What Are the Signs of Dementia in Cats?

The meanest trick the devil ever pulled was making pets' life spans shorter than their humans. It's the furthest thing from fair, but it's something we all have to deal with, along with the declining health of our pets as they age. One of the more common health conditions of senior cats is dementia.

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Feline dementia, or cognitive dysfunction syndrome

Feline senile dementia (commonly known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or CDS), can occur in senior cats as their brains age. This condition effects their memory, repsonsiveness, awareness, and learning abilities. Typically a cat is diagnosed with CDS after the age of 15.

Studies have found that 28 percent of cats ages 11 to 14 years exhibit at least one symptom of dementia. For cats 15 years and older, that number jumps to 50 percent. So now that you know the likelihood, the question is how can you tell if your cat is suffering from this condition?

Symptoms of feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome

There are 5 main symptoms that your vet will want you to look out for. They include: disorientation, changes in interaction, changes in sleep patterns, soiling outside the litter box, and chages in activity level.

Disorientation: Your cat may seem confused and have difficulty navigating around familiar settings. You might see him wandering around aimlessly, a general loss of spatial awareness, and/or confusion locating their food/water bowls and litter box.

Interaction Changes: Your cat's social temperament may change. If he was a friendly cat who liked being petted and sitting on your lap, he may now keep to himeself. Or your formerly introverted cat may now become more of a snuggler. The same is true for their interaction with the other pets in the house.

Sleep Changes: Your cat may be displaying different sleeping patterns. This condition can create both lethargy and insomnia.

House Soiling: Your cat could start to miss the litter box or not make an efford to get to the litter box entirely. This could be a symptom of confusion or incontinence.

Himalayan/Ragdoll Cat looking towards the window - head shot
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Activity Changes: Much like your cat's interaction with you, your cat may become uninterested in normal activities such as eating, grooming, and exploring around the house. They may show behavior like restlessness, irritability, and anxiety.

Diagnosing and treating feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome

Confirm with your veterinarian, as many of the symptoms of cat dementia can also be symptoms of behavioral problems or medical conditions.

The bad news is that there is no cure to this disease and it is progressive, meaning it will get worse over time. But the good news is that there are several treatments that have been shown to slow down this disease and improve your cat's day-to-day life. They include: enrichment activities, medications, and diet change.

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Enrichment Activities: Giving your cat new toys, ways to exercise, and training can help to improve your cat's memory and cognizance. Obviously, avoid extreme changes to your cat's environment or routine because that could result in further confusion and disorientation, but a new climbing post could do him some good.

Medications: Talk to your vet about pyschoactive drugs that can improve your cat's brain function. Anipryl is one of these drugs, and it is most often used to treat dogs with dementia. But, The American Association of Feline Practitioners supports its use on cats who have been diagnosed with dementia by a veterinarian.

Diet Change: Your veterinarian will be able to provide recommendations for foods and dietary supplements that promote brain health. They will most likely include the following: antioxidants, vitamins C and E, beta carotene, carnitine, carotenoids, Omega-3, flavonoids, and selenium. Studies have show these ingredients are great for cognitive function.

Overall, feline dementia is a bummer but hopefully it helps to know you are not alone and there are steps you can take to help delay the progression.