Hey Pet Parents & Pet Lovers,
I’ll admit, this is quite an odd topic to be brought up on our pet blog, but it is a highly common question for pet parents, especially those who have cats that have “mood swings.” There have been a number of articles floating around the internet claiming that there is a relation between owning a cat and developing Schizophrenia and a study published in the journal “Schizophrenia Research” claimed that “Cat ownership in childhood has now been reported in three studies to be significantly more common in families in which the child is later diagnosed with schizophrenia or another serious mental illness.” So is this something that we cat lovers should be worried about or is this all hype?
Well, with every article that claims that Schizophrenia or other mental illnesses develop because of cats, hundreds of others get published proving that cats are actually a benefit to have in our households such as helping with loneliness, or a study even showed that cat owners are 30% less likely to have a heart attack.
FHS (Feline Hyperesthesia) or “Kitty Schizophrenia”
Very different from the human version of Schizophrenia, Feline Hyperesthesia is when a cat seems to have character changes, seems to be having hallucinations, seems possessed, acts manic or seems “schizophrenic.”
List of “Symptoms”
- Frantic grooming usually on the flank or tail which tends to lead to hair loss
- Sudden bursts of hyperactivity or aggressive behaviour
- Sensitivity to touch on the spine
- Large pupils
- Vocalizations, crying or loud screaming/meowing
- Hallucinations or following of movements that aren’t actually there
- A fixation with their tail leading to tail swishing, tail chasing or vicious attacks to their tail
- Skin rippling/rolling
- Sudden move swings (such as cuddly to aggressive)
- Falling over
Unfortunately, there are no known causes for FHS, but there are a few guesses as to what could be causing this in cats.
- A manic tendency caused by stress
- This is most seen in oriental cats, although there hasn’t been any concrete proof that their “manic episodes” are related to stress.
- Electrical activity in areas of the brain that control emotions
- This may also affect their grooming habits, or predatory behaviour, as well as if they have seizures.
- FHS may be a form of kitty “OCD”
- This is assumed because cats that have FHS tend to over-groom. Cats who show signs of FHS have been given anti-obsessional medications which have seen some positive responses.
- This hypothesis has been compared to humans who have OCD who also have had seizures.
- Lesions on the spine
- A number of cats who have been diagnosed with FHS have been found with pathological lesions in the muscles along their spine. It is easy to assume that these lesions are the cause for their irritation, sensitivity and/or pain.
How It’s Diagnosed
There are actually no confirmed tests for this “disease.” Vets will usually go down a list of symptoms and will try to confirm that they aren’t symptoms of other ailments or mental problems. Vets must be careful while diagnosing FHS and will go through the history of your cat’s behaviour and will perform a very thorough physical exam. Some tests will include a blood test, thyroid hormone level as well as a chemical profile.
Because FHS is a disease that isn’t easily diagnosed/confirmed there are a number of misdiagnoses. The following are some of the most common medical conditions that have been confused as FHS: nutritional deficits, severe allergies, lead poisoning, brain traumas, brain tumours, brain infections, hyperthyroidism.
- Minimize your cat’s stress
- Play with your cat much more
- Consider getting yourself another cat
- Train the cat to perform a new trick every so often
- If you have cats that are constantly fighting, make sure to address the fights
- Get them toys they can take their aggression out on
- Spend more quality time with the cat
- Make multiple levels for your cats to run around on
- Get a fish tank or birds for them to watch (just make sure that they do not try to attack the animals.)
- As someone who owns a fish as well as a Chinchilla, this really helped Beau who doesn’t have FHS but Pica.
- Provide toys with Catnip if they like catnip
- Provide interactive/automatic toys
- Get a challenging feeder for them
- Try playing calming music
Unfortunately, FHS seems to be a fairly unproven ailment at this point. It is clear that something is affecting a number of cats, but personally a lot of these things seem like symptoms that are normal for my cat (ie. the mood swings, large pupils, vocalizations [when he’s bored], sudden burst of energy, and over grooming [although Beau doesn’t seem to be losing any hair.]) I will not disregard the research that has been put into FHS, but I am interested to know if any of this ever becomes solid evidence versus theories. Let me know what you think pet parents! Do any of your kitties have any signs of FHS? Have any of your cats been diagnosed with it? What did you do and did it help?