We all know about dementia and how it can affect our loved ones in life. But what about cats? What a lot of people don’t know is that many animals can also have the same syndrome. Looking at cats, we question whether these symptoms present themselves in the same way, and if not, how?
What does dementia look like in cats?
Dementia can present itself in cats from a very early stage, allowing you to catch the syndrome as early as possible. One of the most common changes to look out for in your furry friend would be signs of anxiety and aggression. G.M Landsberg and R. Malamed discuss this in their book Canine and Feline Dementia: Molecular Basis, Diagnostics and Therapy.
The first behaviour change that can present itself in pets is fear and anxiety. You may find a cat with dementia grows fearful of loud noises, other animals, new places, objects and most importantly, a fear of people. These signs would present themselves more and more as cats age. It is important to note that every cat does have their personality, meaning these symptoms are represented in a change that is out of the ordinary for your cat as they grow into old age.
You know your cat best, so abnormal behaviour changes that you see should be checked out by a medical professional.
Another behaviour change commonly noted by professionals links to a cat’s newfound anxiety. This one is the most obvious. Cats with dementia can show changes in behaviour through aggression. Perhaps they are startled by the loud noise or a person, but a cat with dementia may lash out. However, it is important to highlight that aggression may only be linked to dementia if this reaction is unprovoked. If you pick them up or stroke them, they may lash out due to sensitivity or pain. If you walk into a room or a cat catches a glimpse of something unusual, if their first reaction is aggression, this could suggest dementia.
Cat behaviourist Jackson Galaxy has noted in his book Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat, that another behaviour change that could be cat dementia is their activity at night. Cats with dementia may have an increase in vocalisation at night accompanied by disorientation when the lights go out. Once again, this could be due to hearing loss or a vision change, but dementia can be subtle, and only you may notice this change.
Jackson also notes that cats with dementia would be more prone to house soiling and inappropriate elimination. They may struggle to recognise the litterbox or forget where it is. Although annoying, it is best to remain patient with your cat and figure out why this is happening.
But why is this happening? A scientific outlook.
In technical terms, as cats age, there is a chance they will develop a distinct disease process called neuropathological lesions. These cause damage to the brain and overlap with studies that found this to be the same in both humans and dogs. Uniquely to cats, scientists have found a significant amount of tau phosphorylation. In simpler terms, this is a protein found in the brain.
These coincide with the neuropathological lesions as a characteristic of the lesions is Neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs). These also contain tau phosphorylation. Although found in all animals with dementia, it is most prevalent in cats in their early onset of dementia. Aged cats accumulate these proteins, such as amyloid-β (Aβ) proteins, within their cells. This marks an identifier to catching the syndrome as soon as possible.
Now, going back to something we can all understand.
What can we do for cat dementia? Are there any treatments?
Unfortunately, cat dementia is incurable, much like its human counterpart. But there are many things you can do for your cat to allow your cat to continue enjoying the things they love.
These changes that you can make are essential to creating the best environment and diet for your cat. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a diet best suited to your cat would give your cat a good chance of preventing symptoms from worsening. Accompanied by avoiding sudden changes to their daily routine and furniture would help minimalise their chances of becoming lost or confused.
Most importantly, speaking to a professional about your cat helps them the most. Any concerns you have regarding your cat should always be reported to a veterinarian. Cat dementia can affect 50% of cats over the age of 15, so it is always better to be safe than sorry. What we all want is a happy life for your cat, and only you can provide that!
Find out more about your cat’s brain in our other blog, Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs? here!