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Older Cats with Behavior Problems

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The Effects of Aging

As they age, cats often suffer a decline in functioning, including their cognitive functioning. It’s estimated that cognitive decline—referred to as feline cognitive dysfunction, or FCD—affects more than 55% of cats aged 11 to 15 years and more than 80% of cats aged 16 to 20 years. Memory, ability to learn, awareness, and sight and hearing perception can all deteriorate in cats affected with FCD. This deterioration can cause disturbances in sleeping patterns, disorientation or reduced activity. It can make cats forget previously learned habits they once knew well, such as the location of the litter box or their food bowls. It can increase their anxiety and tendency to react aggressively. It can also change their social relationships with you and with other pets in your home. Understanding the changes your cat is undergoing can help you compassionately and effectively deal with behavior problems that may arise in her senior years.

Some effects of aging aren’t related to cognitive dysfunction. Often these effects can contribute to behavior changes that only look like cognitive decline. Be sure to report all changes you see to your cat’s veterinarian. Don’t assume that your cat is “just getting old” and nothing can be done to help her. Many changes in behavior are signs of treatable medical disorders, and there are a variety of therapies that can comfort your cat and ease her symptoms, including any pain she might be experiencing.

Cognitive Dysfunction Checklist

The following behaviors may indicate cognitive dysfunction in your senior cat:

Learning and Memory

  • Eliminates outside the litter box
  • Eliminates in sleeping areas or by eating areas
  • Sometimes seems unable to recognize familiar people and pets

Confusion and Spatial Disorientation

  • Gets lost in familiar locations
  • Stares or fixates on objects or simply stares into space
  • Wanders about aimlessly
  • Gets stuck and can’t navigate around or over obstacles

Relationships and Social Behavior

  • Less interested in petting, interactions, greeting people or familiar pets, etc.
  • Needs constant contact, becomes overdependent and clingy

Activity—Decreased, Apathetic

  • Explores less and responds less to things going on around her
  • Grooms herself less
  • Eats less

Anxiety and Increased Irritability

  • Seems restless or agitated
  • Vocalizes more and/or in a more urgent tone
  • Behaves more irritably in general

Sleep-Wake Cycles and Reversed Day-Night Schedule

  • Sleeps restlessly, wakes up during the night
  • Sleeps more during the day
  • Vocalizes more at night

Source: Aspca.org

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