Paws and Effect

Feline cognitive dysfunction is a relatively common condition in senior cats.

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My cat, Possum, is 19. He’s always been very skittish. For the first 18 or so years of his life he kept in dark spaces and only came out to eat or drink at night and slept in my bed. In the past two or three years he has had problems with his thyroid, lost a ton of weight, spits his medication out, and will pee anywhere in the house (I keep the cat box VERY clean). In the past year he has become all but entirely deaf. He had a complete personality change and began yowling and being very social. But recently, he has become very aggressive with my other animals. I know he is not afraid of them because they’ve been together for years. He will bite the fur out of my dogs and cats and won’t let them near the water bowls. He will eat my dogs’ food if they let him get close enough, What should I do? He is like a completely different cat.

~ Torie

Thomas: Torie, there are a lot of things very old cats go through, and we’ve experienced almost all of them as we moved through Siouxsie’s old age.

Bella: First of all, Possum may be in pain. A lot of cats will undergo a personality change when they’re hurting. So with that in mind, we’d definitely recommend a trip to the vet to see what’s going on.

Tara: One other relatively common condition in elder kitties is called feline cognitive dysfunction. It’s like the kitty version of Alzheimer’s disease.

Thomas: The symptoms of feline cognitive dysfunction include, but are not limited to, disorientation or confusion, anxiety and restlessness, extreme irritability, a seeming disregard for previously learned training (including litter box training), and changes in the sleep cycle.

Bella: Although there’s no cure for kitty geriatric dementia, there are some things your vet may be able to do to help slow the decline.

Tara: According to PetMD, treatment can include special medications and behavioral therapy.

Thomas: Your vet might also suggest a special diet, supplemented with antioxidants, vitamin E and C, selenium, flavonoids, and other nutrients that are all known to improve cognitive function.

Bella: The special medication is called selegiline hydrochloride (brand name Anipryl), which is used in the treatment of human dementia. It’s only fully licensed to be used in dogs, but it has been used “off label” to treat feline cognitive dysfunction as well.

Tara: And some vets and behaviorists have noted improvement in cats on the medication.

Thomas: Of course, more meds may be hard to get into Possum since he’s already spitting out most of his current meds. But we’ve got a solution for that as well: Pill Pockets!

Bella: It’s usually easy to give a cat medications in a Pill Pocket because it tastes like a treat but allows you to stick the medication inside. Mama uses Pill Pockets to give Tara her medication.

Tara: She does? I thought those were just special treats! (Ha ha, just kidding–I knew there were pills in there.)

Thomas: Pill Pockets are available at pet stores, online, and probably at your vet’s office, too.

Bella: Your vet might also recommend anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam (brand name Xanax) to help with Possum’s other symptoms. Alprazolam isn’t very expensive, especially if you get it from your local drugstore.

Tara: Another thing you can do to help slow the progress of feline cognitive dysfunction is to give Possum regular intellectual stimulation through play or through offering puzzle treats. Puzzle treats are neat because Possum will have to use his brain to figure out how to get the food morsels in the treat.

Thomas: That might help him to eat more, too.

Bella: So ultimately, Torie, the first step you need to take is to get Possum back to the vet for a full checkup. Explain his symptoms to your veterinarian and see if he or she thinks it could be feline cognitive dysfunction or if his behavior change is caused by pain.

Tara: Your vet may be able to offer you some treatments to help him. Whether those treatments include pain management or pills to help slow the progress of kitty dementia, they may help Possum enjoy a good quality of life for longer.

Thomas: What about you other readers? Have you had a cat with cognitive dysfunction? How did their behavior change, and what did you do to help? Please share your stories in the comments.

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