Behavior Changes in Aging Cats
Treating Cognitive Dysfunction
If cognitive dysfunction is the only logical explanation for
changes in your cat’s behavior, the next step is to seek therapy. Treatment
mainly consists of making helpful changes to your cat’s environment and keeping
her daily schedule consistent. There are also some medicines that may help cats
with FCD, such as selegiline hydrochloride (brand name Anipryl®).
This drug is currently only licensed for use in dogs with cognitive
dysfunction, but some behaviorists and veterinarians have reported improvement
in cats as well.
Your veterinarian may also consider an anti-anxiety medication.
For a description of the different anti-anxiety medications used to help cats,
please see our article, Behavioral
Medications for Cats.
Inappropriate elimination is a common symptom of FCD. In fact,
it’s the most common reason that older cats are seen by behaviorists. Any
number of medical problems can contribute to inappropriate elimination,
including sensory decline, neuromuscular conditions that affect mobility, brain
tumors, kidney dysfunction and endocrine system disorders. In short, any
disorder that increases your cat’s frequency of elimination or decreases her
bladder or bowel control can cause house soiling. Accordingly, the first step
in treating inappropriate elimination in any cat, regardless of age, is to take
her to her veterinarian for a thorough examination.
If your cat’s veterinarian rules out medical problems, the
following suggestions may help:
- Increase the number of litter boxes available to your cat. Place at least
one litter box on every floor of your house in case your cat is having trouble
going up or down stairs.
- Place additional litter boxes where they’re easy to find and easy to get
into. Cats experiencing FCD may forget the location of their litter box. Make
sure you keep the existing boxes in their same places, but put new boxes in
obvious areas so that your cat can always find an appropriate place to
- Use litter boxes with low sides. Many older cats have trouble or experience
pain when attempting to get in or out of a litter box with high sides.
Please see our article, Litter Box
Problems, for additional suggestions and detailed information about
resolving litter-box issues.
Confusion and Disorientation
Disorientation is often the first sign that pet parents
recognize as cognitive decline in their older cats. It’s estimated that
disorientation occurs in at least 40% of cats aged 17 years and older.
Disorientation may be reduced by increasing the predictability
of your cat’s environment and schedule. Avoid changes to her food, food
placement, litter and litter box placement. Try to keep her daily routine as
consistent as possible. If she’s really distressed, it may be best to confine
her to a relatively small space, such as one floor of your house or, in
advanced cases, one room. Doing this will make it easy for her to find
everything she needs.