Cute gray cat standing on hind legs on the grass

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome can cause a variety of signs that may be behavioral, neurologic or dermatologic in cat's but is considered a fairly rare condition. Pet's can show signs of distress, aggression, self trauma and more but these signs can also be caused by numerous other diseases so it is important to rule out other causes with a veterinarian.

Understanding Hyperesthesia

Hyperesthesia syndrome tends to appear in cats one to five years old, and Oriental type cats (Siamese, Burmese, Himalayans, and Abyssinians) seem to have the highest incidence. Three kinds of signs can occur in cats with hyperesthesia syndrome.

  • Dermatologic signs: Affected cats may exhibit “rippling skin” along the back and indulge in excessive grooming that targets their own tail and lower back. In extreme cases, the cat self-mutilates and attacks her own tail. This can also be seen with fleas, making it important to have your pet consistently on vet approved monthly flea prevention.
  • Behavioral signs: Inexplicable aggression is the second pattern of behavior. Cats seem friendly, and even beg for attention, then furiously attack when the owner attempts to pet them. It can be more severe than petting aggression where the cat initially tolerates attention but may cut it short with a leave-me-alone bite.
  • Neurologic signs: The final pattern reported by the veterinary literature is a seizure, paddling or involuntary urination/defecation.

There is not a clear cause to this syndrome. Some behaviorists believe stress triggers psychomotor seizures that cause the behaviors. Other researchers believe the syndrome parallels human panic attacks and obsessive/compulsive disorders. These supposedly happen as a result of the individual cat's personality in combination with the pressures of her environment, frustrations, and stress levels. When hyperesthesia syndrome is suspected, a veterinarian workup is advised.

Stopping Episodes

Working with your veterinarian to rule out other causes of dermatologic, behavioral or neurologic signs is important. Your veterinarian may discuss proper flea prevention, food allergy diet trials for pet's showing dermatological signs. They may also suggest anti-seizure or anxiety medication for those pet's with a strong behavioral or neurologic component. Working on creating a low stress environment at home can also be helpful. Prognosis is variable for this condition and often therapy is needed long term for these pets.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.

Article Sources

The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Hyperesthesia Syndrome. Feline Health Center, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

  2. Frank, Diane. Repetitive behaviors in cats and dogs: are they really a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)? The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne vol. 54,2 (2013): 129-31.

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