Is "Rippling Skin" an Anxiety Disorder in Cats?

How to Recognize and Consider Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

Grey Cat bends his back
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Rippling Skin Disorder is a common name for a condition known technically as "Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome" (FHS), and it is characterized by a number of symptoms: anxiety, neurological sensitivity, and generalized agitation.

The critical difference between the "normal crazy behavior" that most younger cats and happy, energetic cats exhibit and feline hyperesthesia disorder is that with the latter, the cat is in actual neurological or central nervous system distress.

Symptoms of Rippling Skin Disorder

The alert caretaker may benefit from using a calendar in order to document the day-to-day or week-to-week frequency of each of these anxious behaviors, as each might seem "normal" if seen infrequently or one at a time.

  • The Trademark: Rippling Skin
    The skin on the cat's lower back visibly ripples, accompanied by the cat biting and scratching at his back or tail.
  • Loud and Insistent "Worry" Meowing
    Cats afflicted with this syndrome may also meow loudly for no apparent reason, often at night.
  • Strange Eye Appearance
    Pupils may become dilated, and they may stare blankly into space; the eyes may appear glassy.
  • Erratic Racing
    The cat will often run in circles or race off, first in one direction, then another.
  • Sensitivity to Touch
    A cat affected with this disorder may sometimes show extreme sensitivity and discomfort from petting and any physical contact on the skin.

It is not surprising that a condition with so many anxiety-like symptoms also includes a number of anxiety-inducing causes ranging from unintended dietary or environmental toxicity to acquired allergy or over-sensitivity, to a compulsive habit in an attempt to self-soothe. Nor is it surprising that this syndrome also carries a number of other descriptive names such as feline psycho-motor epilepsy, atypical neuro-dermatitis, self-mutilation syndrome, and twitchy cat disease.

Possible Causes of Rippling Skin Disorder in Cats

It is important to first rule out other potential physical causes:

  • Pansteatitis (Steatitis, Yellow Fat Disease)
    Pansteatitis is a disease caused by an excess of unsaturated fatty acids, combined with a lack of sufficient Vitamin E. It is most often caused in cats by frequent consumption of red tuna, and some experts have blamed it on non-nutritional homemade diets. The resultant "sick fat" deposits can be very painful to cats.
  • Brain Involvement
    Particularly with FSH cats displaying seizures, a potential brain infection, skull trauma, or tumors should be investigated by a veterinarian.
  • Flea Allergies
    Itchy skin due to flea bites could be cause for erratic behavior in cats, and this potential cause should be relatively easy to rule out by examination of the skin under the coat.

Warning

Toxic exposure to environmental or dietary heavy metals such as arsenic or mercury-containing foods or compounds, use of toxic flea dips, flea collars with questionable ingredients, or the ingestion of household cleaning agents and pesticides should be ruled out.

Assuming all of the above causes can be and have been ruled out, Rippling Skin Disorder will most likely be seen as a form of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) or as a stress-related condition, and there are appropriate dietary, environmental, and behavioral steps that can be taken in such cases.

Treating Cats With Rippling Skin Disorder

An FSH cat can be helped at home by relieving stressors along with providing exercise-based activities, such as interactive play with wand toys. Clicker training, a very effective and fun behavioral modification approach, may be used to stimulate the cat's happy activity level and lift his depression, also strengthening the bond between cat and guardian.

Anti-convulsant medication, such as phenobarbital, may occasionally be prescribed for the FSH cat that is subject to seizures, and very low dosages of mood-stabilizing drugs may be prescribed to help get kitty back on an "even keel." Pharmacology of these kinds should be used as a last resort after dietary environmental and reward-based anxiety reducing games have all been put into place.

Removing negative influences and exposures, and not adding new ones, is always the first step, but is also essential to consider what to add as far as necessary nutritional resources: the minerals, vitamins, oils, and other nutritional requirements for re-balancing good health in our feline companions.

Although the nervous system chemistry in a cat with Rippling Skin Disorder may never be entirely "cured" with medication, you can work in partnership with a feline nutritionist or feline behaviorist to help kitty become happier, more comfortable, and to help relieve your own worry and stress about how to help your cat reverse this condition.

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.