Although older cats don't get Alzheimer's disease per se, they can suffer from feline dementia, also known as feline cognitive dysfunction. Once Kitty becomes a senior citizen, after age 11 or so, watch for behavioral changes that might indicate dementia. Your vet can make a definitive diagnosis.
Just as in people, old age in felines doesn't always mean dementia. According to the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, approximately 28 percent of cats between ages 11 and 14 show some signs of cognitive dysfunction. In cats 15 and older, it's as much as 50 percent. However, some medical conditions or behavioral issues unrelated to dementia might mimic cognitive dysfunction, so your vet must exclude these possibilities beforehand.
You've noticed Kitty acting oddly. He seems disoriented, and maybe he's meowing a lot for no particular reason. He's having accidents outside of the litter box, but sometimes he just seems to "go" wherever he happens to be. Instead of sleeping most of the night, he's wandering around the house, often meowing. A once-sweet little cat's personality could become more aggressive or grumpy. He might not seem to recognize you or other family members or pets.
For your vet to diagnose Kitty, she'll need to conduct a complete examination. This includes blood tests, X-rays, hormone level testing and urinalysis. The good news is that your vet might discover that a treatable condition, such as hyperthyroidism or diabetes, is causing causing Kitty's symptoms. Some of his symptoms might be the result of hearing or vision loss. Even if you find out he has an untreatable condition, at least you'll know what you're dealing with.
If Kitty does have dementia, you can do some things to make life easier for him. Don't make a lot of changes in the house, either in the environment or in his routine. Spend time playing with him or trying to get him to exercise. Your vet might prescribe medication such as selegiline, which aids in combating cognitive dysfunction. Certain supplements, such as vitamin E capsules, might also help, as can prescription anti-anxiety medications. Tell your vet about any over-the-counter supplements you're giving Kitty.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- Vetinfo: Feline Dementia
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Cognitive Dysfunction
- Willows General Practice: Looking After Your Senior Cat
- Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)
- Manhattan Cat Specialists: Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Cats
- VetStreet: Cognitive Dysfunction in Pets
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.