Have you ever noticed your cat’s back twitching or having spasms? It can be quite concerning, but in most cases, it’s perfectly normal. Cats have a sensitive muscle layer along their backs, which makes them responsive to touch. Mild and occasional twitches along the back and flanks are usually nothing to worry about. However, if your cat experiences more severe twitches, muscle spasms, and other accompanying symptoms, it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Let’s explore the possible reasons for your cat’s back twitching and when to seek veterinary care.
Common Causes of Cat’s Back Twitches
1. Normal Behavior for Felines
Cats have a thin muscle layer called the “cutaneous trunci” that can move in response to physical stimuli or emotions. So, if your cat’s back twitches while you’re petting them or when they’re excitedly watching a bird, there’s no need to worry. Cats also use various muscle movements in their body language to communicate with us.
Back twitching can be a response to pain. It may indicate conditions such as arthritis in the spine or hips, abscesses, wounds, nerve damage, or anal gland disorders. Cats are skilled at hiding their pain, so muscle twitches may be the only visible sign. Look for other clues such as excessive licking, limping, sensitivity to touch, and changes in eating and toileting habits.
3. Skin Disease
Muscle twitching can also be a result of skin diseases that cause itching (pruritus). Excessive licking, scratching, hair loss, rashes, and sore lesions are common signs of skin diseases. Parasites, infections, and allergies can all lead to itchy skin. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), for example, can cause intense itching and sore skin, particularly along the back and tail base.
Cats can experience epilepsy and other seizure disorders. While we often associate seizures with dramatic, whole-body events, cats can also have subtle seizures. Muscle twitching, spasms, vacant stares, and rapid blinking are signs of petit mal or “absence seizures.”
5. Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS)
FHS is a severe neurological disorder in cats. It causes rippling and twitching of the skin along the back, near the tail base. Other symptoms include dilated pupils, extreme sensitivity to touch, excessive biting and licking at the back and limbs, erratic behavior, tail-chasing, anxiety, excessive vocalization, and, rarely, seizures. The exact cause of FHS is unknown, but certain breeds like Siamese, Persian, and Abyssian seem to be predisposed. FHS may be triggered by dermatological diseases, neurological issues, toxins, or psychological conditions.
Hyperthyroidism can cause increased appetite, thirst, urination, weight loss, poor coat condition, and muscle twitching in cats. If your cat displays these symptoms alongside back twitching, it’s worth investigating their thyroid function.
When to Consult a Veterinarian
An occasional muscle twitch is usually nothing to worry about. However, if your cat’s back twitches frequently or if other symptoms accompany it, such as biting, scratching, skin lesions, sensitivity to touch, restlessness, or anxiety, it’s best to consult a veterinarian. They will conduct a thorough physical examination and may recommend diagnostic tests like blood work, x-rays, and skin tests.
The treatment for your cat’s back twitching depends on the underlying cause and the severity of their symptoms. Anti-parasite medications can address fleas and mites, while analgesics and anti-inflammatories may be prescribed for painful conditions like arthritis. Anti-epileptic drugs such as phenobarbital can help manage seizures. FHS can be challenging to treat, often requiring a combination of environmental management, stress reduction, nutrition, and behavioral strategies. Medications like phenobarbital and gabapentin may also be used to alleviate symptoms.
Remember, a twitchy back in cats can have various causes. While mild cases may be normal, severe cases often signal an underlying issue. Parasites, pain, seizures, and FHS are all possibilities. If your cat has persistent back twitching accompanied by other symptoms, it’s crucial to seek veterinary advice.