Cats Being Cats

Cats… don’t always make sense. Half the time they can’t enough of you, and the other half they’re annoyed by the very sound of your heart beating. When feeling bashful, they can vanish for days into the uncharted depths of your home. Don’t be surprised, though,when the same catcasually decides to rush an animal 20 times her sizeand deliver a full Will Smith right upside his head. 

Cat owners: I think many of you will recognize the perplexingsyndrome of feline hyperesthesia, to one extent or another. This is a relatively common condition in which the pet is very reactive to even the gentlest touch, most often in a localized area of the lower back. The most frequently observed phenomenon is skin rippling,which is essentially visible waves of revulsion radiating out from the point where the pet was touched. It has a very distinctive appearance that you will definitely recognize, even the first time you witness it. Some animals will then whirl around in the fashion of a striking rattlesnake, pupils dilated,ready to seize the object that touched them. Frenzied grooming of the lower back usually follows, occasionally to the point of self-mutilationPet owners are obviouslyalarmed by this behavior, since the most obvious explanation for it would be pain or some other profound discomfort. A careful examination should be conducted by the vet to identify any treatable skin condition or sources of painin this area (spine, pelvis, anal glands, or tail). Even if a skin or skeletal problem can not be identified, it’s best to explore trial treatments for pain and itching. If one of those things helps, an additional clue has come to light.

In more pronounced cases, this bizarre behavior sequence can begin spontaneously, while the cat is sitting alone and unprovoked. Some patients may escalate to dashing around the house, vocalizing hystericallywhile others will fall over, temporarily immobilized, or even have a grand mal seizureSome of themgenuinely appear to be hallucinating. We currently have no idea how this disorder works, but these pets will continue to suffer if we don’t try to help them somehow. For those who fail the trial treatments for itching and pain, a light tranquilizer might be employed, or a course of behavior-modifying drugs may be attempted. Some patients mayrespond to seizure medication. Lots of other pharmaceuticals and supplements have been applied to the problem, with varying degreesof success, but we never know in advance what will help, if anything.

Lest you begin to wonder if this whole thing is just cats acting unhinged in order to secure the limelight, there is some physical evidence in the form of tissue samples taken from pets that have suffered from this disease. In one study, biopsies of the affected area, near the spine, demonstrated lesions that resemble inclusion body myositis of humans. Science is moving pretty slowly on this particular x file, however; until we have a lot more information, the treatment of feline hyperesthesia will be continue to be basedalmost entirely on trial and error.

Dr. M.S. Regan