The words “senile cat” and “cat dementia” can be very scary for cat owners. You spend years with a cat, getting to know her and growing to love her unique personality.
As she gets older and her behavior starts to change, we naturally worry that she is becoming senile. We ask, why is she behaving so oddly?” We may add, “do cats get dementia?”
In this article an experienced vet, Eman Magdi, explains what happens when elderly cats suffer from cognitive dysfunction. She gives some great advice on how to help your senile cat continue to enjoy life.
The Importance of Recognising the Problem
Of course, if your cat is becoming lethargic or missing the litter tray, old age is not always the culprit. Other health issues can cause behavioral problems for older cats. Accordingly, Eman will show you how vets arrive at a dementia diagnosis.
For this reason, don’t assume that problems are caused by dementia. Always talk to a vet if your cat is showing any signs of dementia or other behavioral problems.
Cat dementia can be a distressing condition, but treatments and lifestyle changes can alleviate the condition and symptoms. Even with dementia, your cat can still have a high quality of life.
Can Cats Get Dementia?
Can cats get dementia? The simple answer is yes, they can.
Like humans, senile cats can show signs of cognitive dysfunction and dementia. The problem is, cat dementia symptoms can vary, making it difficult even for vets to diagnose.
As an example, your cat may be puzzled and disoriented. Alternatively, he might lack any interest in playing or sleep more than usual.
Overall, dementia in humans and in cats is a complex disease. Likewise, another problem shared by humans and cats is Alzheimer’s disease.
Can Cats Get Alzheimers?
If you are thinking, “As in Alzheimer’s?!”, the answer is yes, I’m afraid! To support this, some studies suggest that cats can get Alzheimers, too.
A number of new studies at Universities of Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Bristol, and California universities identified a particular protein. This accumulates in a cat’s nervous system, worsening a cat’s cognitive abilities and intensifying the symptoms of dementia.
Now, we have established that cats can suffer from senile dementia. Before exploring the symptoms and learning how to alleviate the problem, what is cat dementia?
What Is Cat Dementia?
Cat dementia is also known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. It tends to happen predominantly in elderly cats.
In short, cat dementia is usually caused by amyloid plaques. Plaques occur when amyloid proteins build up in or around nerve cells, causing learning difficulties and impaired vision.
How do you know when this is happening to your cat? How do you know when your cat has dementia?
Does My Cat Have Dementia?
Dementia is such a serious and complex condition that only a qualified veterinarian can answer this question. It is notoriously difficult to diagnose, so you need expert help.
A number of studies suggest that many older cats have some degree of senility.
As an example, a Moffat & Landsberg study estimated that 28% of cats between the age of 11 and 14 show at least one sign of dementia.
In addition, over 50% of cats aged 15 or more showed signs of dementia.
That’s all well and good, but what are these signs?
Signs of Dementia in Cats
Like Alzheimer’s in humans, Cat dementia manifests as behavioral symptoms at the age of 10 years and above.
Some cat dementia symptoms include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Wanting to be alone
- Forgetting learned behavior
- Urinating and defecating in the wrong places
- Difficulty sleeping
- Meowing a lot
- Lack of desire to groom, leading to a matted coat
- Loss of appetite.
These Symptoms can Mean Other Things
Of course, many of these symptoms can be caused by other ailments. For example, bad teeth can lead to irritability and loss of appetite, while kidney problems can cause inappropriate urination.
As we will see, it is difficult to reverse these symptoms. However, you can slow down the process of dementia in cats. Your vet will run some tests and give you some great advice.
Cats with dementia rarely stray from home, and they often have little interest in social interaction or play. Senile cats can suffer from imbalance and disorientation.
More Things to Watch Out For
Cats with CDS may stare at empty space, sleep for longer, howl at night, and pee and defecate outside their litter box.
Additionally, cats with dementia may develop problems with vision and hearing. Sometimes, they lose the ability to navigate around objects.
Other symptoms include a drop in energy levels, difficulty with grooming, a loss of appetite, and an unwillingness to respond to people or other cats. Cats suffering from dementia can show signs of restlessness, anxiety and depression.
So, if your cat has some of these symptoms, does this mean that he has dementia? Well, yes – and no. Many of these symptoms occur with other diseases and conditions. Again, it is very important to see your vet for a proper diagnosis.
Diagnosing Cat Dementia
As we discussed earlier, feline dementia is a very complex condition that you cannot diagnose at home. Take your cat to the vet for a proper diagnosis. They will ask questions, take blood and urine samples, and test cognitive function.
Just as with humans, the vet will ask you about the symptoms and build up an overall picture. Really, the vet works through a list and eliminates other conditions that can cause these symptoms.
In other words, vets diagnose dementia through exclusion.
With the tests complete, you can now look at treatments for your cat.
Cat Dementia Treatment
Once a vet has established dementia as a likely cause, they will suggest a number of treatments. These can alleviate the symptoms and slow the onset of dementia.
