Dear Doctor – Hypersensitive Behavior

Letters to Tufts Veterinarians


Q We have three indoor-outdoor cats: Dusty, a 10-year-old male mackerel tabby; Mokie, his sister, and Rascal, a three-year-old male orange tabby. Our yard is enclosed and cat-safe. Each year, we take our cats to the veterinary clinic for their physical exams and shots.

Recently, Dusty started jumping, running and then frantically licking himself. Our veterinarian said that he has hypersensitive nerve endings that make him feel like someone is sticking him with a pin. She prescribed a liquid, phenobarbital elixir. This medicine did not seem to have any real effect, other than Dusty not being able to jump as high as usual.

Our veterinarian said the medicine would make Dusty sleepy, but that didn’t happen. This cat is strong and wiry and the two of us are unable to get his medicine down him. We tried putting it in his food without success. Do you have any suggestions?
Kathleen Seibel

A Dear Kathleen: It sounds to me as if Dusty may have feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS). No one is quite sure what causes this problem, but theories range from a seizure disorder to a compulsive behavior (or somewhere in between). Your veterinarian’s first line of treatment with phenobarbital was quite reasonable, though I can understand your cat’s reluctance to take the medicine in that form since the “elixir” contains alcohol and fruit flavor.

Perhaps your difficulty in administering it caused Dusty not to receive therapeutic doses and this may have accounted for its lack of success. Phenobarbital often does control FHS if a therapeutic blood level is obtained. It may be worth revisiting the anti-seizure approach using either a cat-friendly formulation of phenobarbital or a different anti-seizure drug, such as Keppra.

Alternatively, an anti-compulsive medication like fluoxetine (Prozac) can be tried. This latter treatment often meets with success either because of fluoxetine’s mood-stabilizing effects or because of the anti-compulsive effects of this drug.

If your veterinarian needs help in managing Dusty’s problem, you can enlist the help of our VETFAX remote consulting service (call 508- 887-4640).
Nicholas Dodman, BVMS
Animal Behavior Clinic Director
Cummings School of Veterinary
Medicine at Tufts University


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