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Brain training for older cats

Charlie ShortTail1037 views
British shorthair cat plys with feather toy

Changes to your cat’s brain as they get older

As your older or senior cat ages changes take place in the brain:

  • Cats lose cells in the brain just as people do as they get older
  • Our feline friends can have memory problems and in some cases may get confused as they become more elderly
  • Learning takes longer but can still be achieved – again just as in older people

What can you do to help keep your older cat’s brain active and healthy?

Brain training for older cats involves keeping your cat free from boredom, stress and maintaining a good bond with your cat.

  • Older cats like a routine, it reassures them – for example, it can help to carry out play activities at the same times each day.
  • Give your cat a healthy diet and consider foods specifically formulated for older, senior cats and which contain antioxidants. Foods for older cats are also easier to eat and digest.
  • Continue to play with your cat, but shorter 5-minute sessions are probably long enough. Include two to three play sessions per day. If you can keep to the same times every day.
  • Introduce new toys to keep your cat interested. It is important to stimulate your cat’s brain with new experiences. Cats love bags and boxes of all sizes.ginger and white cat plays in a brown paper bag
  • Grooming your cat can give your older cat a feeling of wellbeing as you stimulate a part of their brain. Grooming also helps to maintain a great bond between you and your pet, as well as helping to keep your cat’s coat free from knots and loose fur.
  • Talk to your pet in a nice soft voice this can help to make your cat feel reassured and safe – important for older cats. The happier your cat the more likely they are to play and eat well.
  • Keep food and water in the same place so your cat does not become confused. Help your cat’s memory by keeping the same location. Stress is bad for your cat’s brain.
  • If your cat has access to outside areas encourage him or her to accompany you when you do jobs, such as gardening or hanging out washing. Your cat can get stimulus, maintain a regular mental map of where and how to get to different areas. Fresh air is also good for your cat.
  • If your cat has a covered outdoor area provide a scratching post, toys and a tower or raised area, as well as somewhere to hideaway.
  • Keep your cat interested – boredom is bad for the brain.
  • Toys – rods with feathers, ribbons or furry bits dangling can be ideal. Move the stick slowly to stimulate your cat to chase the pretend prey. Do not touch your cat with the stick –  prey would not naturally approach your cat! Mimicking prey with a wiggling, slow movement can encourage your cat to stalk, pounce and chase the pretend prey. Great for the brain as well as useful physical exercise. Remember to let your cat catch the prey sometimes or he or she will just get frustrated.
  • Interactive play toys work really well but you can also use online cat TV of birds, mice and other wildlife. You should offer a play session along with this so the cat does not feel frustration at not being able to find or catch prey on screen.
  • Ball and toys to bat around are also great for your cat. Toys with added catnip may also help to stimulate play.black and white cats plays with toy mouse
  • Puzzle feeders can be great as they provide a challenge with a nice reward. You could make your own using a small cardboard box with holes cut out.

How do cats learn?

Cats originally learn by watching and observing their mothers and they can learn from you too. This requires patience and especially so in older, senior cats. Remember cats do not learn in the same way as dogs, although food rewards still work well. Be consistent, never shout or raise your voice at your cat this will only cause your cat stress and may result in fear or aggression. The key is repetition – repeat an exercise several times a day, keeping the sessions no more than a few minutes long. Only try to teach your cat when they show interest in what you are doing; always reward success with a food treat. Be patient at all times.

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Brain facts

  • Messages move through your cats brain super quickly
  • There are 300 million neurons in your cat’s brain (dogs have 160 million)
  • The cat’s brain needs 20% of the blood pumped from the heart – the brain needs a lot of energy
  • Our cats have great observation skills – try moving a ball between paper cups and see who wins!
  • Our felines have a well developed long term memories.
  • The brain is just less than 1% of the cat’s body mass, in humans, it is just over 2%.

Cats are clever and have superior brains

Cats can:

  • remember mind maps of quite large territories
  • can understand and predict the behaviour of other animals
  • know, learn and remember new skills and have great physical dexterity and can use fine motor skills to control the muscles in their paws. They use the paws to discover, manipulate and hunt as well as show affection.ginger and tabby cat cuddling up in bed
  • Have learnt to interact using their voice with humans.
  • Can solve problems such as opening doors and cupboards, windows and latches.
  • Can learn through observation.
  • A cat can understand pointing gestures, such as showing where food is.
  • Understand mechanics – movement and forces.

What does an elderly cat need?

  • A good diet
  • Company and love
  • A calm and secure environment
  • Freedom from paintabby cat

Older cats can suffer from:

  • Deafness
  • Memory problems
  • Arthritis and stiff joints

However, with love and care cats can live happily to a long age.

Memory and other problems in older cats and some simple solutions

  • If your cat appears to forget or cannot find the litter tray – keep the litter tray in the same location and put an additional tray near where your cat sleeps. Also, remember that each cat should have its own litter tray. If your cat has joint problems or reduced mobility make sure the litter tray has shallow sides so the cat does not need to jump. If your cat is prowling around looking as though he or she needs a wee gently guide your cat to the litter tray. Make sure the litter tray is not too far away or too hidden for your cat to find. Check your cat does not have any urinary problems common in elderly and senior cats.

To read more about the care of older cats you may like:

What to expect as your cat gets older

Dementia in older cats, symptoms, care and treatment

Charlie says:

the big meow by Charlie Shorttail

  • Older cats make loyal and loving companions.
  • Senior cats are often best suited to quieter homes.
  • Elderly cats may prefer to be an only pet.
  • Always take your cat for regular check-ups at the vets so any problems can be picked up early on.