Behavioral Shifts: Recognizing And Addressing Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

According to the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, more than half of the cats older than 15 years of age affected with feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a degenerative brain disease that is similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. The condition, also referred to as dementia, results in behavioral changes. Find out how to recognize some of these signs in your older cat and what you can do to try to help her.

Signs of Senility

The signs that present with feline cognitive dysfunction begin as subtle disruptions in your cat's normal lifelong behavior patterns, and they gradually become more pronounced over time. They may start to present in some cats as young as 10 or 11 years of age. Your veterinarian will ask you a series of questions about your cat's recent habits, using the acronym DISHA as the guideline for assessing the following behaviors:

  • Disorientation evaluates whether or not your cat appears confused, disoriented or spaced out when attempting to navigate through your home. Does she pace or seem to wander aimlessly?
  • Interaction evaluates changes in how she interacts with the family. Does she seem clingier than before? Does she seem less sociable than she used to?
  • Sleep evaluates changed in her circadian rhythm. Does she tend to wander and cry during night hours when she once snoozed peacefully? Does she spend more time than ever sleeping during daytime hours?
  • House soiling evaluates whether or not she has started to eliminate in inappropriate places.
  • Activity level evaluates changes in her daily activity routine. Does she eat less? Is she apathetic in her grooming habits? Does she no longer have an interest in playing or investigating new things? Is she vocalizing more? Does she seem more restless or anxious?

If you observe any changes in your cat's behavior, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a complete evaluation. Your cat may be starting to exhibit signs of feline cognitive dysfunction, or something else may be going on.

Confirming a Diagnosis

While your observations provide important clues, many of the signs of feline cognitive dysfunction can also be signs of other health conditions. For example, a cat that appears restless or no longer grooms herself could be presenting these signs because she is in pain caused by degenerative joint disease. A cat that is having urinary accidents may have a urinary tract infection. A decrease in appetite can indicate a number of illnesses. This is why your veterinarian will also want to run some blood and urine panels, and he or she may also perform some imaging tests, such as radiographs. These steps do not diagnose feline cognitive dysfunction, but they rule out other possible causes of your cat's symptoms so that the appropriate treatment plan can be implemented.

Brain Function Therapy

Although no medications to treat cognitive dysfunction syndrome have been approved by the FDA for use in cats, a drug that has been approved to treat dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction is selegiline hydrochloride. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has endorsed the drug's use to stave off the progression of feline cognitive dysfunction and reduce the feline patient's symptoms of the disease. Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety drug therapy or the use of a feline pheromone product. Although S-adenosylmethionine supplementation has traditionally been used to support liver function, it has also been shown to be helpful in promoting brain function in cases of cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Your veterinarian may also discuss feeding your cat a diet that is supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, beta carotene and vitamin E to promote brain health. The most helpful therapy for your cat, however, is one of mentally stimulating activities.

Stimulate and Accommodate

While feline cognitive dysfunction is incurable, you can take steps to slow your cat's mental decline. Keep your cat physically and mentally active by engaging her in a strict schedule of daily routine of exercise and interactive play sessions, and switch up the specific activities to keep her interested and looking forward to them. Provide her with puzzle toys to provide further mental stimulation. To ease some of your cat's symptoms, be patient and try the following accommodations:

  • Reduce incidences of inappropriate elimination by placing multiple litter boxes throughout your home so that she has an easier time noticing one when she needs it.
  • Reduce her confusion or disorientation by maintaining a consistent routine for your cat each day, and do not make changes in your home's appearance or to her food, litter or other aspects that are a part of her life.
  • Reduce nighttime restlessness and vocalizations by keeping your cat active and engaged in play and exercise as much as possible during the day.

The most important thing to remember is that your cat has a medical condition. She cannot help it that her behavior is changing. Show your cat patience, support, security and reassurance so that she continues to feel the bond of love that you have shared throughout her young life throughout her golden years. For more information, talk to a professional like After Hours Veterinary Emergency Clinic Inc.