“Having feline hyperesthesia means that Sansa has fits every day,” says Karen, one of the humans who adopted this striking white cat who has two different colored eyes and polydactyl paws. “She has good and bad days, but her feline hyperesthesia affects her quality of life because her episodes come at random times and disrupt her periods of rest.”
If the idea of a cat with feline hyperesthesia is new to you, the potted medical definition calls it an ailment that prompts a cat to experience a sudden case of agitation (and sometimes self-mutilation) after being hit with an uncontrollable rippling of the skin. (For this reason, it’s sometimes called “rippling skin disorder.”) The cause of this sort of seizure is unknown — but for cats such as Sansa, the results can be extreme and more that a little scary.
“Sansa could be chilling on the couch, scratcher or bed and all of a sudden have focal seizures that cause her back to roll uncontrollably, [and cause her to] attack her tail and run crazily around the apartment,” explains Karen, who originally adopted the cat with her husband, Jack, from an event outside a Petco store in Manhattan.
“She was a scrawny little white cat that was hiding underneath a cat bed,” she recalls affectionately, adding that she “fell in love with her immediately.”
Sometimes the self-attacks can cause Sansa to go through what seems like a real attack of crazed cat syndrome.
“Her tail starts swishing around and she attacks it by biting and swiping at it really hard,” says Karen. “She runs around the apartment crazily as though she’s trying to flee from something — she feels pain during the episodes, and it seems like she’s trying to run away from the unknown cause of sudden pain.”
Karen adds that before Sansa went on a course of antidepressants, “She used to have violent episodes in which her back legs would kick her face uncontrollably and she would fall over.”
The root cause of feline hyperesthesia isn’t known, but in Sansa’s case, her emotional start to life might have been an aggravating factor. Karen explains that when Sansa was just a year and a half old, she was “abandoned by the only family she had ever known and was suffering from anxiety and heartbreak as a result of losing them.”
Now that Sansa is snugly settled in her forever home, Karen and Jack do all they can to help her manage her condition — although they admit to a feeling of helplessness whenever she has an episode.
“We used to try to stop her from attacking herself by using our hands and arms to block her,” recalls Karen, “but she would end up attacking us instead. Not purposefully, but because she simply could not control herself.
“Now, we try to distract her from her episodes by taking out her favorite toys.”
Along with distraction methods, Sansa also takes thiamine and fish oil under recommendation from a vet, and she has visited a cat guru at a local holistic pet store who has recommended serving her predigested food laced with probiotics.
“There is absolutely nothing we won’t do to help her,” says Karen. “We will go out of our way to try anything.”
While Karen and Jack continue to give Sansa the support and space she needs, they’ve become advocates for the cause of other cats with feline hyperesthesia. Asked if Sansa could tell the world a message about her kind, Karen says she’d want to convey the following sentiment:
“Thank you for considering adopting a special-needs cat with feline hyperesthesia just like me! Before you do, please understand that our feline hyperesthesia means that we will never be like a normal cat. We are not your typical low-maintenance cat. We will require more of your time and attention on a daily basis.
“Please go out of your way to show us you love us, hold on to empathy and patience, and never punish us for exhibiting an uncontrollable behavior. If you are ready to accept this challenge, then you’re ready for us and I salute you!”
You can follow Sansa’s battle with feline hyperesthesia at her Instagram account.