While many things can cause these behavioral issues, one thing to consider and discuss with your veterinarian, as soon as possible, is a form of Feline Alzheimer’s, or Dementia. Caused by degeneration of the brain as the cat ages, cats, just like their human companions, can also show these symptoms. While dementia is a progressive condition, new medications for humans, such as Anipryl, manufactured by Pfizer, are now available for veterinary treatment, which may help halt the progression, however.
The University of Edinburgh research scientists believe that a quarter of cats between the age of 11-14, and half of the cats over 15 years-of-age display "geriatric onset behavioral problems." Dr. Daniel Gunn-Moore, professor of Feline medicine at the university said, "When we look at cats of all ages, we believe about 10 percent will be affected, which represents about one million cats in Britain. Since cats are living longer lives, she postulates that cats are at greater risk, today. With the excellent veterinary care available for cats, in addition to improved diet and keeping cats indoors rather than being allowed to roam outside, cats are being treated for conditions, which, at one time may have been euthanized.
The good news, however, is that Dr. Gunn-Moore's team of scientists have launched a new study designed to learn more about which factors contribute to the risk of elderly cats succumbing to dementia, and what treatment strategies can be found to prevent the onset of this disease. They will be examining if certain breeds are at higher risk, the impact that different lifestyles or diseases can contribute to dementia, and most importantly, what can be done to prevent it. She is hopeful that their research with felines may also solve some of the puzzles related to dementia for humans. Two years ago, their research involved scans, which demonstrated changes to the neural system in elderly felines who were exhibiting confusion. They found the same amyloid protein in cats as humans. Additionally, this team was the first to discover that cats can suffer from Alzheimer’s. This promising research is exciting for cat owners and possibly dog owners as well so that pets in the future may be able to live longer, more fulfilling lives.
However, veterinarians must first rule out other conditions that can mimic some of these symptoms before a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's is made. Cats are masters at hiding illness as a survival strategy. Cat owners must learn to "tune in" to their pets for any subtle unusual behaviors, which may not be displayed like a flashing neon-light signal.
Similarly to their human companions, providing a stimulating environment for your cat, challenging it to "think" and play, in conjunction to providing a high quality diet, may help to reduce the risk of dementia as cats mature. This being said, cats who are already suffering with dementia may be hesitant and become confused with too much stimulation. Of course, consult with your veterinarian prior to initiating any new activities with these cats.
Dr. Gunn-Moore also provides a list of signs that may indicate your cat has dementia.
- Getting disoriented and confused; can be shown if cats keep getting trapped in corners, or failing to find their litter tray
- Loud crying, especially at night
- Changed social relationships; becoming more aggressive or attention-seeking than previously
- Increased irritability or anxiety, or less interest in stimuli, such as games
- Altered sleeping patterns
- Changes in activity; aimless wandering, pacing or reduced activity
- Altered interest in food; usually eating less, sometimes eating more, after forgetting they have eaten
- Decreased grooming
Are you concerned that your cat may be suffering from some form of dementia? What actions have you taken? Leave a comment and share with us.