Senile Dementia in Cats

Domestic cats are now living longer than ever before due to advanced veterinary care and pet nutrition, but with many more cats living well into their senior years, feline Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is becoming increasingly prevalent. Often referred to as senile dementia, CDS describes a collection of symptoms caused by a deterioration in the brain due to aging. Cats can often begin to show signs of cognitive aging at around 7-11 old, and are considered senior at 14 years old, but this doesn't necessarily mean cats will develop dementia at this age.

One of the most common forms of dementia in humans is called Alzheimer's disease, the onset of which often becomes apparent when a person begins to notice they are becoming increasingly forgetful, disorientated, restless and start experiencing changes in their mood. Cats with CDS also experience these symptoms, which may cause noticeable changes in their behaviour.

We've listed some of the most commonly exhibited signs of feline senile dementia below, however it is important to note that the symptoms of CDS are very similar to those caused by other serious conditions. So, if you have noticed any of the following signs of CDS in your cat, we advise visiting a vet ASAP to rule out illnesses like arthritis, brain tumours or kidney disease.


  • Confusion - your cat may appear not to recognise familiar places or people, causing nervousness and anxiety. They may be disorientated and unable to find their litter tray, food bowl or favourite place to rest. Confusion may also manifest as aimless wandering, pacing or staring at the wall.
  •  Increased vocalisation - cats affected by dementia will often meow a lot more than usual, particularly at night when they feel restless and confused by the darkness. They may also emit a guttural sounding cry for extended periods of time. However, increased vocalisation can also be a sign of pain, caused by injury or arthritis, so make sure to take your cat to the vet to be checked over if they are meowing/crying more than usual.
  • Loss of house training - inappropriate urination/defecation can be an indication of senility, as your cat may have forgotten their previously learned skills.
  • Changes in appetite - cats with dementia may not be as interested in their meals as before and neglect to eat. Affected cats may also experience an increase in appetite, such as demanding to be fed shortly after they have had a good meal, simply because they have forgotten they have had it.
  • Changes in sleep/wake pattern - cats that have previously slept at night and been active during the day may switch completely with the onset of dementia. A drastic increase or decrease in the amount of time they sleep for may also be apparent.
  • Changes in mood/interaction - a cat that was once affectionate may become adverse to contact when they begin to experience mental deterioration.
  • Lack of grooming - cats enjoy grooming themselves regularly, so a decrease in this behaviour can be an indication of CDS. Evidence of reduced grooming can be seen from a dishevelled coat (see right). Arthritis and other illnesses can also be responsible for lack of grooming.

Diagnosis and treatment

As the symptoms of feline dementia are very similar to other serious illnesses, a vet will not directly diagnose dementia, but rather rule out other conditions. Sadly dementia is a degenerative brain disease, so treatment is concerned with managing the disease rather than curing it. If your cat is diagnosed with CDS, there are several things that can be done to help them cope with the illness and make them more comfortable.

  • Medication - your vet may prescribe drugs such as Anipryl to increase dopamine levels in the brain, which can help improve memory.
  • Diet - a high quality diet rich in antioxidants, essential fatty acids and free-radical scavengers may help to reduce degenerative changes in the brain.
  • Avoid changes to your cat's environment/routine - try to avoid moving furniture, your cat's litter tray and their food bowl so they can better navigate themselves if they are confused.
  • Interaction - if your cat still enjoys contact, try to spend a bit of extra time stroking them, as this may provide some comfort. Regular brushing is also advised if they have stopped grooming themselves.
  • Comfort - make sure your cat has plenty of soft areas for your cat to rest, especially if they are suffering from arthritis. You can also provide additional food/water bowls and litter trays to make them more accessible for your cat wherever they are in the house.

You can contact us for further advice by calling: (01228) 560082.

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Senile Dementia in Cats

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