What happens when a cat goes senile?

What happens when a cat go senile? This is a reasonable question because the changes in behavior can be quite subtle. Diagnosis can be tricky especially for the cat owner.

Geriatric cat
Geriatric cat
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Difficult diagnostically

I believe that we have to be careful that we do not confuse senility with the perceived quirkiness of domestic cat behavior. Also there is a slight disconnect in terms of communication between cats and human in any case. We tend to project our thoughts onto our cat. There’s quite a lot of guessing sometimes as to what our cat is saying or thinking. These present barriers to deciding whether your cat is senile or not.

Secondly, in this article we are speaking about brain function. We are not discussing any other anatomical or physical changes due to old age such as arthritis.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Professionals probably tend to call feline senility ‘Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome’. It is a well-known syndrome in geriatric dogs. The condition is similar to that found in elderly people. The geriatric cat who is senile may have memory problems, forget usual behaviors, lose some awareness of his surroundings and demonstrate confusion.

Forgetting behaviors can include unlearning how to use the litter box, for example. Of course this is where complications arise because there are other reasons why a cat may misuse or stop using their litter box. You have to be careful when diagnosing feline senility.

My Cat

Personally, I feel that a female cat that I lived with and who died at a good age of 18 became somewhat senile at the end of her life. She howled at night indicating that she was confused. The confusion was perhaps exacerbated by the fact that I wasn’t around because I was sleeping. There was silence and nothing was happening. She wanted company and to be reassured. So she howled.

Some More Symptoms

Some cats will sleep less at night or walk around crying as if they are lost. They may be disorientated and feel lost. They may pace. This sort of spatial disorientation may be apparent in up to 40% of cats from 16 to 20 years of age. My cat looked at me as if she was confused.

An elderly cat may also become cranky and irritable. They may become less tolerant of extremes of heat and cold and seek warm spots and sleep for longer periods. These changes do not necessarily point to cognitive dysfunction syndrome but may be due to physical ailments. I’m referring to diminishing senses combined with stiffness and muscular weakness. Deprived of these usually excellent traits a cat might withdraw and start compulsive self-grooming.

Bad Coat Due to Stiffness?

A bad coat because it has not been groomed by the cat is not necessarily linked to feline senility. It may be but it may be caused by stiffness and perhaps depression.


I’m sure that cat owners want some sort of definitive way to diagnose senility in domestic cats. There probably isn’t an answer but I would have thought that confusion due to a loss of some awareness of her surroundings together with howling at night might be good pointers.


There appears to be a drug on the market for treating feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome which is L-deprenyl or Anipryl. This is available in the USA. In 1995 it was used “off label” in some cats beneficially. It apparently increases the action of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in the hope that it may help older cats deal with cognitive dysfunction.

P.S. My love to the cat in the photo. I think he was euthanized in a shelter. If it exists, may be happy over the rainbow bridge.

3 thoughts on “What happens when a cat goes senile?”

  1. My old dog had this problem than he got really sick I knew it was time for his long nap now my 16 old cat is going threw the same thing I just love her hold her talk etc so her mind settles down some evening or the worst will keep her safe and secure tell I think she needs to go for her long nap journey thanks great article need more about cats nancyb

    • Thanks Nancy. It is a tough time when your cat reaches the time when she has to go on that ‘long nap’. I wish you the best of luck.

  2. I will love and care for my cats as they age with compassion for their physical and mental needs and only choose to end their life if it’s become unbearable for them not just an inconvenience for me.


Leave a Comment

follow it link and logo