Behavior Changes in Aging Cats
Treating Cognitive Dysfunction continued...
Restlessness / Waking at Night
A cat’s sleep-wake cycle can be impaired by FCD. However, as with most symptoms of FCD, there are also many alternative reasons for increased nighttime activity. For instance, cats who sleep more during the day can become more restless and active at night. Sensory changes, such as eyesight or hearing loss, can affect your cat’s depth of sleep. An increased need to eliminate combined with a decreased ability to locate or access a litter box can prompt your cat to wake up and wander around. Ask your cat’s veterinarian to do a complete examination to identify medical problems that could cause restlessness, discomfort or an increased need to eliminate. At the same time, try to reestablish your cat’s normal sleeping and waking hours. It’s best to increase her activity level by engaging her in play during the day and in the evening so she’ll want to sleep at night.
Anxiety can also cause increased restlessness at night. A distinct feature of geriatric anxiety is that it can manifest as nighttime anxiety. It may be anxiety about being separated from family members (who are asleep) or worry about navigating the house in the dark. Your cat may keep you awake by calling, pacing in your room, purring by your head and by pawing at you for attention. FCD anxiety can improve with drug therapy. Please see our article, Behavioral Medications for Cats for more information. You can also consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) and your veterinarian, or a veterinary behaviorist (Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior, Dip ACVB) to see if medication may be helpful.
Older cats may vocalize excessively for a number of reasons, including disorientation, loss of hearing and pain due to one or more medical conditions. As with other symptoms of FCD, your first step should be to take your cat to her veterinarian for a thorough examination to rule out or treat any medical problems.
FCD generally increases vocalizations related to anxiety, disorientation and separation distress. Anxious vocalizing is usually a plaintive meow. Your senior cat’s vocalizing can become a problem if she does it too often or at inappropriate times, like when you’re sleeping. Showing your own frustration or punishing your cat for vocalizing can increase her anxiety and aggravate the problem. It’s better to treat increased vocalization by increasing your cat’s activity during the day and gradually reestablishing her proper sleep-wake cycle.
Pheromone or drug therapy may help your cat feel less anxious. You can use feline pheromone sprays or diffusers in areas where your cat normally spends her time. Please see our article, Pet Pheromones, for more information about pheromones and how they work. Anti-anxiety medication can also help reduce vocalizations. You can also seek advice from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) and your veterinarian, or a veterinary behaviorist (Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior, Dip ACVB).