Boring indoor lifestyle may contribute to dementia in domestic cats

Cats and their owners need to keep active and mentally challenged in their old age.
Cats and their owners need to keep active and mentally challenged in their old age. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

I am going to stick my neck out in this short note on cat dementia. Yes, domestic cats can suffer from dementia just like their human caregivers. In fact, there’s a lot of similarities between cats and people in terms of their anatomy and physiology. There really is. It’s unsurprising as we are both mammals and in hundreds of millions of homes we live together contentedly!

So, what am I talking about? Well, what causes human dementia might cause cat dementia. Or least there will be an overlap in causes. Although we don’t know all the causes of dementia in humans, the experts say that Alzheimer’s is the cause 60% of the time but we don’t know the cause of Alzheimer’s other than it affects old people! Clearly brain function changes which indicates a change in the grey matter.

It seems to me that dementia in old people is just part of ageing. The muscles waste away and the grey matter degenerates. But we can do stuff to delay dementia or minimise it.

Lifestyle and dementia

Today there is an interesting article in The Times about a lifestyle factor which contributes to human dementia: sitting down for long periods during the day. The headline is ‘Dementia danger increases if you sit for over 10 hours’. A lot of old people sit for over 10 hours in the day.

The researchers looked at 50,000 adults older than 60 in the UK. Their research revealed that “People who sat for 15 hours a day were three times more likely to get dementia than those who sat for less than ten”.

Confined, under stimulated indoor cats

So, what about highly inactive domestic cats confined to the home all the time? All they can do is sit down all day and kill time. Might it be fair to suggest that full-time indoor cats living in a home without any mental stimulation are going to contract feline dementia faster than indoor/outdoor cats where their lifestyle is full of outdoor challenges despite the higher risk of injury? I am not suggesting that indoor cats are suddenly let outside. What I am suggesting is that their environment needs to be ‘catified’ to use the words of Jackson Galaxy – i.e. enriched.

I think that is a fair comment. It is all about mental stimulation. The brain needs to be exercised like the muscles. The same applies to cats. Sitting down for long periods also negatively impacts our digestive system and general metabolism.

Humans and their cats need to be more active in old age. The trouble is that humans are becoming less active as our lifestyles become more sophisticated. Home deliveries is one example.

The study I mention builds on earlier research on the importance of staying active to stave off dementia. Four in ten dementia cases in humans could be prevented through lifestyle changes including more activity, more mental challenges, less booze, less fags, less weight and so on.

Strip away all the human stuff such as alcohol and cigarettes and some of this advice applies to cats in my view.

P.S. High blood pressure also contributes to dementia in humans as per a study from the University of New South Wales. Obesity contributes to high blood pressure. An obesity epidemic afflicts both humans and cats in the West, the ‘rich countries’. Cats owners need to ensure that their cat maintains a healthy weight. There is no doubt in my mind that feline obesity contributes to dementia in cats too.

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