Your Cat Behaving Strangely? Feline Dementia? Or Just a Cat?

By William Thomas

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Cats, like their owners are living longer than ever before. That’s the good news. With enhanced longevity comes the downside of aging - arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney problems and even dementia. If you live long enough, you’ll likely inherit these afflictions.

A recent survey by Scottish veterinary surgeon Danielle Gunn-Moore reveals that 28 per cent of cats aged 11 to 14 are affected by feline dementia - that number jumps to 50 per cent for cats 15 years of age and older.

Similar to Alzheimer’s, a protein in the form of sticky plaques build up on the brain’s nerve cells causing mental deterioration by disconnect.

Dr. Gunn-Moore’s own cat inspired her research; 12-year-old Cardhu started showing signs of human senility. (Single malt lovers are welcome to make up their own “12-year-old Cardhu” joke here.)

There are exceptions to the rule of dementia for aging cats. Not all old cats go batty.

Years ago, I stayed one week in a draughty Bed & Breakfast walk-up in Chalk Farm, halfway up the Black Line of the London Underground system. The Irish proprietor creeped me out with her ghoulish theories on Lady Di’s death, and how “they first killed her unborn child before they staged the car accident.” So, my only solace was Rosie, a 21-year-old blind Tabby who slept beside my bed each night. In the morning, this cat, scrawny and rickety but resourceful, would walk along the walls all the way down two flights of stairs, around a couch, around a coffee table, under a TV set and up to a window. From there, she leapt up onto a cushioned sill, her resting spot for the day. Touching the walls and furniture with her whiskers, she had committed two additional routes to memory - one to her food station and one to the litter box. Rosie’s mind was still sharp at over 100 human years of age.

My Irish landlady made my stay so unpleasant; the day I left, I rearranged all the furniture - just to give her cat a bit of a challenge. (No, I did not do that.)

So cats, it seems, are more prone to aging dementia than dogs.

Kidney failure and hypertension are just two of the symptoms of feline dementia. Other signs include aimless wandering, a decrease in grooming and a sudden lack of interest in food.

However, with some of the signs the dementia survey warns about, with a cat, it can be a little tricky.

“Inappropriate vocalization,” for instance, could be a symptom of senility, or if the dog walked off with Missy’s stuffed mouse in his mouth, it could be a sign that your dog is about to have a nosebleed.

“Episodes of disorientation?” My neighbour once found my cat Wedgie hiding in his bird feeder. Going a little batty? Hardly, Wedgie all but put his toes to his lips so Bob wouldn’t alert the incoming birds. Or as Wedgie liked to call them, “lunch.”

“Memory loss that causes your cat to forget commands?” Hullo!! A cat that follows orders!? Until they begin to crossbreed cats with dogs, you’re pretty much talking to yourself while giving directions to felines. In fact, if your cat does heed your commands, that too might be a symptom of senility.

“Disorientation like getting trapped in corners?” Once again, I refer you to my juvenile delinquent Wedgie, who, on the first day I brought him home was so curious about his new digs, he got his bum stuck between the couch and the baseboard radiator. That’s how he got his name.

“Constant pacing back and forth?” OK, but what if he’s just worried about something like dinner being late or chicken versus beef or you with that bottle of shampoo in your hand?

“Lack of interest in food?” Yeah, that’s probably a sign of dementia unless Tabitha there has found a better deal two doors down.

“Confusion about time. Forgetting they’ve been fed?” Once again, on a personal note, I once had a cat named Malcolm who could eat a husky under the table. Malcolm ate his food and often cleaned out the bowls of three other cats that were too well-mannered to hiss and scratch. Malcolm was quite thin for a glutton (I know, I know, we all hate people who can pull that off!) and his nickname was “Hoover.” Many a time he tried to trick me into believing I’d forgotten to feed him. It only worked about half the time. Senile? No. Sly? Like The Family Stone.

“Screaming in the middle of the night?” That could well be a sign of advancing dementia or a nightmare involving him, you and a pill.

“Forgetting the location of the litter box?” Either way, you got yourself a big problem. I never had a cat that misplaced the sandbox, but there was old Uncle Randal from Antigonish who - let’s just say the far corner of the dining room does not make a great substitute for the “john” and there are still people from that Thanksgiving Day dinner in therapy.

“Increased irritability?” Not likely a serious sign. I believe a cat said: “If you’re not angry half the time, you’re letting down the breed.”

“Increased attention seeking?” Yeah, like jumping into even more laps of people who do not like cats, than he normally would?

And that’s the real problem with cats and the detection of dementia - most of them are so wonderfully loony, how do you know for sure?

Editor’s Note: If you suspect your cat is experiencing dementia, please see a vet. There are medical treatments and behaviour tips available to ease the problem. Also, your cat could exhibit senile habits, but might just be unhappy or depressed.

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Showing 1 to 20 of 33 comments.

