Dementia in older cats – symptoms, care and treatment
Dementia in older cats is becoming more common as our pets live longer
Cat dementia (feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome)
As cats start to reach an old age they often become susceptible to both mental and physical problems.
Physical changes can be easier to spot; however mental changes may be a little less obvious.
A cat becomes a senior citizen around the age of 11 or 12 years.
Although older cats don’t get Alzheimer’s disease as such, they can suffer from feline dementia, also known as feline cognitive dysfunction (CDS).
Advancing age in cats often leads to more diseases and disorders, although cats are generally healthier than dogs.
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (dementia) is a condition that is directly related to the ageing of a cat’s brain.
When the brain is not working normally this can lead to changes in awareness of the surroundings, problems in learning and memory, and decreased responsiveness to stimuli – such as play and interaction with the family. Although the initial symptoms of the disorder are mild, they gradually worsen over time, also known as “cognitive decline.”
Symptoms of dementia in senior/ ageing cats
Your cat may have some or most of these symptoms if he or she is suffering from dementia.
- Confusion or disorientation
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Increased irritability
- Change in personality or character
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Less desire to play
- Slow to learn new tasks
- Inability to follow familiar routines
- Getting lost
- Lack of self-grooming
- Faecal and urinary incontinence
- Apparent disregard for previously learned house rules
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive licking
According to an article in the Telegraph newspaper “By Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent (2008)
“Conditions like Alzheimer’s are becoming increasingly common and now affect one million felines.
Vets have reported seeing an increase of cases but fear that many owners do not pick up on the symptoms because they do not associate the condition with their pets.
As in humans, dementia leaves the animals confused and distressed. The progressive condition, caused by degeneration of the brain, can cause them to get lost more often or become reclusive.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh now believe half of all cats over the age of 15 and a quarter aged 11 to 14, are suffering from “geriatric onset behavioural problems”.
Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore, professor of feline medicine at the university, said: “When we look at cats of all ages, we believe about 10 per cent will be affected, which represents about one million cats in Britain.”
Why are cats getting Dementia?
Just like people cats are living longer, and, as in people they have better diets and have better medical care than in the past so are reaching longer lifespans.
The longer we or cats live the higher the risk of suffering from dementia.
Cats with dementia show the same amyloid protein present in their brains as is found in human dementia suffers. Symptoms may be mild or more concerning.
What are amyloid proteins?
Amyloid proteins and dementia:
Plaques form when protein pieces called beta-amyloid clump together.
Beta-amyloid comes from a larger protein found in the fatty membrane surrounding nerve cells. Beta-amyloid is chemically “sticky” and gradually builds up into plaques.
The most damaging form of beta-amyloid may be groups of a few pieces rather than the plaques themselves. The small clumps may block cell-to-cell signalling at synapses. They may also activate immune system cells that trigger inflammation and devour disabled cells.
Source: Alzheimer’s Association
What age might cats get dementia?
Just as in people, old age in cats doesn’t always mean dementia.
Cats between ages 11 and 14 may show some signs of cognitive dysfunction – changes in behaviour or personality.
In cats 15 and older it is much more common.
However, some medical conditions or behavioural problems unrelated to dementia might show the same signs as dementia, so your vet must exclude these possibilities beforehand.
Symptoms of dementia in senior/ ageing cats
Confusion or disorientation in ageing cats
Is your cat may be behaving oddly?
Does your cat seem disoriented or confused? just like people, cats with dementia may not understand familiar settings or may start to get lost when they go out. Your cat may start to stay indoors more.
Is she/ he behaving strangely – staring at walls, forgetting there is food in the dish or perhaps interacting differently with a cat mate that she or he knows well?
Does your cat appear to forget where familiar things are – the cat flap, litter tray, food for instance; this can all lead to stress for your cat.
Is your cat pacing around, wandering aimlessly, staring at a wall for no apparent reason?
Your cat may also demand a lot more attention to try to alleviate feelings of anxiety.
Change in personality
A cat’s personality could change from sweet, friendly and loving to become more aggressive, less likely to want to be cuddled or just plain grumpy.
