Dementia In Cats: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Thanks to the advent of modern medicine, cats are living longer than ever. One of the challenges that comes with being the guardian of an elderly feline companion is feline cognitive dysfunction, otherwise known as feline dementia.

Similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, feline cognitive dysfunction can cause senior cats to experience disorientation, cognitive decline, disruption of the regular sleep-wake cycle, changes in social interaction, and more.

If you are caring for an aging cat, then here is everything you need to known about feline dementia.

How Common Is Dementia In Cats?

This is a hard question to answer because the diagnosis of feline dementia is relatively new in veterinary medicine. The condition is likely more common than we realize because it is not often reported nor recognized by cat owners.

In addition, several other health conditions, including advanced kidney disease and hyperthyroidism, can mimic the signs of feline cognitive dysfunction, making it difficult to recognize the disease.

What Are The Symptoms Of Dementia In Cats?

Ragged cat dementia symptoms

Signs that your cat has dementia include confusion, house soiling, reduced grooming, and other changes in behavior.

Dementia is associated with older cats. Mental impairment is usually noticed in cats older than 10, and feline dementia is usually seen in cats advanced in age – 15 years and older.

The most common signs associated with feline dementia are changes in behavior and mental abilities. Signs of dementia may include:

  • Appearing confused and trapped in corners
  • House soiling: inappropriate urination or defecation outside the litter tray
  • Being asleep and awake at different times
  • Increased vocalization in the form of meowing or yowling vocalizing
  • Increased matting and grooming less
  • Decreased responsiveness
  • Increased fearfulness or aggression, hiding more
  • Not enjoying activities, like playing, pouncing, or hunting like they used to
  • Forgetting any previous training
  • Sleeping more
  • Pacing or wandering aimlessly, getting lost
  • Weight loss and/or loss of appetite

Cat Dementia Diagnosis

Dementia in Cats

Dementia in cats is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that your veterinarian will determine that your cat has dementia after ruling out other conditions that might cause their symptoms.

Feline dementia is a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’, i.e. a veterinarian will rule out any other diseases that could cause similar signs. If all other problems are ruled out, then diagnosing feline dementia is applied.

As previously stated, conditions like hyperthyroidism can mimic the signs of feline dementia. Conditions like osteoarthritis, diabetes mellitus, deafness, blindness, Cushing’s syndrome, advanced kidney disease, cancer, and heart disease can also cause signs that are similar to feline dementia.

Consequently, your veterinarian will want to take an oral history from you, conduct a full physical exam, and run appropriate tests. Depending on what your veterinarian notices on the physical exam, testing could include bloodwork, urine tests, and fecal exams.

Additional tests may be ordered if your vet finds a specific problem. Additional tests can include x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, biopsy of the affected organ, or referral to a ophthalmologist, neurologist, or other specialist.

Cat Dementia Treatment

Feline dementia treatment

There is no treatment for dementia, but you can help to make life easier for your cat and potentially slow the disease’s progression.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for feline dementia. However, there are many things you can do to potentially slow the progression, and there are ways to modify your cat’s environment to maximize your cat’s health, well-being, and cognitive abilities.

1. Engage your cat in mental and physical stimulation

To maintain top brain function, you must use it or lose it. Enrichment is an important part of geriatric cat health. Make sure to play with your cat every day, and engage your cat with brain teaser games.

Food puzzles are a wonderful way to get cats to use their brains, you can buy them readymade or you can make them yourself. If your cat will tolerate a leash, take your cat on short walks so that your cat can have safe, outdoor visual and physical stimulation.

These activities will help keep your cat’s brain young.

2. Feed your cat’s brain with good nutrition

Purina has found that cats that are fed a diet containing omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, B vitamins, and arginine did better on mental tests of learning, mental flexibility and memory. Feed your cat a high quality, easily digestible senior diet formulated to meet the needs of aging cats.

Living With Cat Dementia

Living with dementia in cats

If your cat has dementia, it can be helpful to make some adjustments to their environment.

There are a couple of rules that will facilitate living with a cat with cognitive impairment.