My 16 year old cat Rory is showing signs of dementia. He has started peeing and pooping on the carpet and sofa. Today he was asleep on my lap and just peed! He's never done that before! He will wedge himself in the smallest space or corner and just stare blankly at the wall. He is still affectionate and occasionally plays. Sometimes though he appears to not know where he is and wanders about, quietly mewling. Not had any screaming at night yet but he now refuses to sleep in his bed in the kitchen, where he has slept all his life and will only sleep on the sofa. If I try to shut him in the kitchen at night he will scrap at the door until I think he is going to break it down. I know I am going to have to make a decision soon.....

Posted by Mel | November 16, 2017 Report Violation

I do not believe hypertension and kidney failure are in fact symptoms of dementia. They may be comorbid problems (happen at the same time), or may in fact contribute to dementia, that is, the dementia is a symptom / consequence of the hypertension and kidney failure. So it is in fact the other way around.

Posted by Elise | July 26, 2017 Report Violation

21 old cat is not over a 100 human years. Duh, it's over 100 cat years. You put human years. LOL!

Posted by Michael Bryner | June 19, 2017 Report Violation

I have a 20yr old black persian cat named Stella. For the past year or two she has been changing personality. I am almost positive she has dementia. Dosn't matter day or night mind you especially in the wee hours she will howl to the point that she screams at the top of her lungs if you do not get out of the bed to comfort her. Or even put water down or just plain old food. She forgets she's eaten leaves the room the howls and screams again. Nobody is getting any sleep. I kind of want to put her to sleep but I feel like a monster for even thinking about it. When the right time comes I suppose.

Posted by Martine Critchlow | April 25, 2017 Report Violation

When my cat went unsociable last year .... was sitting outside even when raining I fleet and wormed etc and she was fine afterwards, she had already been done but obviously needed doing again.....,she is suffering from dementia this year though .... has all the signs...pacing around the house in every room ...not really looking for anything just pacing,....gone very picky on her food, meowing loud random in night ....and biting when I stroke her sometimes....don't think there is anything you can do about it...I am dreading the day that I have to make a decision but as of now she ain't in any pain and she is getting everything she wants ....

Posted by Joanne sketchley | February 6, 2017 Report Violation

My cat is eating but she doesn't come to me. She stays in the bedroom closet. This has been for two days. Most or the time she is love able. Can you help? Thank you.

Posted by Kate | February 5, 2017 Report Violation

I have a 18 year old cat who has became very unsteady on her back legs she's not eating I have caught her twice trying to eat her litter she is very fragil just the last few days

Posted by Shirley | January 30, 2017 Report Violation

If you have more than one cat but one is special, and used to sleep with you but has lost its position of head cat, and is acting strange, it's probably DEPRESSION! I have a favorite cat. I got him a buddy at two years old. That was ok. But about 7 years ago I adopted a cat that was a stray outside. It was only two while my oldest was 8 and my favorite was 7. The adoptee was a sweet cat that didn't throw its weight around. Realized the order of things. Made great friends with cat two. But my favorite cat just slipped away in personality. Was afraid of everything. Unsociable. Didn't sleep with me any longer. Didn't want to group play. And one of them was always peeing somewhere causing trouble. I never dreamed it was my favorite cat but it was. It even got bladder crystals from stress and had to go to emergency care or die. Well, the 3rd cat died last year suddenly. I NEVER saw such a transformation in my favorite cat. He is 14 years old this year and plays like a kitten. He no longer pees anywhere. He resurrected all his old habits of play with me. Sleeps with me again. Is the king. He used to be overweight. He's played enough now to be in good shape again. It's remarkable. But my second cat took the death horribly. He would cry at night until we loved him up a LOT. He lost his best buddy. Now he seems to have dementia too, even though it's been a little over a year and he was much better just months ago, I still think he's depressed because my favorite and him aren't the same any longer. My favorite won't cuddle with him. He'll clean him up now and them but it's not the same. ANYONE who says animals do not have feelings and are so far displaced from humans is WRONG. I've witnessed it in my own household. People need to realize you can't just have a zoo when you feel like it. The animals might have something to say about it. They, like people, can feel overlooked, shoved aside, unloved. We need to listen.

Posted by V. Rogers | January 3, 2017 Report Violation

My cat is 61/2 year old and is male and mixed breed. Black in color. The last 6 days he has nothing to do with us. Stays in another room. Does not want to be held, petted or brushed. This is totally opposite of how he has been up until now. He still eats and drinks well; uses litter box regularly. Please help.

