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Signs of Dementia in Cats & How To Manage

Picture of an older orange cat

Just like humans can develop dementia as they age, our beloved feline companions can decline mentally as they grow older, as well. Cat dementia is actually quite similar to human Alzheimer’s disease, and the causes and symptoms are just as confusing. 

Cats that are older than 15 years of age are more exposed to dementia than younger ones. In fact, some studies suggest that there is a 50% likelihood that a 15-year-old cat can develop dementia compared to cats aged 11 to 14 years old. 

In this article, we’ll look at what cat dementia is, its symptoms and possible causes, and what you can do to try to prevent it.

Understanding Cat Dementia

Feline dementia is a challenging disease, and it is often under-diagnosed or undertreated. It can be misunderstood both by cat parents and veterinarians. Since cats live longer nowadays as they are cared for a lot better than in the past, they also have a higher chance of developing dementia.

Cats with dementia show symptoms that are more or less similar to the signs shown by humans with senile dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. 

Feline dementia is characterized by a decline in cognitive abilities (memory, learning, spatial abilities, attention, and others) as a result of aging modifications in the brain. 

Known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, this disease is characterized by behavioral changes. Unfortunately, these can also result from other medical conditions, such as diabetes mellitus, chronic renal failure, or hyperthyroidism.   

Possible causes

As is the case with dementia in humans, the real cause of cat dementia remains unknown. There does seem to be a part played by genetics, but what is really known about the condition is mostly physical. 

Cat dementia is caused by lower blood flow to the brain and an increase in free radicals. As a cat gets older, her body starts producing more free radicals. The latter can damage the cells in the cat’s brain, especially when combined with a decrease in blood and oxygen flow to the brain. 

High blood pressure, along with thyroid disease and kidney disease, can lead to changes in the brain that can worsen existing dementia or make the cat more likely to develop it in the first place. 

Signs of cat dementia

A cat’s brain begins to show signs of dementia between the ages of 10 to 15, with older ones being more exposed to the condition. The classic signs of dementia in cats that you might notice in your pet are the following.

  • Disorientation (wandering aimlessly, staring at walls, missing cues)
  • Reduced interest in play
  • Roaming (outdoors or indoors)
  • Changes in the cat’s sleep patterns
  • Reduced interest in water, food, people, or feline companions
  • Meowing loudly for no particular reason
  • Sleeping longer 

Diagnosis

Getting your cat diagnosed correctly always begins with you. Especially in this case, where the vet might be unable to find some specific practical changes (in the animal’s blood work or based on a physical examination), you are going to be the one that needs to tell them about the cat’s weird behaviors, how often they happen, and what exactly you have noticed.

The cat’s health history matters a lot. Cat dementia is often a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that the vet will probably perform lots of tests to rule out any other possible conditions. Some of the tests can range from ultrasounds and X-rays to blood tests. 

Differential diagnosis needs to be made with diseases such as arthritis, deafness, blindness, or brain tumors. There are many similarities between arthritis and cat dementia, but the causes and treatments are quite different. 

Long-term management

There is no actual treatment for cat dementia. Like human dementia, it is a progressive disease, and it gets worse over time. However, you can delay its progression and help your cat cope with it as best as possible. 

The cat’s diet needs to be rich in antioxidants as they help with killing off the free radicals. Beta carotene, vitamin C and E, and most importantly, Omega 3s should also be added to your cat’s diet. If your cat is confused and anxious, your vet could recommend CBD supplements to calm her down a bit. 

There’s also a psychoactive drug called Anipryl that is commonly used to treat dementia in dogs. It has been approved by the FDA for dogs, but it is also supported by the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) to use on cats. 

It seems that about a third of cats don’t show any improvement, another third show mild improvement, and the last third show a significant improvement. In this last category, the drug is actually capable of reversing the symptoms shown by the cat. 

You should also try to make your cat’s life as easy as possible. If you haven’t done so by now, try to create a schedule for feeding and other activities, so that the cat benefits from a little structure. Comfortable resting areas, along with several litter boxes or trays that the cat can get in and out of with ease, are also necessary if you’re looking to improve the quality of life of a cat with dementia. 

Can cat dementia be prevented?

Active stimulation is the most significant method you can use to prevent cat dementia. This also applies in the case of humans, by the way, as it’s widely known that reading and performing other brain-stimulating activities can prevent dementia. Try to keep your cat as physically and mentally engaged as possible so that his or her brain remains young and active.

Since most cats enjoy puzzle toys or problem-solving activities, try to play with them as often as you can and even bribe them with treats once in a while. 

While some cats might not enjoy going outdoors at all, others will miss the outdoor environment if you keep them in an apartment. If you can take your cat out on a leash, don’t hesitate to do so as it will allow him/her to explore for a bit. On the other hand, if your cat hates going outside or you can’t take her for walks for another reason, get some cat trees to give your pet areas to climb or lounge. 

Omega 3 heavy foods are excellent when it comes to preventing cat dementia. If your cat doesn’t like the smell or taste of fish, you can give her supplements instead of actual food. You can start feeding her omega 3-rich foods even when she’s still a kitten. 

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