Changes in behavior in elderly cats

When cats grow old, they often suffer from abnormalities in body activity, including cognitive functioning. It is believed that the cognitive decline, which is called cognitive dysfunction in cats, affects more than 55% of cats aged 11-15 years and more than 80% of cats aged 16 to 20 years. In cats suffering from cognitive dysfunction, memory, learning ability, visual and auditory perception may be impaired. Such deterioration can cause sleep disturbances, disorientation and decreased activity. Cats can forget what they used to know well, for example, the location of the tray or bowls for feed. This can increase anxiety and a tendency to react aggressively. It can also change their relationship with you and other animals in the house. Understanding the changes that occur with your cat will help you sympathetically and effectively combat behavior problems that may arise in her old age.

Some aging effects are not associated with cognitive dysfunction. Often, such effects can contribute to behavioral changes that just look like a cognitive decline. Be sure to report all changes that you notice in the cat, veterinarian. Do not think that your cat is just getting old, and nothing can be done to help her. Many behavior changes are symptoms of curable diseases, and there are a number of treatments that can alleviate the symptoms, including the pain that a cat can experience.

Cognitive dysfunction

The following patterns of behavior may indicate cognitive dysfunction in an elderly cat:

Learning and memory

  • Goes to the toilet past the tray
  • Goes to the toilet where he sleeps or eats
  • Sometimes, it seems that he does not recognize familiar people and animals

Confusion / spatial disorientation

  • Loses in familiar places
  • Looks closely or fixed on objects, or just stares
  • Aimlessly wanders
  • Stuck and can not get around or overstep obstacles

Relationships / Social behavior

  • Less interested in caresses, fellowship, does not meet people or familiar animals, etc.
  • Need constant contact, becoming too dependent and intrusive

Decrease in activity, indifference

  • Less inspects something and less reacts to things happening around it
  • Less care for the coat
  • Less eats

Anxiety / increased irritability

  • Seems restless or worried
  • Screams louder and / or more intrusively
  • In general, it behaves more irritably

Sleep-wake cycle / Changed day and night mode

  • Sleeps restlessly, wakes up during the night
  • Sleep more during the day
  • More screaming at night

Elimination of other causes of the behavior of a cat

If your cat has the symptoms or changes listed above, you first need to show it to the veterinarian to determine if there is a particular medical reason for her behavior. Any medical or degenerative disease that causes pain, discomfort or decreased mobility, such as arthritis, dental disease, thyroid dysfunction, cancer, impaired vision or hearing, and urinary tract disease, can lead to increased sensitivity or irritability, increased anxiety when it touches or approaches it, increased aggression (because the cat can threaten and bite, and not run away), increased responsiveness to your voice, reduced ability to adapt to changes and reduced ability to get to the usual place where she goes to the toilet.

If the diseases are excluded, and if the earliest behavioral problems not related to aging are excluded (for example, problems that started much earlier than the cat began to age), the behavior of your cat can be explained by the effect of aging on the brain.

Treatment of cognitive dysfunction

If cognitive dysfunction is the only logical explanation for changes in the behavior of a cat, the next step is to find a cure. Treatment mainly consists of useful changes in the living environment of the cat and maintaining a stable daily routine.

There are also drugs that can help cats with cognitive dysfunction, such as selegiline hydrochloride (trade name Anipril®). This drug is currently licensed only for use on dogs with cognitive dysfunction, but some behaviorists and veterinarians have also reported improved cats.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe a drug for anxiety. To learn about various medications for anxiety that are used to help cats, read the article "Treatment of behavioral problems in cats".

Exercise / urination in the wrong places

Exercise / urination in the wrong places is a common symptom of cognitive dysfunction in cats. In fact, this is the most common reason why elderly cats are shown to behaviorists. Micturition / excrement in unacceptable places can contribute to many diseases, including sensory recession, neuromuscular diseases that affect mobility, brain tumors, kidney dysfunction and endocrine disruption. Briefly, any impairment that increases the frequency of bowel movement / urination or reduces control of her bladder or intestines can lead to bowel movements / urination in the wrong places. Accordingly, the first step in treating this problem in any cat, regardless of age, is to take it to a veterinarian for a thorough examination.

If the veterinarian excludes the disease, the following suggestions can help:

  • Increase the number of trays available for the cat. Put at least one tray on each floor of your house, in case your cat is hard to walk on the stairs.
  • Place additional trays where they are easy to find. Cats with cognitive dysfunction may forget the location of the tray. Keep the old trays in place, but put new trays in open spaces so that the cat can always find the right place to go to the toilet.
  • Use trays with low walls. Many elderly cats experience difficulties and pain, trying to climb and get out of a tray with high walls.

Confusion and disorientation

Often disorientation is the first sign that hosts recognize as a cognitive decline in their older cats. It is assumed that disorientation occurs in at least 40% of cats aged 17 years and older.

Disorientation can be reduced by increasing the predictability of the living environment and cat mode. Avoid changing the feed and filler, as well as the location of the bowl with food and tray. Try to maintain a stable daily routine, as far as possible. If the cat is depressed, the best solution can be to keep it on a relatively small area, for example, on one floor of the house, or, in more severe cases, in one room. So it will be easier for her to find everything she needs.

Anxiety / Awakening at night

The sleep-wake cycle of a cat can be disturbed by cognitive dysfunction. Nevertheless, as with most of the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction, there are many other reasons for increasing nighttime activity. For example, a cat that sleeps more during the day can be more restless and active at night. Sensory changes, such as loss of vision or hearing, can affect the depth of sleep of the cat. The increased need to go to the toilet combined with a reduced ability to find or reach the tray can encourage the cat to wake up and wander. Ask the veterinarian to conduct a complete examination to determine the diseases that can cause anxiety, discomfort or an increased need to go to the toilet. At the same time, try to restore normal hours of sleep and wakefulness. It is best to increase her level of activity by playing with her during the day and in the evening so she wants to sleep at night.

Anxiety can also cause increased anxiety at night. A distinctive feature of senile anxiety is that it can manifest as nighttime anxiety. This can be anxiety because the cat is separated from family members (who are sleeping) or anxiety about moving around the house in the dark. Your cat may not let you sleep, screaming and running around the room, purring at the head and touching you with your paw to get attention. Anxiety caused by cognitive dysfunction can be alleviated by drug therapy. Also, you can consult a certified animal health practitioner and your veterinarian to find out if a medicine can help.

Excessive meowing

Elder cats can mew meow for a variety of reasons, including disorientation, hearing loss, or pain due to one or more diseases. As with other symptoms of cognitive dysfunction, the first thing to do is to take the cat to a veterinarian for a thorough examination and exclusion or treatment of diseases.

In general, cognitive dysfunction increases meow, associated with anxiety, disorientation or anxiety due to separation. An alarming meow is usually plaintive. The mewing of an elderly cat can be a problem if it does this too often or at the wrong time, for example, when you are sleeping. Showing your own annoyance or punishing a cat for meowing, you can increase its anxiety and aggravate the problem. It is better to fight with excessive meow, increasing the activity of the cat during the day and gradually changing its sleep-wake cycle.

Pheromone or drug therapy can help the cat less worry. You can use pheromone sprays or diffusers for cats in places where the cat usually spends time. Reduce meow can also help drugs from anxiety. Also, you can consult a certified practical animal behavior specialist and your veterinarian.

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