Why Do Cats Backs Twitch?

Why Do Cats Backs Twitch

Have you noticed that your cat’s back is twitching after a few moments of petting her? This is a common reaction among cats may seem normal but you have a reason to be alarmed if this occurs often. Read on and let us unravel the truth beyond the back twitching phenomenon. 

Why do cats backs twitch?

These are the probable reasons why cats backs twitch:

1. It may be due to feline hyperesthesia syndrome. 

This complex condition among cats results in muscle and back twitching because of extremely sensitive skin. It affects domestic cats regardless of breed, sex and age and it is also known or referred to as:

  • apparent neuritis 
  • psychomotor epilepsy 
  • pruritic dermatitis 
  • atypical neurodermatitis 
  • twitchy cat disease

Cats may experience this condition after they have reached maturity and usually between the ages of one and five years old. 

These are its common clinical signs that appear in episodes, lasting from seconds to several minutes:

  • frantic and repeated scratching, biting and grooming of the lumbar area including the tail 
  • twitching of the skin 
  • the violent swishing of the tail 
  • dilated pupils 
  • erratic and agitated behavior 

These clinical signs may happen in episodes but the cats may act normally after a while. During such episodes, cats may appear absent-minded and lethargic. While the condition may be considered mild, you have to take your cat to the vet at once if she starts to manifest self-aggression and self-mutilation. 

Feline hyperesthesia may develop due to a seizure disorder, neurotic condition or a behavioral problem and environmental stress may also trigger it. Hyperactive and nervous cats are more prone to the condition. 

Since there are no definite physical causes for the condition, diagnosing it is difficult and vets rely mostly on the cat’s characteristic history and by ruling out other diseases with similar signs. While imaging processes like MRI is helpful, there are no specific tests that give a definitive diagnosis of feline hyperesthesia. Treatment may include behavior modification and pet meds that suppress the episodes but there is no specific cure for this condition. 

2. It may be due to the sensitive layer of muscle located on the cat’s back. 

Your cat’s back may be twitching because of its sensitive layer of muscle called the “cutaneus trunci muscle” which is located directly under the skin of the back. This muscle can move on its own naturally and may be triggered by your cat’s mood or when you touch your cat’s back. It can be triggered if your cat is scared or excited such as when she sees her bowl full of food. Some portions of the muscle may be more sensitive than the others and if you try to poke that portion it may trigger the whole muscle to twitch as well. If you may have noticed, dogs will kick their legs automatically when you rub their belly and the same can be said about cats when their cutaneus muscle is touched. 

3. Your cat may be overstimulated by your petting. 

Your cat’s back may be twitching because she is overstimulated while being petted.  It may also be due to stress or frustration such as when your cat sees a bird outside the window. Cats may vary in their reactions when they are overstimulated. Some may twitch their tails while others may have escalated reactions such as biting. 

If you notice that your cat’s back is twitching and she becomes agitated, stop petting her at once before any adverse reactions may occur. You may also check our earlier article on why do cats arch their backs when you pet them for more insightful information. 

Signs that indicate overstimulation among cats:

  • twitching tail
  • restlessness
  • ears are turning back or flicking back and forth 
  • her head is turning or moving toward your hand
  • the skin in her back is rippling and twitching when you pet her

If you notice the above signs, stop petting your cat and let her sit quietly on your lap or allow her to jump away. Use food as a reward if you intend to prolong your cat’s tolerance for petting and if she tends to be overstimulated offer her bits of tuna or chicken. Practice light petting while you offer her bits of food and eventually she will learn to enjoy petting for a longer period. However, if she manifests aggressive behavior, stop the petting at once. 

Cat experts agree that twitching among cats is an evolutionary habit that may have helped them to survive in the wilderness. They believe that cat twitching in their back and other parts of the body may be a tendency that is utilized to remove mosquitoes, parasites and dirt from their bodies. Others state that felines use twitching as a form of body language and communication.

Other possible reasons for back twitching among cats are due to a sore back, tail or anal glands. 


While cats may look calm and docile, they also have their share of complex traits and behavior.  For instance, you may notice that their back will twitch and the skin may ripple. A cat’s back may twitch because she may have feline hyperesthesia syndrome, a condition that can affect domestic cats regardless of age, breed or sex.  However, the twitching may also be due to overstimulation from petting. 

Image: istockphoto.com / Daria Yakovleva