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.
For comments, ideas or a signed copy of The Cat Rules, go to www.williamthomas.ca
MAY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND