Friday, May 1, 2015

One Twitchy Bean

DSC_2761

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.



44 comments:

  1. Poor Bean... :(

    Good luck with the Feliway. Didn't really work with our elder cat, but hopefully things will be better for you all.

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  2. So sorry to hear about Bean's discomfort. I hope the steps you're taking allow her to stay off kitty Prozac forever--I agree with you that that should be a last resort. She's certainly lucky to have you looking out for here!

    Since Wylla's doing so much better, do you think you can allow Bean to free feed again now?

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    1. We're trying to get her to lose weight, so we probably won't go back to that because I'm managing and monitoring her intake. She's getting more used to scheduled eating now, and isn't as twitchy about it as she was before.

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  3. Good to know you have been exploring lots of options. I had a Maine Coon with IBS - could never figure out what his triggers were. Good luck!

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  4. Poor Beany. I know you'll do what you can. Maybe now that Wylla is eating more normally Bean may be able to free feed again. I'm concerned about the "jumping from high places" since I see one of my own cats do it occasionally. I'll start trying to keep that from happening.

    Good luck to her!

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    1. Oops, forgot about Bean's weight, sorry for mentioning it. I have one cat who I'd like to gain weight and another who needs to lose weight. Both eat whenever they feel like it and I can't get them on a schedule (or else the smaller one will eat too much, too fast).

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  5. My super anxious kitty has been on kitty Prozac for years. If it does come to that, it's not the worst thing :).

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  6. Sorry to hear about this Laurie. Kind of timely as one of our kitties has the rippling skin thing on his back and I always wondered if this was the problem with him. He doesn't exhibit any other of the behaviors (yet) but perhaps next time he's at the vet we'll mention it. Glad to hear your course of action is working for her so far. Feliway was a big help to us when we adopted our second, very timid cat (at that time anyway - she's blossomed since). It did help calm her down, or at least, appeared to. Perhaps we'll get a refill and give it a try for stress relief in the older boy.

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  7. We use the Feliway diffusers as well. One of our cats is highly territorial (unfortunately he's male so you can guess what that means, even though he's neutered) and he and our other cat don't seem to get along very well. I often make the mistake of letting those diffusers run out...when will I learn? They do work pretty well for us.

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  8. Do you follow @thesauerkrautkitty on instagram? She has it too.

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  9. Oh, poor Bean! I'm sorry she has this problem. One of our previous cats had the beginning stages of it but thankfully it never progressed to the stage of biting. Somehow knowing this makes our dear Bean the Beauty Queen even more precious!

    Peggy, with Diva and Chloe

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  10. Wow, that seems to explain the behavior of one of my cats who has just begun her 12th year. Maybe we can give her some relief.

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  11. Thank you for this post. My Kitty Kiwi twitches his tail and sometime bolt running as if there is something attacking him! I guess he has this problem you mentioned. I always wondered why he always twitches his tail and doesn't like me touching it! Now I know and thank you again

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  12. Thanks so much, Laurie, for this information. In the past a couple of my cats have had the rippling skin thing. My elderly cat who has arthritis in his lower back also pulls out tufts of his fur in that area, which I've attributed to his reaction to pain. Poor granpa cat.

    Rosemary K. & Buddy
    Minneapolis, MN

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  13. Years back one of my cats exhibited this kind of behavior. In her case it was petit mal seizures which eventually led to grand mal seizures.

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  14. My kitties react poorly to stress as well but their stress tends to manifest in spraying and marking. My vet suggested Prozac a while ago but I resisted for a LONG time. I finally gave in and put them on the generic Fluoxetine. I've been surprisingly happy with the medication and the positive changes in their behavior. None of what I feared has happened (negative changes in behavior and personality). I wish I would have know that Prozac would be such a positive thing earlier (I tend to view behavior altering meds with a bit of skepticism). So all in all, if you end up going down this road as well, at least in my house, it's turned out ok, even great!

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  15. Feliway doesn't work for any of my cats. I tried so many remedies for my sweet boy who suffered from pain, stress and anxiety. The vet couldn't find the cause and nothing worked - Prozac, anti-epileptics, Gabapentin, etc. I hated drugging him and it never really helped - just knocked him out for hours at a time. He was miserable. Bach's Rescue Remedy for Pets helped a lot but wore off too soon. It was wonderful that he finally could have some relief but he needed multiple doses per day. He even figured out that relief was associated with his 'treats' and would actually come get one of us when he needed more. I was so happy to find help for him but it gets very expensive. I finally discovered something that works wonders for him. Talk to your vet about Natural Pet Pharmaceuticals by King Bio - Anxiety and Stress Control for Cats. Just a capful twice a day - shared with all five of my cats' wet food (actually less than the suggested dosage). No special meals or treats. No side effects. Works 24/7 and doesn't dope him up. He's been a normal, happy boy again for the last 18 months. This sounds like an advertisement, but I promise I don't work for them or get a kickback or anything. I'm just very, very happy to have found something that works for my cat. I hope that by sharing it might be helpful to someone else's furry friend. They make a canine version, too.

