Believe it or not, our feline friends can suffer from dementia as they get older. Feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome (a.k.a. CDS), which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia in humans, usually affects cats who are over 10 years old. Little research has been done about cat dementia, so we don’t know exactly how many cats suffer from it, but there are about 2 million cats in the United States over the age of 10, and all of those cats are potentially at risk.
Signs of Dementia in Cats
Although cats with CDS might not lose their car keys or forget their doctor’s appointments, they will exhibit other signs of cognitive decline. “Howling at night and urinating outside the litterbox are the two most common complaints that could be possibly attributed to dementia in cats, but there are also changes in anxiety, sleeping more than they should be sleeping, confusion and lack of interaction with the owners,” says Lisa Radosta, D.V.M., Dipl. ACVB, of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The problem, however, is that all of these signs could also be due to other common cat ailments like hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, bladder disease or arthritis, just to name a few. To reach a definitive diagnosis of cat dementia, your veterinarian will do a complete physical exam and most likely suggest blood work, a urinalysis and possibly X-rays to rule out other physical diseases that could be causing your cat’s symptoms. If no issues are seen based on the findings of those tests, and if your cat is 10 or older and showing at least two clinical signs consistent with dementia, your vet might conclude that it’s CDS.
What to Do if Your Cat Has Dementia
Like dementia in humans, there is no cure for dementia in cats, but there are things you can do to slow the progression of the disease and improve your cat’s quality of life. First, talk to your veterinarian about the various supplements that support brain health, like vitamin B12 and SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine). “SAMe has been shown in older kitties to increase cognitive function,” Dr. Radosta says. “They could solve problems better after they took it for two months.”
Dr. Radosta also recommends a nutritional supplement called Senilife (Ceva Animal Health), which contains several brain-supporting ingredients, including ginko biloba, vitamin E and a phospholipid membrane stabilizer. “Think of plastic wrap around a sub sandwich, that’s like the phospholipid membrane around the nerves in your brain,” she explains. “When that plastic wrap gets a hole in it, the food spoils. Well, when the phospholipid membrane gets old and everything starts to age, we start to see degeneration of those nerves.”
Keeping Your Cat Active and Happy Can Help Ward Off Cat Dementia
In addition to giving your cat supplements that support brain health, you can improve cognitive function by providing daily enrichment opportunities at home. “What we know about dogs, and what we suspect about cats but aren’t completely sure because no one has done the research, is that if you keep the brain active, the brain stays young,” Dr. Radosta states. “Enrichment is a big deal for cats. Keeping cats happy is really important, and keeping them enriched as elderly cats will help to stave off the progression of CDS.”
Cats, especially indoor cats, can get really bored. Encourage them to exercise their brains by providing toys, games, activities and treats. “Think about the senses,” Dr. Radosta says. “Things they can smell like catnip and things they can eat like different kinds of treats. Things they can chew on like cat grass. Things they can hear, for instance, letting them out on a screened-in porch or lanai or how about some music? Finally, think about what they can see and what they can touch.” Different cat scratchers, elevated cat trees and perches with views, interactive toys and fun play sessions with you will all help your cat use her brain and keep it in tip-top shape.
Can You Prevent Cat Dementia in the First Place?
Even if your senior cat is not currently exhibiting symptoms of dementia, think about taking some steps now to stave off future cognitive decline. “Supporting brain health is really important,” Dr. Radosta advises. “I want people to be thinking about enriching their cat’s life and supporting brain health as soon as they’re 10.”
Thumbnail: Photography ©hrabar | Thinkstock.
Read more about senior cats on Catster.com:
- November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month
- Senior Cat Food Issues: My Cat Won’t Eat, Is She Suffering?
- 5 Reasons to Adopt a Senior Cat
Plus, is human dementia hereditary? Check out this article from University Health News >>
20 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss Cat Dementia — Is Your Cat at Risk?”
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Our cat is 16 to 17 years old. She has recently started waking us up at night – loudly meowing, until one of us gets up to see what she needs. Food is full, water is full – sometimes she wants out, most of the time she doesn’t. She’ll just walk into the living room and sit down, staring at us. Some nights this happens two or three times. It’s almost like she is lonely – there’s always activity in the house during the day, and she id fine – actually sleeps a good bit of the day. Do you have any suggestions?
We are having the exact same problem with our cat. Have you had any success?
