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 eliminate.
- 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.