Cat Dementia: What You Need to Know

As more cats are living longer, owners and vets get more frequently confronted with age-related problems such as cat dementia. We’ve rounded up the most common signs and ways to keep your senior cat comfortable.
Older cat lying in bed
Older cat lying in bed
Older cat lying in bed

Our cats are now living longer than ever before and there is no better news for owners looking to spend extra years with their lovely feline companions. But prolonged lives also come with increased prevalence of senior cat health problems and cat dementia can be one of them.

What is cat dementia?

Cat dementia, officially known as feline cognitive dysfunction, refers to a gradual decline in cognitive abilities caused by ageing-related changes in the brain. Cat dementia will usually have a slow onset, with changes in memory or spatial abilities worsening over time.

What are the signs of dementia in cats?

The early signs of cat dementia can easily be mistaken for other illnesses, so make sure you discuss any behavioural changes with the vet. Old age is also associated with diseases such as arthritis, hyperthyroidism and kidney disease which can all lead to behavioural changes due to pain or other processes. Changes in behaviour such as those listed here, can be an indication of cat dementia, or another disease.

older cat being petted

Disorientation

One of the first signs is difficulty in navigating familiar places such as forgetting where their food bowl or litter tray is. This can mean your pet starts to have accidents elsewhere in the house. They can also appear to be wandering aimlessly, and many owners report that their cat seems generally confused.

Different sleep patterns

Cats are creatures of habit, so if their pattern changes, they sleep when they would usually be awake and vice versa, this behavioural change could be cause for concern. If you’re not sure how long do cats normally sleep, check out our handy guide on feline sleeping habits.

Change in appetite

A reduced interest in food is another possible indicator of feline dementia, but can be common in other age-related diseases. Alternatively, you may notice that your cat seems to have an increase in appetite or keeps returning to their bowl even outside of meal-times.

Toilet training problems

Indoor accidents and forgetting where the litter tray is are possible signs of cat dementia. Make sure you consult the vet to rule out other possible health issues, such as kidney problems.

Unusual vocalisations

These typically include loud meowing or howling at night. You can find out more about why do cats meow at night in our article.

Can cat dementia be treated?

The brain changes associated with cognitive dysfunction in cats are not reversible, so there is no curative treatment. However, there are plenty of ways to help manage some of the symptoms associated with it. In some cases, it is also possible to slow down the progression of the illness.

As always, your vet will be able to recommend the best way forward, including behavioural therapies and medication suitable for cat dementia. Offering mental enrichment, keeping their environment familiar and making small adjustments to your senior cat’s diet are small steps you can take right away to benefit your pet.

Here are some of the things you can do to help a cat with dementia:

 

  • Keep changes to their environment to a minimal to avoid further confusion or cat anxiety. This includes keeping their food bowls and litter trays in the same locations, but extends to other factors such as keeping furniture in the same place.

 

  • Nightlights will help your cat manage better the changes in their sleep-awake cycle. If they start roaming at night, having a dim light is useful in localising their position in the house, the litter tray or the food bowl.

 

  • If your cat has other health problems, such as osteoarthritis, installing ramps or stairs can help the senior cat reach their favourite high places. These can also be easily improvised using boxes or books, taking care that they are stable and won’t fall over.

 

  • Keep their mind active with brain games, puzzles and cat toys.

 

  • Try not to get frustrated if they seem confused or have indoor accidents. You can attempt basic re-training methods, but be patient when it comes to results.

 

  • Ask your vet about supplementing with Omega-3, vitamin B12 and antioxidants such as vitamin E to their diet as these can support a healthy brain.

 

  • Consider if litter trays can be made easier to access, by making them bigger or shallower.

 

  • Create a regular daily routine and stick to it. For example, keep a consistent cat feeding schedule to help avoid confusion.

 

  • Create additional resting places in warm spots.
Pretty tabby cat

Can cat dementia be prevented?

The brain is known for its neuroplasticity, which means it can continue to change throughout life and be easily shaped by experiences. This is why mental enrichment can form an important part of delaying onset and slowing progression of cat dementia.

Introduce enrichment activities that are mentally and physically stimulating, but suitable for your cat’s personality and take into account health problems such as osteoarthritis. Cat play can be an important part of this, especially if your cat lives mostly indoors and there are a range of cat toys available designed to cater for your pet’s natural chasing instincts. Other cats may prefer food-motivated games such as puzzle feeders, but make sure to replace food regularly.

For more advice on keeping your cat happy in their older years, check out our guide on caring for your senior cat. If you’re not sure whether your cat is a senior yet, this guide helps you explore some of the less obvious signs of ageing.