Why Your Cat Flinches When You Pet Them

Have you noticed that your cat flinches when you pet them?

If this is the case, petting or stroking her more can add stress to her life due to an underlying condition.

Although a veterinarian should properly diagnose your cat through a physical exam, there are some signs and symptoms that may illustrate how you can properly handle a flinching cat.

There are some cats who simply do not like being pet, but your cat’s flinching could be something more serious like feline hyperesthesia, flea allergy dermatitis, back pain or another type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. If your cat is recoiling when you pet her, she should be examined.

There are steps you can take to make sure a flinching cat feels comfortable living in your loving, safe home. Once she is diagnosed properly, you may need to change her diet, set a time to give her love, or even administer medication.

Below will discuss some common ailments that may lead to your cat flinching when you pet her.

Some Cats Simply Do Not Like Being Pet All the Time

If your cat is flinching when you pet her, it does not automatically mean she has a health concern.

Some cats actually become more stressed when they are constantly pet, so she may flinch because you are over-petting her.

This is because cats release hormones when they are handled by humans that are linked to anxiety.

Tests by animal experts have illustrated that there are few cats who enjoy being constantly stroked. Although some tolerate you petting them, your cat may show a high level of distress because of being pet.

This could be why she is flinching when you go to pet her—she knows what is coming and knows her stress levels will rise.

Researchers tested cats and concluded that cats may not dislike being pet, but they certainly do not enjoy it and are just tolerating the constant petting. The researchers studied cats that lived alone, cats that lived in pairs, and cats that lived in groups of three or more. They assessed the stress hormone levels on four different occasions.

They even found that cats that did not enjoy being pet could avoid the petting if they lived with a cat that tolerated the petting from their owner. If your cat is starting to flinch when you pet her, it could simply be that she does not want to tolerate it anymore.

Our own cats love to be stroked when it suits them. However, when it comes to their feeding time they don’t want to be stroked at all and back out.

[Image] stroking pull away

However, it could also be a serious health issue depending on certain symptoms.

Your Cat Could be Flinching Due To Feline Hyperesthesia

Your cat may be flinching when you pet her because she has a health issue called feline hyperesthesia.

Also called “twitchy cat syndrome,” feline hyperesthesia is a hypersensitivity condition in which the muscles under the skin get overstimulated. The cat’s skin on her back ripples uncontrollably from the shoulders down to the tail.

A study from Cornell University found that the reaction from hyperesthesia is almost always near the tail area and is a form of what we know as epilepsy.

Your cat may just flinch away when you pet her, or the reaction could be biting. There are a few things that can cause a cat with feline hyperesthesia to have this uncontrollable reaction:

  • Temperature changes
  • Stressful situations
  • Grooming, and
  • Petting or stroking

If your cat flinches when you pet her, that does not automatically mean she has feline hyperesthesia.

However, if she has any or all of the following symptoms below, you should probably have her taking to your veterinarian and have her properly diagnosed so that you can treat the disorder properly:

  • Flinching
  • Uncontrollable urination
  • Excessive meowing or hissing
  • Frantic grooming
  • Running around
  • Salivation
  • Self-mutilating biting, chewing, or licking
  • Chasing her tail
  • Hallucinating things that are not there
  • Hair loss
  • Skin lesions

Some cats dealing with feline hyperesthesia actually appreciate your human contact, but if she is flinching from your petting, you should leave her alone.

If not, you can try gently petting her somewhere else on her body, like rubbing her face or head. You should sit down with your cat first before petting her so that she is not startled.

Diagnosis And Treatment Of Feline Hyperesthesia

Your veterinarian will eliminate other ailments that may be causing similar behavior and symptoms before diagnosing your cat with feline hyperesthesia. This could include a skin condition, a nutritional deficiency, hyperthyroidism, another painful condition, or even poisoning. Your vet will complete a physical exam and take a behavior history.

Other things to expect at the veterinarian is ordering a complete blood count, T4 thyroid hormone level test, a chemistry profile of your cat, and possibly skin tests and x-rays. If the vet rules out or treats all the other potential causes of your pet flinching when being touched, then he or she will positively diagnose your cat with feline hyperesthesia.

Treatment of this condition could be as easy as feeding her a balanced diet of animal fat, high levels of protein, and food or supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as krill oil.

You can also maintain a consistent day for your cat so she does not get startled, including a consistent time that you interact with her and appropriate stimulation.

If your cat starts becoming less flinch with your interaction, you can set aside the same time every day to play with your cat.

Playtime will help her flex her muscles and get aerobic exercise. You can also give her a safe area for eating, drinking water, and relieving herself in the litter box, give her a place to scratch, climb, rest, or hide.

Does She Have Flea Allergy Dermatitis Or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Your veterinarian will want to rule out other ailments before diagnosing her with feline hyperesthesia, and one of those disorders could be flea allergy dermatitis.

This is when a bite from a single flea ends up causing serious, long-term skin irritation and itching. This itchy, dry skin that results could mirror a hyperesthesia condition.

You should not take flea allergy dermatitis lightly, as it could cause seizures in your beloved cat in addition to her flinching when you pet her. This ailment is more common in cats who eat a dry food diet and should be treated immediately. However, your cat’s flinching may be something a bit more simple—obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Yes, a cat can actually be obsessive-compulsive, and feline hyperesthesia is actually a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

This means your cat is frightened or apprehensive of being pet, stroked, or groomed and the result is flinching when being pet. Seizures may also lead to obsessive-compulsive disorder in your dear cat.

Back Pain Could Also Lead To A Flinching Cat

If your cat has a back injury or back pain, this could lead to her flinching when you pet her.

She may have muscle strain, a torn ligament, or a painful tendon, which leads her to not wanting to be touched or pet. Flinching, along with back rippling and back or neck stiffness, are the major symptoms of back pain.

Some causes could include:

  • Arthritis
  • Hyperesthesia
  • Feline osteodystrophy
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Meningitis
  • Discospondylitis
  • Soft tissue injuries

Most cats do enjoy being pet and stroked on the back, so if your cat is flinching away it could be a serious ailment or back injury.

This means your cat is experiencing an underlying physical discomfort that should be diagnosed immediately.


Since you are a cat owner, you are more than likely a pet lover. Therefore, you should avoid petting or stroking your cat if it may cause her stress.

Cats are unique creatures and there could be a simple diagnosis like she does not like being pet, or a more serious underlying condition. A physical exam will help you move forward.