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    1. Forgot to say: I also put a capful in each of our water fountains. It still works out to less than a full dose per day and being a homeopathic remedy makes me feel good. My vet has begun using it for some of her cats & dogs and is also pleased with the results.

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    2. @anonymous: thank you for this info! I've tried feliway for my two kitties and other various things and I will be trying your suggestions for their anxiety levels soon!

      @laurie and miss Charlene, I think its clear by all these responses that your transparency has provided an amazing opportunity for all of us to share our concerns and love for our feline family members openly. So thank you!
      Love, Loreen, Daisy and Mr. Whiskers

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  16. Poor Bean, although it's great she's been feeling better! When you were fostering, did there seem to be any difference based on having the kittens around?

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    1. If they disturb her when she's trying to nap or relax, they can stress her out. That's an easy fix though - we just remove them from her space.

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  17. You can get feeding stations that open using rfid/chip that is used for id. It would mean Bean could eat when she wanted but Wylla wouldn't be able to get at it.
    Might help

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    1. OMG that is amazing. I'm sure my overweight cat would figure out how to game the system though (probably by simply shoving her face in when it opens for the not as overweight one...)

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  18. Oh gosh, this information is exactly what I needed. The comments are also helpful. Thanks so much for all you do for the kitties and for all of us in the cat loving community

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  19. Glad to know she is in your loving care



    ALOHA from Honolulu,
    ComfortSpiral
    =^..^=

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  20. I've wondered in the past whether LG might have this as well, but I'm also hesitant about meds. Maybe we'll try Rescue Remedy or Feliway.

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  21. Laurie, you've started a great conversation here. What a great cat mum you are!

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  22. Aww, poor Charlene :(

    But I'm glad there's things that help her, and that she's in a good place right now!!

    My 5-year old tabby girl has had a few bouts with inflamed bladder that my vet is guessing are a response to some undefined stress (which I do try my best to shield her from!!). She's gone on a few rounds of buspirone for anxiety, which has worked like a charm. I am so glad this helped her -- my dear, sweet, anxious girl :)

    I hope things continue to go well for all in the Butterbean Household :) This is the first I've heard of the condition you describe -- thanks so much for sharing Charlene's story!

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  23. My Siamese has FHS too. It's most common in cats with Oriental breeding. For a while, a steroid every other day was keeping it mostly in check, but just a few months ago it suddenly became about a thousand percent worse (no idea why), and a month ago the vet suggested either prozac or amitryptaline. My cat was being tormented, I didn't want to try the drugs but he was so uncomfortable. I've been doing the amitryp. for a month now, because it's cheaper than prozac. His twitches are way, way better, but he's still adjusting to the drug, so he's feeling kind of weird, a bit spacey and such. Supposedly those effects will dissipate.
    Good luck, Bean!

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    1. You can get the generic Prozac (fluoxetine) for $4/month at Target and, I believe, WalMart--without insurance! We used it on our cat with litterbox issues, and it worked like a charm. I was hesitant to use it, thinking it would change her personality, but it didn't. I just alleviated enough stress that she started pooping IN the litterbox instead of near it. A few years later, though, a new kitten literally showed up at our house, and that set her back. But, it did work for a few years.

      --Lisa in MA

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  24. Feliway's great when it works. Here are other resources where you might find something helpful. I discovered them thru my cat's holistic vet. Keep calm and carry on, Bean.

    http://www.darcynat.com/natural-pet-medicines/

    http://www.darcynat.com/natural-pet-medicines/

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  25. Dear beautiful Bean! What a great mom you have! I am glad there are things that help you, and your people are trying lots of different things for you. xo

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  26. Your entry and the comments are food for serious thought -- many thanks.

    I'm so glad that things are improving for your lovely girl. I've used both the Feliway spray as well as the more reasonably priced Nature's Miracle calming spray, and both seem to have some positive effect.

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  27. I discovered that my cat's itchy problem was due to an allergy to the fillers or preservatives in cat good. Once she was restricted to natural cat good with a minimum of grains or fillers she's been much, much better.

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  28. My daughter's silver tabby became anxious when my daughter left for college- within months she had chewed off ALL the fur on her belly, scratched her cornea, and often sat with her head down. NOTHING helped her. She'd improve in the summers- dramatically. SO, eventually, we had to fly her up to her "mom" so she could survive. The other cat, a Siamese, damaged her spine so badly it looked like a zigzag- from years of jumping off the counters onto a stone floor. our house was littered with step stools so she could get to her favorite places without jumping. I have so much sympathy for Bean- she is lucky to have such understanding and willing parents. A little lavender here and there also seems to help our girls calm down. I love feliway- when India gets worried, she runs over to it and sits smelling it.

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  29. One of my cats, a Russian Blue, had a twitching episode a number of years ago. She wanted to sit next to me but would immediately get up and "pace" and then would try to settle again. She finally came out of it when I went to my desk to google about it. She wedged herself under a lower lamp (for warmth?) behind a stack of books on the desk. It seems it can be linked to an obsessive-compulsive "disorder." Now when she starts the twitching and skin rolling I place my hand gently, but firmly on her back and she always seems to come out it.

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  30. What do you think of Spirit Essences?

