Feline Dementia

Feline dementia is suspected to affect 28 percent of cats ages 11 to 14 and almost 50 percent of cats older than that, but it is very hard to detect because symptoms are often attributed simply to "old age." Though there is no cure for feline dementia, symptoms can be improved with medication and changes in the cat's environment.

Symptoms of Feline Dementia

Feline dementia is similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. In fact, cats with dementia have lesions on their brains very similar to those seen on Alzheimer's patients. As with Alzheimer's, most symptoms of feline dementia are behavioral.

Any unusual behavior exhibited by your senior cat should be described to your veterinarian. A sudden onset of unusual behavior is often caused by health problems.

A cat suffering from feline dementia may seem to get lost or confused in familiar surroundings. He might start soiling in inappropriate places because he can't find the litter box. He might not be able to respond to commands that were once familiar or respond when you call his name.

He might show increased or decreased interest in food or companionship. A once friendly cat may become more irritable and aggressive while a once standoffish cat may seek more affection and attention. You might notice an increase in anxiety, pacing, aimless wandering or changes in sleep patterns. Your cat may not groom as often and may exhibit inappropriate vocalizing, such as crying throughout the night.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis of feline dementia is often difficult since behavior changes are usually attributed to old age or misbehavior. However, all behavior changes should be taken as seriously as other physical symptoms of illness.

Your cat will need to have a full medical and behavioral examination to rule out other illnesses that may be causing the symptoms. This exam will include blood tests, urinalysis, blood pressure tests and assessment of hormone levels. Your cat also may need X-rays or CAT scans.

There are medications that have shown to reduce symptoms of feline dementia, but the most important thing you can do is make sure your home is comfortable for your aging cat.

Avoid changes in the house that may confuse your cat such as moving furniture and clean extra clutter to make it easier for him to navigate. Add environmental clues to remind your cat where things are such as smells or sounds that your cat can follow to areas where he needs to go. Cover slippery surfaces or sharp corners. If your cat is consistently getting hurt in the place, block his access or fix the problem.

Make sure food, water, a litter box and comfortable places are readily available to your cat in the rooms where he spends the most time. Keep a similar routine, such as consistent feeding and play times. Spend extra time playing and cuddling with him so he has to interact with his human family members.

The effects of feline dementia can't be reversed but they can be reduced with medication, a quality diet with vitamin supplements and a comfortable environment that reduces stress. Be patient with your senior cat and help make his final years as stress-free as possible.