Many pet parents of seniors may be asking the question what is dementia in cats? If your vet has diagnosed the condition, or if you suspect your kitty is getting forgetful, this is something you should know about. In this post you’ll discover exactly what is dementia in cats, including signs to look out for and treatments. Most people associate dementia with elderly humans, but not pets!
You may have experienced dementia in an elderly family member and felt sad seeing his or her once active mind gradually deteriorate. Unfortunately, there’s still no cure despite advances in modern medicine, and the same applies to cats.
What is dementia?
Dementia isn’t a disease, but often linked to other illnesses including Alzheimer’s. In cats it’s known as cognitive dysfunction system, and normally related to aging. You may start to notice symptoms if your kitty is over 15 years old. Just like people though, not every cat will suffer, but research suggests one in ten will get the condition.
Dementia in cats has only been recognised in the past few years. This is partly down to modern diagnostic tools such as mri scanners. These were only used for diagnosing conditions in people up until a few years ago. Also, our pets are living longer than ever thanks to advances in medicine and better diet. Treatments for diseases that weren’t around before mean more cats no longer face euthanasia.
Common signs of cat dementia and when you should be concerned
Symptoms of dementia in cats are almost exactly the same as in people. The following signs may possibly indicate your cat is suffering from the condition, but you need to see your vet to confirm this. Some signs may be a result of other conditions or diseases which is why you must get your cat examined.
If your cat seems to get lost in familiar surroundings, or gets stuck in corners, this is a very common sign of dementia. I experienced this with my last cat who reached the very old age of 20! She would often walk into corners of the room and sit staring blankly at the walls. However, don’t just accept this as part of the ageing process. Even though 80% of cats over 17 will suffer to some degree, disorientation and confusion may also be the result of a brain tumour or other neurological condition.
Your cat changes how she interacts with you
If your once playful and outgoing kitty seems withdrawn and rejects being petted, you need to an eye on her. Also if she’s stopped interacting with other pets in the household and hides away on her own, this is another negative sign. Of course, the reverse may also be true, and your cat has become clingy.
Leaving your cat on her own all day while you’re at work may be something you feel bad about if she’s showing signs of dementia. If you can’t work from home you could consider leaving a radio on. This could make her feel less stressed if having the radio or tv on is part of your normal routine. It’s been suggested that cats prefer soothing classical music to heavy metal rock, but no cat has yet commented on that theory!!
Changes in your cat’s sleeping habits and cat dementia
While we all know our fur babies spend a lot of time sleeping, changes in sleeping habits may indicate something’s wrong. If your kitty normally sleeps most of the night, but has started waking you up at 2.0 am, this may just be typical cat behaviour. However, yowling and pacing as well indicates a problem. She may be feeling confused and fearful, and needs you to be next to her.
If you don’t want your kitty on the bed, leave a cosy cat basket on the floor, somewhere she can easily find it. Also, leave the bedroom door open, and install a nightlight. You can get plug in ones that automatically switch on at dusk. They give a very soft light that’s bright enough for your kitty, but won’t keep you awake.
Soiling outside the litter box
Having lived with a cat that suffered dementia in her final years, I would often find she’d soiled on the floor next to the litter box, and a few times on the bed. I knew it wasn’t her fault and accepted the behaviour as part of the condition.
Be prepared and stock up on cleaning materials! You can get sprays that neutralise bad odours, but always disinfect first. I found sprays to be effective, but if you want to avoid chemicals, try white vinegar. It’s a great disinfectant and cleaner.
Lack of self-grooming and dementia
A common sign of dementia in ageing cats is a lack of self-grooming. Cats are very fastidious animals and spend up to half their waking hours washing and grooming themselves. Often, cats with arthritis find it hard to groom due to poor mobility, but dementia can play a part as well. Long hair cats can suffer matts and tangles unless you spend time grooming your cat each day.
Just as elderly people with dementia suffer confusion so do cats. Meowing is her way of telling you she’s lost or wants reassurance. Some cats, like Siamese are naturally vocal, but if your normally quiet kitty has become very vocal, it’s a sign not to be ignored. Apart from needing to be reassured, she could also be in pain or suffering discomfort.
Other possible reasons for the change in your cat’s behaviour
All the signs mentioned here may be related to other health issues apart from dementia. As your cat is unable to talk, a series of tests will be carried out at the veterinary clinic.
Humans undergo memory tests, but of course this won’t work with a cat! Your vet may do an mri scan as well as blood and urine tests. Some symptoms may also be related to kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, brain tumours, and arthritis.
Sensory enrichment for cats with dementia.
Sensory enrichment means stimulating all of your cat’s five senses, and encouraging natural behaviours. Your kitty is highly intelligent and her basic needs in the wild would be to hunt for food and find shelter to rest. Stalking prey, and chasing are activities that can be encouraged through play.
