Occasional Feline Skin Twitch
Occasional feline skin twitching is a signal that a cat dislikes something that is happening at that time. It can be a signal that a cat disagrees with what is going on and/or he or she is uncertain. It can also signal anticipation. In general it is a response to an emotion.
The fact that the cat and other animals can twitch their skin means there are muscles under the skin that are specifically designed to move it. I believe it is a sheet of muscle called the cuteness trunci muscle (CTM).
The evolutionary reason for the existence of the muscle is probably to disturb flies and insects on the skin/fur. It is a reflex action. This has been hijacked by an emotion.
I have decided that occasional feline muscle twitching is an emotional/psychological response based on first hand observation. The observation is mine and it does not come out of a book or webpage. If anyone can find a source of information about this, other than a reference to feline hyperesthesia, please leave a comment. It is very hard to find solid information on this. Incidentally, uncertainty is signalled buy a horizontal swishing of the tail.
This cause – an emotional response firing off a reflex action – is to be differentiated from feline hyperesthesia, which is a medical condition, the cause of which is unclear (probably stress). Perhaps the two are linked.
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Horses also skin twitch and it applies to other animals too. In horses, the skin twitch is often used to get rid of flies. However, the reason can be psychological (fear, anxiety, uncertainty etc.), in my opinion, as for cats.
When people twitch it is usually the contraction of muscles that control a piece of anatomy other than the skin. A different set of muscles are involved. Although, for example, a twitch under the eye seems to have similar causes: an emotion.
I never see Monty twitch like that, but I saw it in my childhood cats and I’ve seen it in other cats, like at The Cat Network. If you are right about the cause Monty must be very unstressed. He ought to be. It’s like my full time job to keep his little belly full and to keep him content in every way.
I am sure that if Monty does not skin twitch it is because he is not encountering stressful moments or emotional moments.
My sister’s cat is much more high strung. I’ve seen that skin twitch from him now and then. He’s always upset about something, meowing his displeasure loudly. Monty is much more laid back . Kobe had a rough start in life. He was owned by the people renting the upstairs unit when we first bought the house. Their other cat tormented him, not letting Kobe use the litter box or go to his food. The dog chased him. And the woman wanted to get rid of Kobe because he was “jealous of the baby.” Had we not asked for him, Kobe would have been dumped at the Humane Society, and being a skittish cat, he would have been put down. After they moved out and my sister moved in, Kobe came to live with her. He preferred the upstairs. That’s his home.
Interesting Ruth. Experiences mould a cat’s character as we know. Kobe is probably a bit more anxious that normal which makes him more sensitive to interactions leading to a skin twitch.
Walter twitches his whiskers sometimes, he is quite an anxious cat because of his bad start in life. I still remember the day we rescued him. Babz was driving and I had him tucked in my coat, he was shaking like a leaf. Covered in fleas, had worms and ear mites and a heart murmur from being fed cheese on toast poor little soul, but with a trip to the vets and lots of tlc and good food he was soon enjoying life and has done ever since 🙂
He loved his uncle John
This is such a cute picture. Walter was loved at last and well cared for. Whisker twitching is probably just a variation on the skin twitch.
I’ve seen the boys twitching like that if something has touched them while they’ve been napping, like a bit of bedcover or a mischievous mammy with a tickling stick, how clever they are to be able to do something we can’t.
I think if a cat skin twitches when touched by a person it is an involuntary reflex response as if a fly is on their fur. That is my guess.
Very cleverly thought out and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there Michael, that it’s a reflex action which also has been hijacked to use as an emotional reaction, because there is so much more stress in this world nowadays for animals as well as for people too.
That is a nice observation Ruth. The skin twitch evolved in the wild with the African wildcat. The domestic cat now uses it exclusively as an emotional signal. Interesting and probably because domestic cat life can be stressful.
I wrote the article for cat caretakers so they can read better the state of mind of their cat. Cat owners need to be able to read their cat’s body language.