Friday, May 1, 2015
One Twitchy Bean
About five years ago, Charlene started acting a bit twitchy. You could see her skin ripple in the area just about her tail, she would spin around and aggressively chew on the fur in that spot, then bolt as if something was chasing her.
We didn't know what exactly was causing this strange behavior, but we labeled it "Ghost Fleas" because it seemed as though something invisible was biting at her. I talked to the vet about it, and Charlene was diagnosed with Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. It's also called "rolling skin syndrome" or "twitchy cat disease".
After I did a little digging around online I learned this:
The clinical signs for Hyperesthesia are:
- Rippling of the skin over the back
- Muscle spasms and twitching
- Twitching of the tail.
- Cats may exhibit strange behaviors in response to touching such as tail chasing, biting at the tail, flank and sides, to the point of self-directed aggression. They run, jump, hallucinate, vocalize, and even turn around and hiss. They may self-mutilate with extreme biting, licking, chewing, and plucking of the hair (sometimes called “barbering” or “fur mowing”). This behavior leads to hair loss and sometimes to severe skin lesions.
It is difficult to distract the cat from these behaviors once they begin. The sequence of events varies. Your cat might twitch first, then focus on that spot to lick and chew; or, he might be grooming, then start to twitch, then progress to other signs mentioned above. Behaviors that might mimic feline hyperesthesia syndrome are estrus (cats in heat), and certain types of seizure disorders. The “hyper” behaviors may be provoked by petting or stroking your cat. Hyperesthesia is often found in highly aroused, anxious, or aggressive cats. The exact cause is unknown, however stressful events in your cat’s life may provoke it by causing severe anxiety. It is thought that changes in brain chemicals occur during chronic anxiety and that this can lead to the hyperesthesia disorder.
Charlene was clearly exhibiting many of the above signs, but at this point her twitchy moments were only on occasion so we were a little, but not overly, concerned. The vet suggested a low-grade anti-anxiety drug, but we really didn't want to start down that road. We decided that instead we would work to figure out her stress triggers and do all we could to keep her calm.
This worked fine for a long time, but everything started to change when Wylla entered the picture. I don't think the addition of a new permanent resident cat was an issue - Bean has always clearly loved having her little friend around - but when Wylla became part of the family, Bean could no longer "free feed," which really seemed to stress her out. Her twitchy episodes increased drastically, she began chewing on her belly fur and a bald patch started to form. She was clearly more anxious.
This change in behavior concerned me, so I took her to see Wylla's vet, who also does chiropractic care and acupuncture, to have her check out Bean. She did a thorough exam, blood work and X-rays, and it was revealed that Bean had a couple of compressed vertebrae. This was mostly likely caused by jumping down from high surfaces, and was probably causing her pain.
Pain is also a stress trigger, so it's possible that could have been a factor in the increase of her twitchy episodes, so Charlene was put on Gabapentin to help manage any pain she was experiencing. We tried acupuncture too, but Bean gets pretty nervous in the car, and I felt that any benefits she received during the treatments were off-set by the anxiety of the car ride home, so we abandoned that plan.
Gapabentin seems to really make a difference for Charlene. We also started using Feliway, a plug-in pheromone diffuser, to help calm her. I know it doesn't work for all cats, but it works well for Charlene. The refills are good for about thirty days, and I always know when it's time to change them based on Bean's behavior. Once they're empty, she gets twitchier.
We're doing all we can to keep her stress at a minimum, we've even consulted a pet behaviorist, and we hope that things will never escalate to the point where she'll need to be on kitty Prozac. But just like with us humans, try as you might, you can't eliminate all stress from your life. But for now, she's in a good place.