Posted by THOMAS L HICKS | December 6, 2016 Report Violation

I have a cat who is about 15 years old. It didn't occur to me until last week that he probably has dementia. These are things that have developed over time, not sudden changes of behavior, but the rate of decline has increased over the past few months. He wanders around aimlessly, walks up to any wall and just stands there, doesn't come right away when called (sometimes seems to want to, but too confused to know which direction I'm in), goes up to strangers as if they are me (he has always been friendly, but not like this), doesn't play, doesn't clean himself (so I have given him baths), has recently stopped sleeping in his spot/his cat bed, won't stay with me at night anymore (he used to always sleep with me; he's the only one of 3 cats I let be in the bedroom, because I fell like he need the extra comfort time away from the young cats), no longer has the same social position with the other cats (he was the boss, but one of the younger cats has been treating him like she is trying to dominate, and he does not stick up for himself anymore), acts generally confused because he seems not to know which way to go when I call or have food to put down, and he has stopped using the litter box entirely even though I now have 3 litter boxes and took the lids off of them for him (I thought it was a younger cat having behavior issues all this time, but now that this fellow is not using the box at all, I have actually seen him going on the floor). He still eats very well, but he used to always try to get in my food whenever I ate, and he no longer does it. He still seems to get enjoyment from life. The failure to use the litter box is so disgusting, it is horrible, and what's worse is that he walks through the stuff and tracks it around. I have to pick up poop from the carpet twice a day (eats well, poops like clockwork, so his body is still working well); fortunately, he only pees on hard floors that are easy to clean. I am tempted to stick him in a cage before going to work (I have a very large cage, big enough for a litter box, cat bed, and food dishes). I don't like the cage idea because it seems selfish, so am trying to figure out if it would benefit him in any way, like, would it be better for him since he wouldn't be wandering around confused all day, and the younger cats would not be able to chase him? As long as he seems to enjoy life, he will not be put down, but I don't want to make him miserable just so I don't have a smelly home and poop to clean up.What do people think about the cage?

Posted by Forrest | November 13, 2016 Report Violation

Morley, also from Antigonish, is not doing so well. He is only 13 but for the last six months has had problems. Vet says okay but sudden onset blindness. He does not use litter anymore, sits in one spot swaying back and forth a lot, has trouble walking sometimes with either uncooperative front or back legs, totally clueless, eating much less, gets stuck everywhere, does not run into things, eyes seem glazed, etc. Any ideas?

Posted by Jessica | November 30, 2015 Report Violation

I have found homeopathy to be a gentle and supportive remedy for my 16yo. He still has regular checkups at the vet and medication if needed but homeopathic remedies have saved him a lot of stress and unnecessary medication.

Posted by Kathy | July 20, 2015 Report Violation

I have a Persian neutered male aged 15, and from what I have read, I suspect he is suffering from dementia. He does call out if I'm not in sight and I answer him and he comes running. My real worry is that he seems to be forgetting to eat. I am feeding him Hills AD, which he loves, and he takes a tin of that each day, but I cannot get him to take biscuits, he used to have Persian by Royal Canine and he loved his food. He is now loosing weight which is worrying. I had him to the vets two days ago and had all the tests done, all showing normal, so I am guessing this is dementia. I think I will give my vet a ring and discuss this with her. Sandy.

Posted by Sandy | June 25, 2015 Report Violation

We just put our 17 yr old cat down today, a month after we had to euthanize her sister for kidney failure. Not a good month. This one has been shrieking day and night (our loss of sleep is huge) for no reason we can see at all. So your article is much appreciate, in fact comforting..... informed and comforting. Thank you.

Posted by Gail B | June 22, 2015 Report Violation

Our cat Morgan is 17, he has had several little mini strokes (confirmed by vet) he tends to walk like a crab (hence his nickname.....Crab) He has started eating a whole can of cat food every day, not putting on any weight though has lost a lot of weight (all bloods came back clear) if you don't feed him he drives you totally insane, if he eats dry food he will vomit, but only little bits, Help

Posted by Tanya | April 19, 2015 Report Violation

This wasn't helpful at all. An elderly cat in distress is not funny.

Posted by JP | February 7, 2015 Report Violation

I have a 13 year old female cat called smokey. She suddenly stopped walking on her front paws. She sleeps a lot and only eats when we help her. She is not using her litter tray either. Do you know if this is dementia or is it anything else.

Posted by Cheryl Thomas | January 8, 2015 Report Violation

my 16 yr old cat has for the last 2 months has refused to settle anywhere but the top of the kitchen work surface. I bring him into the lounge,where he would happily sit on my lap, now he will stay for no longer than five minutes and run straight back to his kitchen work top.he eats and drinks well. He is generally affectionate if you go to him when he is on the work top. I have a second younger cat who has lived here for 4 yrs, who can be a bit of a bully, but is generally well behaved. I am at a loss to why he is behaving like this.

Posted by Christine | December 6, 2014 Report Violation

Major is 18yr 7mths, this last year he has howled all night, been sick because he ate too much, he had a bout of high temperature and constipation, the vet dehydrated him and gave a course of antibiotics, we've gave him Katalax and Lactulose, he's pooing and weeing in his tray but he just sits and stares into space, the vet reckons he's blind as his retinas are detached, he follows the birds in the garden when he's inside as he's a house cat, he seems very miserable and unhappy, I don't know what to do to help him. :(

Posted by lesley | December 6, 2014 Report Violation

Our cat Molly is 21, she is completely death and I think her sight is starting to go, . I am sure she has dementia. She sleeps all day but at night she meows and howls at regular intervals,. Really difficult to get a good nights sleep. We have tried to work out what she needs but have come to the conclusion that she just wants one of us to be with her. I don't want to lock her away at night. She often just stares at nothing with a vacant look, and can stagger, especially when she first wakes up. The vet says that it's old age and she is fine.. A few times I have worried that her quality if life insnt great and we should end it for her but I think she still has good days and looks quite youthful. I just hope she isn't suffering.

Posted by chris | November 4, 2014 Report Violation

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