This is important in keeping your cat’s brain sharp and prevent boredom. If your kitty has become prone to wandering off and getting lost outside, you’ll need to keep her indoors. All the more important to keep her active.
Food puzzle toys for cats to promote cognitive ability
Food puzzle toys for cats are a great way to encourage problem solving. If your cat has dementia, it will promote cognitive ability and help strengthen neural pathways. Food puzzles make your cat work to get food. Put her favourite treats inside and let her play with it.
You can make your own food puzzle or buy one, but either way, your cat will benefit. Make your own by cutting holes in the side of a box, place a few treats inside, and put a lid on top. Make sure your kitty can’t cheat by making it hard to remove. You can create holes of different sizes and shapes to make it harder.
Food puzzle toys for cats are ideal for indoor kitties. The interactive treat maze and puzzle feeder provides hours of fun and improves cognitive ability. One of the best food puzzle toys to encourage exercise as well, is PetSafe SlimCat Interactive Toy and Food Dispenser. It’s a ball with adjustable openings. You place small treats inside and let your cat chase it around the floor. This is also good for overweight pets as it gets them moving!
Viewing perches to stimulate your cat’s senses.
If your kitty is quite mobile and doesn’t suffer from arthritis, you could get a cat tree. Place near a window so your cat is able to perch and look outside. Watching birds and other wildlife from the safety of a viewing perch is like cat tv! It stimulates the senses and is great therapy.
If climbing is hard as your cat has stiff joints, you could place a comfy cushion on a windowsill. Provide steps for her to climb up and down. This could be a chair or large box. You can buy pet steps, but it’s often easy enough to improvise.
Social interaction as therapy for cats with dementia
Cats suffering dementia benefit from social interaction in a similar way to humans. Touch and the sound of your voice can be very stimulating. Brushing your cat gently and talking to her is great therapy. If your kitty has become withdrawn though, and no longer enjoys being handled, you need to tread carefully. She may not intend to hurt you, but may scratch out of confusion or frustration.
Always be aware of any areas of her body your cat hates being touched. This may be a result of painful joints, or dementia making her confused and seeing you as a threat! Allow normal interaction with other pets in the household, but be aware of any fights!
Scent as sensory enrichment for cats with dementia
Smell is a very powerful stimulant, especially for cats. Its around fourteen times greater than that of humans. It’s your cat’s primary sense when it comes to understanding the world around her. Sprinkling catnip on scratching posts, perches, or on toys, helps stimulate this vital sense. Plug in feliway diffusers create a calm atmosphere for your kitty. Many veterinary clinics have them installed in waiting areas to keep their patients calm!
Dementia in cats and making life easier
If your elderly cat shows signs of dementia she may well have mobility problems as well. One of the reasons your cat may be soiling outside the litter box is difficulty climbing in. Getting a box with a low side encourages your kitty to use it. Avoid changing your brand of litter as the new smell may confuse your cat.
Don’t move familiar items such as food bowls, beds, or litter boxes. A confused kitty with dementia will have problems finding them. Keep daily routine normal including feeding times.
The power of turmeric in the fight against feline dementia
The healing power of turmeric has long been recognised in humans, and now many veterinarians are recommending it for our pets as well. Curcumin a compound found in turmeric is a powerful antioxidant, with numerous health benefits. It’s been shown to help inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, and may also benefit dementia.
You can buy turmeric as a supplement, but only get those made for pets. It can take at least a few months before you’d notice any difference, and there’s no guarantee it will help your cat.
Can you prevent dementia in cats?
While there’s no cure for dementia in cats or humans, you can take steps to try and prevent it. There’s no guarantee any of them will work as an aging brain is very complex. However, making sure your cat has a healthy diet, plenty of mental stimulation, and exercise are the best ways to try and stop dementia developing. As in people, genes may play a part, and there’s nothing you can do about that.
How long can my cat live with dementia?
There’s no cure for dementia, and it’s a progressive condition. However, many cats with dementia can still live long and happy lives. As it’s mostly diagnosed in cats over 15, they’re already considered geriatric. A few more years is a bonus anyway.
So now you know what is dementia in cats and signs to look for, you can be prepared! As I mentioned, not every cat will suffer from the condition, and some will stay healthy into old age. Your vet will advise you though, and prescribe any necessary medication.
In this post you learnt exactly what is dementia in cats and many common signs to watch for. We also looked at stimulating your cat’s senses to help manage the condition. Looking after an aging cat can be very rewarding, but challenging as well! As a cat parent who’s experienced this, I can only say the unconditional love you get back from your kitty is well worth the effort and extra work!
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Wishing you a purrfect day:)