We often recognize the effects aging has on the human brain, but many pet owners don’t realize that the same thing can happen to our pets. As cats age, their bodies will start to slow down, and sometimes, so will their mind. A decrease in cognitive function known as brain aging or cognitive dysfunction can be stressful for your pets and can also put stress on you and your family.
It’s important to know the signs of brain aging in cats, so you’re able to catch it early and work to counteract its effects. The more you’re able to cater to your pet’s increasing needs, the more you will help your cat live a healthy and happy life well into its senior years.
Signs of feline cognitive dysfunction
Most cats will experience some general decline in mental ability as they age; this is called brain aging. As many as 50 percent of cats over the age of 15 will show signs of brain aging, and the chances get higher the older the cat gets. This ailment may also be called cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) or feline dementia.
The significance of mental decline may vary between cats. Some cats will experience a very slow, gradual decline in mental ability over a long period of time, while others may experience a much faster decline. Other cats may not experience cognitive dysfunction at all.
There are numerous signs of brain aging in cats. These symptoms may occur at the same time or may appear slowly over time.
- Decreased interaction with humans or other pets
- Increased aggression
- Lack of appetite
- Urination or defecation outside of the litter box
- Lack of self-grooming
- Decreased problem-solving skills
- Not knowing how to do previously-learned skills
- Unawareness of surroundings
- Disrupted sleep cycles
- Loud crying or whining at night
Cats with decreasing cognitive function may start to wander aimlessly through your home as if they are lost. Aging cats may also experience a decline in their vision. Combined, these things can make your cat very uneasy and unsure of its surroundings, leading to distress and crying.
Memory also becomes more of a problem as cats age. They may appear confused as they walk through your home, or not remember how to do particular skills. This may even go as far as your cat forgetting to take care of its own health. It may neglect to groom itself, causing a disheveled or matted appearance, and may forget to eat, leading to weight loss.
Fighting the effects of cognitive decline
If your aging cat begins to show signs of cognitive dysfunction, it does not mean it is beyond help. There are many things you can do each day to help your cat adjust to its senior lifestyle, exercise its brain and feel more at peace in your home.
One of the best ways to both prevent and counteract cognitive dysfunction is stimulating your cat’s brain. Although puzzles may take longer for your cat to solve, daily mental stimulation helps to keep your cat sharp. Help your cat work through problem-solving activities and games. Puzzle balls and mazes make great activities for your cat to earn treats while exercising its noggin, and puzzle-type food dispensers combine mental stimulation with necessary sustenance.
Additionally, you can try putting a cat perch near a window that has a good view of passerby or of birds on a bird feeder. This will give your cat something to watch and potentially stimulate its hunting instincts.
Beyond mental stimulation, you’ll want to feed your aging cat a diet filled with vitamins and minerals that will help keep its brain wheels turning. Antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids are known for improving cognitive function, so select foods with these nutrients or incorporate a daily supplement into your cat’s meals.
There are also lots of supplements designed to assist your cat in the aging process. Not only will these types of supplements help your cat retain its sharp mind, but they can assist with the other negative effects of aging, too.
Making cognitive decline easier for your cat
Once your cat’s mental abilities reach a certain point, you’ll want to begin making accommodations to make its life easier.
Leave a night light in the area of the home where your cat usually sleeps. Cats with declining mental health will often have altered sleep-wake cycles and may get disoriented if they wake up in the middle of the night. Soft lights can help them re-focus and remember where they are to ease any potential distress.
Don’t let cats with cognitive dysfunction disorders outside, if possible. Brain aging or cognitive disorders can make finding its way home very difficult due to a decrease in memory and lack of situational awareness. These problems can also pose potential dangers for your cat, increasing the risk of it getting hurt without your knowledge.
Avoid making changes that could confuse your cat as much as possible. Rearranging furniture may be slightly stressful for a young kitten, but an older cat may feel like it is in an entirely new home and become deeply distressed, since it will have a harder time navigating.
Adjusting to your cat’s new level of cognition can be tough, but with a little patience and extra care, you will be able to find ways to keep your cat’s brain sharp and help it feel more at ease as it transitions into old age.