Let’s be honest—cats can be moody. Unlike a dog, who is generally overjoyed to see you in any circumstances, a cat will often refuse to acknowledge its owner exists. But as your beloved pet ages, there can be medical explanations for moodiness. Cat dementia is a serious problem, and one that’s very hard to spot.
The reason we’re becoming more aware of cat dementia is a good one. Cats are one of our longer living pets, which is fantastic. Middle age for a cat is between the ages of eight to 15 years. They are classed as geriatric over the age of 15. If you have a healthy cat with no other problems, we’d be hoping to get them live to their high teens, early twenties. But when they live that bit longer, we’re seeing more cases of dementia.
Symptoms of cat dementia
I have clients coming in saying, “My cat has just started waking up at three o’clock in the morning every night.” If your cat sleeps on your bed, then suddenly one morning at 3am it’s in your face screaming at you, that’s not conducive to a happy life.
Another odd behaviour we’ve seen is the cat forgetting they’ve been fed, and asking again. Not long after dinner, the cat is yowling at you again, and you’re thinking, “I’ve just fed you an hour ago. What’s happened?” Or they forget to eat, so when you put the food down, they’ll wander off and won’t recognise it as food.
Both symptoms are worth checking with your vet, but the real challenge we face in diagnosing dementia is the symptoms mirror behaviours that might be associated with other diseases. For example, your cat may be sleeping more than usual, or walking around less than usual. That may be arthritis—or may not be. It’s similar if the cat seems cranky for no good reason, or if they’re soiling in weird spots. These could all indicate old age diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease or hyperthyroidism.
Odd cat behaviour
But if they are suffering from dementia, these things may be happening because they lose the ability to separate day and night. They get confused and they start doing things at the wrong time of day. They’re yelling because everyone’s asleep and they can’t understand why, for example.
One key indicator is they stop wanting to groom, and that can be they’ve forgotten that they need to groom. But again, it can also be that grooming hurts. If the cat has elbow arthritis, they’re not going to want to move their legs in that way. Or if they have a disc disease in their neck, it might hurt to turn around and groom.
How to tell if dementia is the problem
As you can see for so many reasons, it’s hard for you at home to say definitively that your cat has dementia. There are lots of other subtle problems that the vet can’t tell either.
If we suspect that dementia is a problem, we will run a lot of tests to rule out those other old-age diseases. We’ll do blood tests and urine tests, and a blood pressure check on your cat. All of these tests are to try and rule out the disease that’s mimicking the signs of dementia.