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As they grow older, cats experience a decline in physical and cognitive functioning. More than 50 percent of the cats over the age of 11 suffer from feline cognitive dysfunction, which affects their learning abilities, memory, awareness, as well as their sense of sight and smell. The resultant deterioration can affect their sleeping patterns and disorient them. It can make them forget their regular habits, like the location of their food bowls or their litter box. It can also increase their anxiety and aggressive behavior, which will end up affecting their social relationships. By beginning to understand the changes that they go through with age, you can effectively and compassionately deal with the associated behavioral problems.
Most of the aging related effects can be the result of medical disorders that can be mistaken for cognitive dysfunction. Do not just assume that your cat is getting old and that there is nothing you can do to help him. If there is an underlying medical condition, you must get it checked out.
The following behavioral patterns might indicate cognitive dysfunction in your cat:
Memory and Learning
- Defecates or urinates outside the litter box
- Defecates or urinates in and around eating and sleeping areas
- Unable to recognize familiar pets and people
- Gets lost in familiar places
- Fixates or stares on objects
- Wanders aimlessly
- Gets stuck while trying to navigate over or around obstacles
- Uninterested in petting, greeting people and social interactions
- Requires constant contact, become clingy and over dependent
Decrease in activity
- Does not explore as much as usual
- Grooms himself less
- Eats less
- Seems agitated or restless
- Vocalizes more than usual
- More irritable in general
Sleep cycle/day-night schedule
- Tends to wake up a lot during the night
- Sleeps more than usual during the day
- Vocalizes more than usual at night
Treating feline cognitive dysfunction
Treatment for the condition consists of making changes to your cat’s daily environment and keeping his schedule consistent. There are medicines, such as Anipryl, that are designed to help cats suffering from FCD,. Although it is recommended for use on dogs, it has been shown to work on cats as well. Ask your cat’s vet if the drug is the right choice for him.
What can you do about house soiling?
- Increase the litter boxes around the house. Place at least one step litter box on every floor in case your cat has trouble going up and down the stairs.
- Cats suffering from FCD also tend to forget the location of their litter boxes. So, put a few extra boxes in easy-to-reach locations so that your cat can get to it whenever he wants to.
If your cat is over-anxious and vocalizes excessively at night, make sure that he gets enough activity during the day. If even that does not work, the vet might recommend pheromone therapy to treat the condition.