1. Try not to move your cat’s stuff

If you move your cat’s food bowl or water bowls and litterbox, chances are they may not find it again. Maintaining this structure will reduce stress and anxiety and help your cat to be more successful.

2. Provide a peaceful environment for geriatric cats:

Cats with cognitive dysfunction may have higher anxiety than other cats. Try not to add a new pet to your household if you have an aging cat with health issues.

You can also help your cat by minimizing traffic and noise in your home, not moving furniture, and not having large gatherings of people (if you do, make sure your cat is in a quiet, safe area of the house). using Feliway products designed to reduce anxiety may also help cats with cognitive dysfunction.

3. Maintain regular veterinary checkups:

Older cats need regular care to continue to age well. Veterinary medicine is advancing rapidly in the field of geriatric medicine, and you may be surprised at how well your vet can help your pet.

There is no doubt: cats with dementia represent special needs cats. We know, however, that there is great reward in caring for the least of these, even if it is ‘just a cat’.

While your furry angel may require you to make a couple of accommodations, there is no doubt the reward of helping a cat live well into advanced age is great. Don’t forget to enlist the aid of a veterinary ally you trust: this person will have the knowledge you need to make the best decisions for your cat.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of dementia in cats?

Symptoms of feline dementia include appearing confused and trapped in corner, inappropriate urination or defecation outside the litter tray, being asleep and awake at different times, increased vocalization in the form of meowing or yowling vocalizing, increased matting and grooming less, decreased responsiveness, increased fearfulness or aggression, hiding more, not enjoying activities previously engaged, such as playing, pouncing, or hunting, forgetting any previous training, sleeping more, or pacing or wandering aimlessly or getting lost. Weight loss and loss of appetite can also be associated with feline dementia.

How do you know if your senior cat has dementia?

Feline dementia usually causes behavioral changes. Symptoms of feline dementia include appearing confused and trapped in corner, inappropriate urination or defecation outside the litter tray, being asleep and awake at different times, increased vocalization in the form of meowing or yowling vocalizing, increased matting and grooming less, decreased responsiveness, increased fearfulness or aggression, hiding more, not enjoying activities previously engaged, such as playing, pouncing, or hunting, forgetting any previous training, sleeping more, or pacing or wandering aimlessly or getting lost. Weight loss and loss of appetite can also be associated with feline dementia. If you suspect your cat has feline dementia, consult with your veterinarian.

Why does my elderly cat yowl?

Elderly cats can yowl for a variety of reasons. Feline hyperthyroidism, a hormonal condition, is a common cause. Feline dementia is another cause. If your elderly cat is yowling excessively, consult with your veterinarian.

Can cats give you dementia?

While cats can have a feline version of dementia, they cannot give you dementia. They might drive you crazy with their demands, but they cannot officially give you dementia.

About Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ

A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well known international speaker in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has 10 years experience in public speaking and media work, and writes for a large number of online and print animal health publications. Dr. Wooten is also a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice. To learn more, visit drsarahwooten.com.

One thought on “Dementia In Cats: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

  1. Christine G

    I’m about 99% sure one of our older cats has what in people is called Sun Downers. After dark he wanders the house and meows like he’s looking for someone. He’s also very aggressive with litter-mate. They are both neutered males and have lived together their entire lives. He will try to mount his brother, as a sign of dominance.

    One day while trying to look at his chin (they are both prone to acne) he was fighting me a little and his neck popped. Now I’ve been adjusting people’s necks and backs since I was a teenage. But cats!!?! So I went onto youtube and 3 hours later climbed out of the rabbit hole. I felt confident enough to adjust his neck, but still haven’t tried his back since that is a total different thing than humans.

    After adjusting his neck at least once or twice a day, after a week, we noticed he wasn’t doing the evening wandering and he wasn’t as aggressive towards his brother. I was sick after a month or so and didn’t get to adjust him, and we noticed within a week, he was going back to his previous behaviors.

    It doesn’t hurt him, he doesn’t run from me and right afterwards, he just shakes his head, just like he does when I have to handle his head to clean his ears or such.

    I wish study could be done on humans to see if the same would work for us.

    Reply

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