Cat sitting down and tilting chin to look up

Dr. Katy Burr discusses dementia in cats, including how to spot symptoms and a variety of treatment options.

Ask a veterinarian: Feline senile dementia

With Dr. Katy Burr, DVM

Just like in humans, aging pets will undergo changes to their physical and mental health. Feline senile dementia, also known as cognitive dysfunction system (CDS), may occur as a cat ages and is directly related to the aging of their brain. It may influence their awareness, learning, memory, and responsiveness. It can also cause anxiety.

Feline cognitive abilities start to decline at around 11 - 12 years of age. Feline senile dementia typically occurs after a cat reaches 15 years old.

The exact causes are unknown, however genetic factors may play a role in animals developing the condition, and it can be a result of changes as the cat ages.

Symptoms

Knowing the common behavioral changes to look out for will help you recognize the signs of feline senile dementia and help you provide support for your cat through this stage of their life. Keep an eye on your aging cat for common signs and symptoms of feline senile dementia, including:

  • Disorientation/confusion
  • Anxiety/restlessness
  • Extreme irritability
  • Avoiding social interaction
  • Deterioration of learned behaviors
  • Changes in activity levels, such as excessive licking
  • Increased meowing
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • House soiling and inappropriate elimination
  • Changes in sleep cycle or lethargy

Many of these symptoms can also be seen with other diseases common in older cats as well, such as osteoarthritis, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or deafness; so your veterinarian may want to run some diagnostic tests to help narrow down the cause. Symptoms tend to increase over time and cannot be reversed, but there are many things you can do as an owner to slow down cognitive decline in your cat.

Treatment

Your veterinarian may suggest a variety of treatment options for those suffering with feline senile dementia. While there is no cure for cognitive decline, there are several things you can do to support your cat and maintain their wellbeing. Those might include:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and providing plenty of mental stimulation and physical exercise. 
  • Avoiding sudden changes to their daily routine, and trying not to move anything around the house, particularly furniture, as well as your cat’s food bowls and litter tray. This will make it easier for your cat to navigate around the house and minimizes the chances of them becoming lost or confused.

You can also speak to your veterinarian about specific diets for brain illnesses. Diets supplemented with antioxidants, vitamin E and C, selenium, flavonoids, beta carotene, carotenoids, Omega-3, and carnitine can all help improve cognitive functions. Your vet may also recommend medication to treat your cat’s anxiety if it is particularly severe.

If you have any questions about feline senile dementia, consult your veterinarian who can provide tailored, expert advice.