It may surprise cat caretakers/guardians that a study conducted in 2003 by a private American veterinary hospital found that 43% of cats over the age of 11 exhibited signs that were consistent with “cognitive dysfunction”. That phrase means dementia in layman’s terms.
Although some of these cats had other medical conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disorders, which may have compounded the signs of cognitive dysfunction, even removing that section of the cat population from the findings we still have one third (33%) of cats over 11 years showing signs consistent with dementia.
If we look at cats over the age of 15 the percentage of individuals affected by cognitive dysfunction rises to 48%. Cats in this group exhibited more signs of cognitive dysfunction than cats aged between 11 and 14 years.
The figures are high. They may be surprisingly high to some people. When we bear in mind that a cat of 11 years of age still has, quite possibly, 5 to 10 years of life ahead of him then concerned cat owners need to be aware that there will be subtle behavioural changes in their cat which can be put down to cognitive dysfunction when their cat becomes older. I’m not sure that people are fully aware of this or if they are do they give it enough emphasis with respect to their caretaking?
In my experience a cat with cognitive dysfunction may develop erratic habits or perhaps howl at night in seeking attention partly because of confusion. A cat may wander around aimlessly or have altered sleeping habits. She may develop poor toilet habits and become disorientated. Grooming can become less effective. A cat with dementia may also demonstrate altered social relationships, altered levels of activity, signs of anxiety, restlessness and spatial disorientation.
What should a cat caretaker do differently if their cat has feline dementia even at an early stage? Well, I think that the best course of action is to ensure that the routines in their life are maintained which will reassure them. For example, key objects such as furniture, litter tray and food bowls should not be moved to make sure that the patient is able to more easily navigate their way around the house. With respect to howling or crying out at night it has been suggested that leaving a light on may reassure the cat as she will be more able to recognise where she is.
It goes without saying that an elderly cat with dementia usually self-grooms less effectively. Under these circumstances, it is obviously very helpful to groom your cat on a regular basis. Veterinarian may be able to provide further advice and a prescription. There is a drug prescribed for humans used for the treatment of early-stage Parkinson’s disease, depression and dementia. It is called Selegiline. Apparently veterinarians sometimes prescribe this drug for cats at the appropriate dose. Veterinary advice should be sought. My personal thoughts about prescribing a drug such as this is that it is unsuitable. The best thing to do is simply look after your cat more carefully and reassure him or her.
A sensitivity by the cat owner to the possibility of cognitive dysfunction in their cat will allow him/her to make adjustments to make sure that their cat is content.
This short article is really about raising awareness to the very distinct possibility that a cat over 11 years of age may have early stages of dementia.
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P.S. The study referred to involved 152 cats and was conducted by Landsberg et al 2003b