In most cases, by the time the vet examines the cat, there is no reliable treatment. However, studies have shown that you can delay the advance of the disease.
Your veterinarian may suggest a variety of treatments for felines suffering from cat dementia. While there is no cure for cognitive decline, there are several ways you can support your cat.
Suggestions to maintain your cat’s well-being include:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Provide mental stimulation and physical exercise
- Avoid changes to their daily routine
- Don’t move anything, including furniture, food bowls, and litter tray.
- Dietary changes
Your vet may also recommend medication to treat your cat’s anxiety if it is particularly severe.
If you have any questions about feline senile dementia, consult your veterinarian. They can provide tailored, expert advice, because each case is different.
Changing Your Cat’s Diet
As an example, you can change your cat’s diet to include vitamins E and C, and antioxidants such as flavonoids and carotenoids. These are found in fruits and vegetables. Other diets that can help cognitive disease include antioxidants, selenium, beta carotene, Omega-3, and carnitine.
L-carnitine enhances mitochondrial performance, and omega-3 fatty acids boost cell membranes. Likewise, dietary supplements can be helpful, especially alongside foods containing the right balance of omega-3 fatty acids.
Supporting Cognitive Function
An unchanged environment makes it much easier for your cat to find its way around the house. This stops them from becoming confused or getting lost. It also means that they are more likely to use their litter box.
Similarly, another useful treatment involves preserving memory and learning functions through mental exercises. Introducing new learning skills and keeping your cat active can have a noticeable impact.
Naturally, as with many diseases, medication can help.
Cat Dementia Medication
In terms of medicine, the American Association of Feline Practitioners approved psychoactive drugs containing the active ingredient, selegiline.
If a qualified veterinarian diagnoses dementia and eliminates any drug interactions between selegiline and other medications, they can prescribe the drug.
Of course, we can do all of these things but, as we said, there is no cure. What is going to happen to your cat?
Prognosis: What Will Happen To My Cat?
Dementia is a progressive disease and, while there is no cure, you can take a few steps to keep your cat happy and safe.
In the early stages, symptoms may be quite mild. If you can slow the onset, your cat can continue to have a happy and fulfilling life.
However, for severe dementia, changes in your cat’s environment or routine can cause more stress.
According to a study by Houpt and Beaver, stress can make dementia symptoms more severe. For example, your senile cat may develop a lack of appetite and anorexia .
How To Take Care of Your Senile Cat with Dementia?
Sometimes, you can give your cat dietary supplements and medical care, or adjust their environment. However, cat owners should understand how dementia progresses.
With advanced dementia, change can actually cause more stress. As we have seen, this can exacerbate the symptoms.
Often, your senile cat will benefit from familiar surroundings and routines. In other words, try not to change her diet unless your vet advises you to do so. Moreover, it’s often a good idea to keep elderly cats indoors if they begin to show signs of getting lost.
A number of studies provide useful information about treating advanced cat dementia.
What Some of These Say
For example, Gunn-Moore recommends keeping changes to a minimum. They should be gradual to build trust.
Likewise, in some cases, Gunn-Moore suggests confining a cat with dementia to one single space or room. Of course, this includes everything he needs, such as bedding, water, and a litter box.
Although this might seem unkind, it can actually help your cat avoid unnecessary stress. Ultimately, you want to keep your cat as happy as possible!
In the same vein, Professor Christina Clarkson, at the University of Minnesota, explains that prevention can mitigate the severity of dementia. Moreover, she recommends making these changes at an early age. “A combination of healthy diet, supplements and exercise can go a long way as to decrease chances or severity of dementia.”
Your Senile Cat And Dementia – A Summary
In conclusion, cat dementia can be a distressing condition for cat and cat owner alike. These signs and symptoms of dementia in cats over fifteen years old are common. However, while dementia has many symptoms, these can be caused by other diseases.
In some cases, there are steps that can lower the risk of cat dementia. These include treatments that may help slow the progression of the disease and reduce the severity of its symptoms.
In short, house cats live longer than they used to, so senility and dementia are more common. Fortunately, you can make sure they live a happy, comfortable, and long life in a loving and considerate home.
We wish you all the best of luck in caring for your cat with dementia. As always, if you have any suggestions, or you want support, why not let us know in the comments section below.
References & Further Reading
2006. Feline form of Alzheimer’s. University of St Andrews.
Bolter, H. 2016. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome. How to help older cats with dementia. VETcpd – Feline.
Cognitive Disfunction In Cats. Cornell Feline Health Center.
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. Ohio State University.
Cory, J. 2012. Identification and management of cognitive decline in companion animals and the comparisons with Alzheimer disease: A review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research
Laflamme, D. 2014. Nutrition of Aging Cats. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice
Pittari, J et al. 2009. American Association of Feline Practitioners. Senior Care Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery
Zhang, C et al. 2013. Morphological and Functional Alterations in Cerebral and Cerebellar Cortices of Old Cats. Journal of Animal & Plant Sciences
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