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Insight Into Cat Dementia

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senior orange tabby cat resting on the floor at home

Can cats get dementia or Alzheimer’s? Though these medical conditions are well known throughout human medicine, our feline friends can also be diagnosed with the cat-version of both. Known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), cats of any breed can be affected by cat dementia.

What Are the Signs of Dementia in Cats?

The symptoms of senile dementia in cats often appear gradually and even sometimes subtly, to the point that you may not notice any changes for a while. Because dementia occurs in older cats, some common symptoms often get mistaken for natural signs of aging

As your cat gets older and approaches the age of 10, some signs to keep an eye out for include:

  • Accidents in the house
  • Confusion
  • Excessive licking
  • Shortened temper
  • Losing interest in playing
  • Altered sleep schedule
  • Becoming more vocal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of grooming

As your cat continues to age, their symptoms will most likely become more noticeable, and they may even begin showing more symptoms overall.

If you recognize any of these new behaviors or habits in your feline friend, it’s essential that you begin to take notes of these changes and take them in for a check-up with their veterinarian as soon as possible. Dementia can be a little tricky to diagnose, particularly because many of its symptoms overlap with those of other health issues. This means that your veterinarian will need to run a few tests and may have you answer questions about recent changes in your cat’s health and behavior.

Throughout your cat’s life, it’s recommended that you take them for annual veterinary appointments. However, as your cat becomes older or begins developing some health conditions, it may be better to start biannual check-ups.

End-stage dementia in cats can be a difficult time for your cat and family. If your cat’s everyday quality of life has become negatively affected and they are having more bad days than good, it may be worthwhile to consider end-of-life decisions.

Cat Dementia Treatment

Even though there is currently no cure for feline dementia, many treatment options are available that can help slow your cat’s cognitive decline. Some recommended options include:

  • Change their diet. Even if your cat is not diagnosed with dementia, it is often beneficial for older cats to have their food switched over to a formula made specifically for senior cats. Before changing their food, talk with your veterinarian about recommended brands, meal sizes, and at what age you should make this switch. You may also want to inquire about some helpful tips for switching a cat’s food. Many felines can be persnickety about diet changes.
  • Provide a stimulating environment. Even as your cat gets older, providing them with an exciting environment and mental stimulation is as important as ever. Try moving their cat tower or bed close to a window so that they can observe the outside world. Some cat parents have even moved their bird feeders close to a window for prime viewing opportunities. You can also try switching out your cat’s toys for different ones every few months.
  • Encourage physical exercise. Our senior pets may move slower than they once used to but giving them opportunities to be physically active is crucial to keeping them healthy. Stopping exercise altogether can actually age our pals even faster. Just keep a closer eye on where your cat’s limit is and be careful that they don’t accidentally overdo it, especially if they are arthritic or stiffer in their older age.
  • Continue playing. Going hand in hand with providing your cat plenty of exercise is still giving them opportunities to play. To keep them interested, switch out toys every few months or buy them a type of toy they’ve never had before. There are additionally great tutorials online that can teach you how to make homemade toys and games that can provide your cat with mental and physical stimulation.
  • Create a routine. You and your feline friend may already have a daily routine, but if you don’t, creating a consistent schedule for your older cat can be quite beneficial. This can include waking up and going to bed at similar times each day—dementia can affect a cat’s sleeping schedule. Creating a routine can also include scheduling meals, playtime, and exercise at consistent times each day. Having a predictable daily routine can help lower your cat’s stress and anxiety levels.
  • Start supplements. You can begin giving your cat supplements even before they are given a dementia diagnosis—and continue supplements even if your cat never has dementia. If you believe that these added daily nutrients could be a smart choice for your cat, talk with your veterinarian about recommendations.

Treatment for a cat with cognitive dysfunction syndrome will typically continue for the rest of their life, though the exact treatment they receive can vary based on their age and their symptoms. With consistent treatment, though, you can make a world of difference, for the better, for your pal.

No matter what symptoms your cat begins showing with dementia, it’s crucial that you never give them human medications. There can be deadly consequences if your pet ingests medicine that isn’t prescribed for them.

How Long Does a Cat Live With Dementia?

Depending upon the age at which your cat is diagnosed with dementia, they could live 5-10 more years—each case can be different. That said, some felines may progress faster than others, and your health regimen for them may need to be altered as their symptoms change.

Making Your Cat Comfortable

With proper care and treatment, your cat can continue to live a happy and relatively normal life, even with a dementia diagnosis. Beyond medical options, you can make some lifestyle changes to help your best pal feel more comfortable as they continue to get older and their condition progresses.

  • No major changes. Confusion and disorientation are key symptoms of dementia. This means that keeping big life changes to a minimum is rather helpful for your cat’s sake. The list can include not adopting another pet, not moving to a new home, or rearranging furniture. Even small items like their food and water dish should stay in the same spot. Routine and consistency can help keep your pet at their happiest.
  • Provide extra beds. In their older age, cats can find harder surfaces, like the floor or wooden chairs, rather uncomfortable. Try providing your cat with a few extra beds or blankets on these tougher surfaces. Having a comfy resting place on each level can also be a nice gesture if you live in a multi-story home. This way, your cat can still have a cozy nap even if they can’t make it all the way back to their other bed.
  • More accessible litter boxes. Most cat parents keep their pet’s litter box hidden away in a closet, bathroom, or basement. Still, as your cat ages, their mobility can become restricted, and their bladder might not be what it used to be—another major symptom of dementia. In this case, it may be necessary to move their litter box to a more accessible location. If you live in a home with multiple levels, having a litter box on each floor may also be helpful. Depending on the box’s design, if there’s a tall lip or a lid, it could also be beneficial to purchase a new one that is easier for your cat to use.
  • Don’t leave them alone too long. Some felines may experience separation anxiety and not enjoy being alone, no matter their age. As your pal gets older and is possibly diagnosed with dementia, they may become more reliant on your company over time. If an instance occurs where you will be away from home for an extended time, it may be beneficial to have a friend or family member check on your cat and spend some time with them.

Our cats are so much more than just a pet—they are a cherished member of the family. As is the same with any loved one, it isn’t always easy seeing them get older. However, by learning to recognize the symptoms of dementia, you will have a greater chance of starting treatment earlier, which can be beneficial to your cat in the long run. Plus, by researching the various treatment options available, you can help provide your cat with a happy and healthy life that they undoubtedly deserve.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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