What is Twitch-Skin Syndrome?
Twitch-skin syndrome has many names, including atypical neurodermatitis, twitchy cat syndrome, rolling skin disease and hyperesthesia. Veterinarians often refer to this condition as hyperesthesia, which is defined as an increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli such as sight, sound, or touch. The sensitivity appears in the lumbar region of a feline’s back, just in front of the pelvis. Pet owners note abnormal tail twitching and widened eyes combined with the uncontrollable urge to manipulate the skin. The same symptoms resemble those of pruritic dermatitis, skin mites, and allergies, so it is crucial to have the feline properly diagnosed by a licensed professional.
Twitch-skin syndrome is an unusual feline disorder that causes an abnormally sensitive reaction of the skin. Although the cause of the condition in not well understood, experts believe it could be a neurological disorder similar to epilepsy or a type of compulsive disorder. Felines of a mature age, as well as cat breeds including Himalayans, Burmese, Abyssinian, and Siamese, are especially sensitive to this disorder.
Symptoms of Twitch-Skin Syndrome in Cats
A cat with twitch-skin syndrome usually has an episode lasting for approximately 20-30 seconds before abruptly returning to normal behavior. Not all cats have the same or all symptoms related to twitch-skin syndrome, but your feline can exhibit any of the following:
- Dilated pupils
- Twitching tail
- Rolling of the skin
- Frantic, uncontrollable movements
- Excessive licking, scratching or biting itself
- Alarmed vocalizing
- Frantic running
- Uncontrollable defecation or urination
- Muscle spasms
Causes of Twitch-Skin Syndrome in Cats
Twitch-skin syndrome in cats still has veterinary experts puzzled as to what causes this bizarre feline behavior. Some experts believe twitch-skin syndrome is a neurological disorder as touch stimulation along the spine, which houses the spinal cord and bodily nerves, commonly ignites the reaction. Others believe twitch-skin syndrome to be something of a compulsive disorder that has been caused by a stressful or unpleasant situation. Twitch-skin syndrome is also thought to be a form of epilepsy, and the behavior abruptly appears as would an epileptic seizure.
Diagnosis of Twitch-Skin Syndrome in Cats
There is no known diagnostic tool for pinpointing twitch-skin syndrome in cats and is usually done by ruling out other possible health conditions. Your veterinarian will begin by reviewing your cat’s medical record and disease and drug history. It will be helpful to the veterinarian to explain what happens to your cat during an episode in great detail. Important information to note and relay to your veterinarian to reach a diagnosis include:
- What happens just before an episode? Do you note a stimulus trigger?
- What behavior does your cat exhibit during an episode?
- How long does your cat exhibit this behavior?
- Does she always have an episode in the same location or time of day?
- What happens after the abnormal behavior? Does she return to her normal behavior? Does she go to sleep, eat, etc.?
Your veterinarian may also want to run a blood chemistry profile test to rule out hyperthyroidism and a nutritional deficiency. Skin tests, such as a skin scraping, may also be performed to rule out skin infections, external parasites, and allergies. X-rays or an MRI may also be added to your cat’s diagnostic plan to rule out the possibility of trauma to any of her vital organs or skeletal/muscle structure.
Treatment of Twitch-Skin Syndrome in Cats
If your feline is diagnosed with twitch-skin syndrome the veterinarian may recommend reducing factors in the home that may contribute to your cat’s condition. Stress, anxiety and sudden change can really upset a feline, as cat are, by nature, creatures of habit. Talk to your veterinarian about possible therapeutic treatment options such as massage or acupuncture therapy. He or she may also recommend an antianxiety drug to cats with severe cases of the condition, but there is no known treatment method for curing twitch-skin syndrome in cats.
The veterinarian may focus on treating the secondary conditions of self-manipulation that accompanies twitch-skin syndrome, such as bite or scratch wounds. It is also not uncommon for cats with twitch-skin syndrome to have their tails amputated, as periodic episodes can permanently damage the tail and cause pain to the feline.
Recovery of Twitch-Skin Syndrome in Cats
Felines with twitch-skin syndrome cannot be cured of their condition, but your veterinarian may advise a few changes around the home to prevent the number of occurrences. The following tips may be recommended to avoid stress and anxiety that may ignite twitch-skin syndrome:
- Let your cat have a place of his own to hide or rest.
- Avoid sudden change to eating and feeding habits.
- Provide healthy stimuli like cat toys to prevent frustration and boredom.
- Avoid moving her litter box to new areas in the house.
Talk to your veterinarian about more helpful tips to reduce stress and reduce your cat’s twitch-skin syndrome symptoms.
Twitch-Skin Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I got my cat from the local shelter about 1.5 years ago. She had only partial tail and has never been too affectionate that's why I expect it took 10 months for her to be adopted. Soon after bringing her home I noticed twitching near her tail, I would touch the area gentle which seem to stop it. However her condition got gradually worse and worse, now she scratches, twitches, looks stressed out nearly constantly and hides under the coach for most of the day. I'm pretty sure she has an extreme case of hyperesthesia. She will not socialize with me anymore and her life seems miserable. She hisses and is aggressive now so I just leave her along. There is only her and I in the house and she was very fond of me up until recently. Is there something I can do to help her?
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My cat used to have an episode only once every few months but around 2 weeks ago, he started having a short episode daily. Yesterday, he had an aggressive episode that lasted almost an hour. Towards the end, he was so exhausted that he just laid on the floor with his eyes closed, but his ears and back continued to twitch. During each episode, he would exhibit the following symptoms:
- back rolls uncontrollably
- acts frantic and runs around; sometimes would try to hide
- ears twitch uncontrollably
- aggressively licking and cleaning paws, back and sometimes tail
- lays on floor and jerks body
- Immediate becomes normal again after episode ends; never loses consciousness before/during/after episode
At first, the vet thought it was an allergy to fleas (did not find any however), so we gave him flea medication. But his episodes continued. The odd thing is that his episodes last quite a long time, and can range from 5 minutes to an hour. He is the only pet in the home and is sweet, active and adventurous the rest of the time, and does not exhibit any signs of anxiety.
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My cat is freaking out running and hopping around her tail is twitching violently she’s kicking her legs her back is twitching she’s licking and biting all of those areas what is wrong with her
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