Cats That Twitch: Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

The most famous cat in recent news—Lux, the “911 cat”—made headlines back in March when he attacked his family’s baby and held them hostage at their home in Oregon. The family called 911 for rescue, which then leaked to the media. Perhaps because of its sensational nature (whoever heard of a cat holding anyone hostage?), the story went viral. And not long after that, Jackson Galaxy convinced Animal Planet to go back into production for season 5 of My Cat From Hell (even though they had stopped filming) in order to help Lux and broadcast it on TV.

I’m not interested in anyone’s opinion on the family that owned Lux. What interests me is the medical component to the story. Jackson discovered that Lux suffered from a condition called feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS). FHS cats, for whatever reason, suffer from twitching that generally results in self-mutilation. It can happen at any time, though is usually exacerbated by stress (such as a baby pulling the cat’s tail). In Lux’s case, the condition is even more rare because he lashes out at those around him instead of himself. Still, what I like about this episode from Jackson, is that it brings to the forefront a condition that most people—even cat owners—have never even heard of.

AmbrosiaOne of the cats at my shelter, Ambrosia, has FHS. She’s a pretty grey & white tabby, about 3.5 years old, and was transferred to Best Friends from a L.A. city shelter almost a year and a half ago. Ambrosia is a sweet cat. She’ll often climb onto your shoulder and rub against you when you open her cage. She can be sassy at times, but then, she’s been living in a cage-like setting for a long time. (A free-roam room or other housing options would be too stressful for her.) Her tail is partially amputated from her having self-mutilated it, but you wouldn’t notice it right away. Otherwise, she looks like a normal cat. Currently, Ambrosia is in one of our newer single cat cages up front. It’s great because she has more space than she used to, but I’d love to see her not in a cage at all. She’s one of the first cats visitors can see, and yet most people walk right on by her.

Ambrosia is a healthy girl, provided she gets her medication. At first, the shelter tried to simply reduce her stress (which helped a lot in reducing episodes), but they finally decided to also do a drug trial. Ambrosia is currently on gabapentin—an anti-seizure medication—and so far, it seems to have made an even bigger improvement on her behavior. This will most likely need to be a life-long medication.

Ambrosia was already one of the longest resident cats when I began working at Best Friends, and she never gets a serious look by visitors. It’s hard to, when there are plenty of sweet, friendly, young cats without any “issues” also available for adoption. Plus, most people have never heard of FHS. Ambrosia needs to be indoor-only, with someone who understands her condition and will take it seriously. So Ambrosia continues to be overlooked time and again.

It is my hope that due to the recent media sensation of Lux the 911 cat, someone might come into the shelter and be open to adopting a cat like Ambrosia. Maybe a few more people will know what FHS is. It is my hope that Ambrosia, and all special needs cats, will find that special someone sometime soon.

If you, or anyone you know, is looking to adopt a special needs cat like Ambrosia, especially if you/they live in the SoCal area, please email alcoholcats@gmail.com

Together, let’s find Ambrosia a home.

#ADOPTAmbrosia

For more on feline hyperesthesia syndrome, click here and here.

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7 thoughts on “Cats That Twitch: Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

  1. Liz, I’ve forwarded this to a friend who is an animal photographer and therefore knows lots of animal lovers. Let’s hope someone out there will be touched enough to adopt this sweet cat.

  2. Awww! I’m so glad Ambrosia is doing better on medication. She is just too beautiful, I hope she finds her forever home soon.
    Thank you for raising awareness of this rare medical disorder! x

  3. We have a 9 month old kitten Selah and noticed at just three months she was showing signs of the disorder. It was soon after she managed to get a hold of plastic bag and managed to get it around her neck, she felt that it was chasing her. When we first noticed the onset it was pretty scary. She was in so much stress we did not know what was going on. I finally sat down and did some internet research and this disorder came up. She has not been officially diagnosis but thankfully her episodes are not to the point where she is self mutilating. We understand that it is painful for us to touch her but luckily the episodes do not last long. We are happy to have a special needs kitten and hope to have her around for the next 13 years.

  4. It turned out Lux didn’t have FHS, which is actually a good thing because his outbursts were so extreme and violent, it might have made people wary of adopting an FHS cat. It was good that the show brought FSH and the treatment for it into the spotlight, though. Any sort of seizure-type incidents are scary, and the show gives people hope that their FSH cat can live a normal life.

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