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  31. What do you think of Spirit Essences? Jackson Galaxy is connected with them. It's sort of like Bach Flower Remedies but specifically for cats.

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  32. Hi Luarie,
    I’m so sorry Bean is having trouble lately.
    I have two “elderly” cats in my home. Caspar is 13 and Cricket is 18. Caspar has been with me for 10 of his 13 years and has had a variety of anxiety issues. Some were caused by grain and food additive allergies and others I have no idea what’s caused the problem. Recently he started to cry, wail and howl at all hours of the day and night. He was keeping the entire family awake. My mom and I went online looking for something to help him without giving him medications. We found that the company that created the Thundershirt for dogs now has one for cats. We figured what the heck. If it doesn’t work or doesn’t fit we can take it right back to Petsmart. So we got one for him and it was an instant success! He actually asks for it when he’s feeling stressed. You just strap the little shirt on and he blisses out. There’s no other way to explain it. He gets very mellow and loving. If he hears Velcro get opened anywhere in the house he thinks it’s his shirt and comes running. We then got one for Cricket because she has arthritis/mild neuropathy in her back legs. She takes a B-12 vitamin every morning which helps with mobility and some of the pain, but she still over grooms her back legs a bit. She doesn’t like the idea of putting the shirt on, but once it is she seems very content and sleeps better. The shirts are also good for vet appointments. Both do better on the drive in and the drive back when in the Thundershirt. I don’t know if Charlene would tolerate a little shirt being put on her but it might be worth a try because of her back. Caspar and Cricket move a little bit more carefully when wearing their shirts too. Well, either way and no matter what you choose to do, Charlene and Wylla are very lucky to have you and Craig. Many would not go to the lengths that you do for them. Much love from the High Sierra Country!
    Rachel, Caspar and Cricket from Reno, NV

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    1. Maybe the shirt helps because it gives the feeling of being snuggled? As my late cat grew older, more and more she wanted to be held close to her favorite humans like a teddy bear while she napped.

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  33. I'm going through this exact issue with a darling cat that my family has as a long term foster. Fiona is so sweet, and so lovely, but our other cats can't stand to be near her because she spins and snarls and bites at her tail constantly. Our vet had never seen anything like it, and I eventually had to take a video of her in action for him to understand that it is amusing the first time, but not when it happens 20+ times per day.

    I've decided that it must be a form of OCD. I've watched her ramp up to the worst fits, and her pattern is a stressful moment, 5-10 minutes of aggressive grooming, and then the tail takes flight and the growling begins. If we can get to her and distract her it is possible to break the pattern for a bit. Constant stimulation helps in the short term, but ultimately leads to sleepless nights, as she stores the disruptive energy for quiet moments. I have a stack of pill bottles as we tried everything we could to help her calm down. None of the pharmaceutic remedies helped, and amitriptyline made it worse. What has worked in the 5 months that we've been working on the issue?

    Clothing! I had not wanted to purchase the Thundershirt without having some idea that it would work. No store in the area carries the cat version, and she is very small, so sizing her without one in my hand was an issue. Instead I bought a cozy fleece dog sweater from a clearance rack, just to see if it might help. Sure enough, a dressed Fiona is a happier kitty, so she now has a small wardrobe of sweaters that she wears daily. I remove her sweater for a few hours every day so that she can groom herself, and we all agree that her behavior changes almost immediately. The other thing that has helped quite a bit is melatonin, which comes in treat form. She does not like the treat, so I sprinkle it into her wet food, and it helps her sleep a bit better at night.

    Thanks to this thread I have a few more things to try, and I will order a Thundershirt for her as well. She will only be with us for one more month, but my goal is to hand her to her new family with as many controls in place as possible.

    Thank you for telling us about Bean! You've helped so many sweet kitties with this post!

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  34. Hi Laurie,just popped by to read from here as I enjoy your site heaps,but this post made me stop,my cat has the same problem,and when it started,he had a bad turn,went deaf overnight,after tests we still don't know what happened to my Clover!He came home and kept going at the back like your Bean,so I got online started searching.I found the same disorder,same things and I was offered medication but could not affored it,so I bought the Feliway tablets,relaxtion/stress ones,I gave him the first day 2,then went to 3,he was stoned on three,,sort of funny,but I dropped back to 2 a day and after a month or so he started to do it less.So I just waited to see how we went with none,and good news for my cat was it settled,he still does it a few times a day,but when I give him a pat he sort of gets out of it.Maybe its because he is deaf and bored too,we used to carry on heaps,but thought I would share our story with the disorder.Also thanks for a really great site,very nice.TC regards TLC

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  35. Have you tried a sensor bowl that only opens for Charlene?

    Something like these:

    http://www.amazon.com/OurPets-WonderBowl-Selective-Pet-Feeder/dp/B00C1BYETO/ref=pd_rhf_se_s_cp_1_H9G9?ie=UTF8&refRID=0V80DS2MBQ9M9MAX21EZ

    https://www.facebook.com/sureflap/videos/10153311715374766/?fref=nf

    http://gatefeeder.com/

    You can probably get the Wonder Bowl and place it inside a box of some sort so that only one cat can enter and Wylla can't easily sneak a few bites from the side.

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