Cats have many unique characteristics that make for some interesting health challenges, but one of the strangest is “Ripple Skin Syndrome,” or “Itchy Twitchy syndrome” (technically called “feline hyperesthesia”). This condition starts as a rippling of the cat’s skin on its back, from the shoulders to the tail; the cat may turn and lick or bite at the area; and most cats will run away as if something frightened or hurt them.

The jury is still out on exactly what causes this problem. The first thing to rule out is a flea problem; in a flea-allergic cat, just one flea bite may cause severe and long-lasting itchiness. Flea-allergic dermatitis may cause the cat to lick and scratch, especially around the hind end and base of the tail, even to the point of serious hair loss (alopecia).

Dry or itchy skin may appear similar or be a contributing factor to the problem. Adding essential fatty acids to your cat’s food, or trying a hypoallergenic diet, could be the keys to resolving the issue.

True hyperesthesia, in many cases, appears to be a form of seizure disorder that may respond to anti-convulsive medications. It may also fall somewhere on the behavioral obsessive-compulsive spectrum; for these cats, stress reduction measures such as play therapy, indoor enrichment, and flower essences may be helpful.

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