Cats that usually like to cuddle up or love being stroked tend to keep this behaviour throughout their lives. Therefore if your older cat begins to back away from being stroked and starts to become easily irritated, then this may be a sign of cognitive deterioration; with severe cases of dementia a cat may, at times, not recognise you.
Loud meowing and howling behaviour in old cats
Is your cat meowing or howling a lot for no particular reason?
Loud crying at night may be a possible indication of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).
Altered sleeping patterns
Instead of sleeping most of the night, your cat may be wandering around the house, often meowing.
Is your cat aimlessly wandering around your home?
Does your cat seem unsettled at night?
Has their usual routine changed?
Loss of appetite
Cats suffering from senile dementia may “forget” to eat. Of course, there are many reasons why a cat could have a decrease in appetite or discontinue eating all together.
You will need to take your cat to see a vet to have other physical problems rules out first.
Not going out/ getting lost
If you have had to go out to find your cat, or neighbours are finding your cat you may be wise to keep your cat confined to your own garden (cat run) or home.
Your cat may alternately be unwilling to go out.
A word of caution though – your cat may just be getting lazier or less tolerant of cold weather; arthritis or joint problems might discourage your cat from outdoor adventures. Kidney disease, brain tumours, deafness and blindness can also cause similar symptoms.
Always consult your vet for advice.
Your cat may urinate or defecate outside of their litter box or exhibit incontinence.
Your cat may be having accidents outside of the litter box, or even just relieving him or herself wherever the cat happens to be such as on a bed or near food areas.
Your cat may forget where the litter tray is; you may need to provide more than one, especially if your cat has access to more than one floor level.
Lack of grooming/ excessive licking.
Your cat may no longer wash and groom him or herself well.
Try to brush your cat each day to help keep their coat in good condition. Brushing may also help maintain a good bond with your cat.
Excessive licking can be a sign of anxiety and stress.
What can I do to help my cat – care of cats with dementia.
If your cat does have dementia, you can do some things to make life easier for him or her and your family.
- Feeding your cat – stick to a regular routine so they know what to expect and when.
- Increase the number of food bowls, water dishes and litter trays to make them more accessible from wherever the cat may be in the house.
- Litter trays should be wide with shallow rims to allow easier access. Keep more than one litter tray if your cats has problems finding the tray.
- Try to keep their environment unchanged (especially for those cats who may also be blind or deaf) as change creates confusion, which in turn increases anxiety and stress.
- If changes do need to be made, try to introduce them slowly and gradually.
- If you have visitors your cat may feel safer being in a different room.
- A Pet Remedy plug-in or spray can help an anxious cat cope with daily life.
- Provide several nicely padded and comfortable resting/hiding places throughout the house and again make them easy for your cat to get to.
- Give your cat the attention and reassurance they seek, but do not fuss too much as they also appreciate time to themselves.
- Like people, cats need to be stimulated to keep using their brains- play games with your cat, this will also help to keep their impulses sharp. Activities can include new toys, exercise, and training for new skills – this can all help to improve your cat’s memory and brain function.
Getting the symptoms of dementia diagnosed in ageing cats
For a vet to diagnose dementia symptoms in cat, a full examination will be needed; this includes blood tests, X-rays, hormone level testing and urinalysis.
There is though, the possibility of good news in that your vet might discover a treatable condition, such as hyperthyroidism or diabetes.
Some of the dementia type symptoms might be caused by hearing or vision loss.
Treatment of dementia in cats (felines)
Medication for dementia
Your vet might prescribe medication which aids in combating cognitive dysfunction, such as psychoactive drugs.
Certain supplements, such as vitamin E capsules, might also help, as can prescription anti-anxiety medications.
Never attempt to diagnose or give over the counter medicines yourself – always consult a vet.
Do not buy drugs on the internet and administer them yourself as this could be dangerous for your cat.
Diet Change to help dementia
Your vet will be able to provide recommendations for foods and dietary supplements that promote brain health. They will most likely include the following ingredients, which are all great for cognitive function: antioxidants, vitamins C and E, beta carotene, carnitine, carotenoids, Omega-3, flavonoids, and selenium. As with all supplements the correct dosage is vital as too much of some vitamins can cause adverse reactions.
If you are concerned about your cat always seek professional help from your vet.
Charlie says we all love our old cats…