky gut syndrome > upregulated systemic inflammation > dermatological manifestations”. In other words, many health issues in cats are more than skin deep and they are like the canaries down in the coal mine alerting us to conditions in our shared environments which can also impact our own health, an aspect of One Health now being more widely recognized.