Us too with our 14 YO. I think he forgets where he is, and where we are… We are his 3rd family
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We had acat that lived to be 26 yrs old. He went through dementia for two years before dying with a cyst that grew on his side and we just couldn’t put him through an operation. He also took blood pressure meds every day for years. He became so feeble he shook when he walked. He forgot where the litter box was and we put his litter box where he went but he didn’t go the same places so it wasn’t feasible to do that. He would come out of one room, look around and cry, just like he was saying where am I? When you called out his name he would then come in and go to his favorite napping spot which was lying on his human dad. We knew after taking care of him we had to let him go. It was the hardest thing we had to do and both sat blubbering in his final minutes. We had lost many cats over the years. Most dying at about 18 yrs old. But none had presented us with the challenges this one had to reach a very old age for a cat.
Could I please ask if you ever found out what the cyst was ? And I think this was very rude of me to ask you this 1st. I’m so sorry. First and far most I want to let you know that you have or did a phenomenal loving job at taking care of your 20+ year old cat with all of the health issues. Me I love my cats with everything I have. I honor you for loving your cats the way you do. And yes I have lost many that I deeply lived too. Right now I have 2. One is 18. 1 is 15. Both are female. Majik is the oldest and Chic ‘ a pea is my youngest. Right now and for around 3 years majik seems to have a digestion problem. Most times when she eats she throws up. So I started feeding her suggested by my vet. Until I could no longer afford it. And it did help. She also howls in the middle of the night until I get up and love her and feed her again. My other has a cyst on her belly right next to her nipple. It started really tiny about two months ago any has of today it’s about the size of a nickel. I can’t afford to take her to the vet. Did you find out what the cyst was on your cat ? And she is very active and seems healthy.
With kind respect
You might find these articles useful on how to find affordable vet care:
My cat is 18.5 and I have him on Senilife for Beginning signs of Dementia and it has made a huge difference! I poke a hole in the capsule (for small dogs ) and transfer it into a size 1 gel capsule which it fits perfectly in and I use a pill gun to administer it to him. He gets a treat after. It took two weeks but all of his symptoms..meowing loudly for hours, staring at walls, getting himself stuck in corners, forgetting that he’s already just eaten- all gone! He also has stage 2 kidney disease which we manage at home with fluids with b12 every 4 days. I was considering putting him to sleep once the Dementia started happening as it was so sad and I didn’t want him to be suffering but I’m so glad I decided to give Senelife a try. Once it was on back order and it was without it for four days and some of his symptoms started to return but once on it again he is symptom free. I have a couple bottles in stock at all times.
My cat is als0 18 and in kidney failure. She hasn’t had any interest in playing with anything for at least 3 years, since her brother passed. I am afraid to give her anything besides her prescribed food except a little cat nip now and then. It makes me so sad. I’ve had her since the day she was born and my life really revolves around her. She was always so active, played fetch, was all over the place. I adopted a 50lb pit bull that she likes to boss around and brought back some life to her. She chases him around sometimes but thats about it.
I’m heartbroken to read about her depression after losing her brother! Happy to hear that the puppy is keeping her out of isolation. Cats are amazing.
I found your comments ref cat depression after losing a mate interesting. Having had cats all my life and losing my little friends in their very senior years (20+) I decided no more as I couldn’t bare their loss. However I live near woodlands and one day a very vocal tiny little face came into view and was starving. After a few visits she started to trust me and a few weeks later I realised she was with kitten. She produced 6 apparently I could not believe such a tiny almost a kitten herself could do this…needless to say she has been one of the most intelligent loving sensitive cats I have ever raised. A true companion she has the run of the use via cat flaps and enjoys the outdoors too. I have had the pleasure of her company for 6years now. 3years ago I resued a distressed male cat from the woods and they soon became friends. Unfortunately I found he had a tutor and I made that awful decision to allow him to sleep. It has been nearly 3 months now and Tinka my little friend is still missing (Tayla) and howling every part of the day and night with soulfull howls and blood curdling sounds is continually scratching the carpet in the corner of the room under the curtains. I am worried about her as there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong but wants me to touch her all the time even making sorrowful sounds. Has anyone any idea or experience to help me please? I’m sure it has nothing to do with her being Ferrel as she is so very domesticated.(my apologies for the War and Peace story)
This is timely. My cat, age 18 is in sharp cognitive decline and I’m exploring other options to try. The tricky part is balancing supplements safely with existing conditions. He’s CKD and diabetic. Cenelife btw, is for dogs.
Hi there! Senilife is actually for both cats and dogs: https://www.ceva.us/content/download/16798/321647/version/1/file/SEN%20Client%20Brochure.pdf