Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I’ve had my cat for 15 years and never had a problem with him until now. He is an indoor cat that has been declawed and fixed. Recently he has taken up constant yowling and paces the house. I think its because he sees other cats in our yard. To make him stop, I have to force him to lie next to me. That quiets him for a bit, but as soon as he’s away from me he’s back to yowling and pacing to all the windows.
Siouxsie: Well, Deborah, it’s not at all uncommon for elderly cats to take up such strange habits.
Thomas: Cats, like humans, have changes in their vision, hearing and other senses as they age.
Dahlia: It’s not readily apparent to most people when this is happening, because cats tend to hide incapacity and injury very well. This is part of our survival instinct, which has been well honed over millennia of evolution.
Siouxsie: Geriatric cats–those older than about 13–can also become senile. In veterinary terms, this is called Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). Some signs of this disorder include disorientation (your kitty seems to get lost in his own house), reduced interaction (with people or other pets), changes in the sleep-wake cycle, loss of house-training (failing to use the litterbox), and anxiety behaviors (tremors, yowling and crying, pacing, licking the floor or other objects).
Thomas: Well, you’re 12, Siouxsie. Maybe someday you’ll get senile and forget that you like to be so mean to me!
Siouxsie: Watch it there, Mister Stripy Pants! I’ll be sharp as a tack until the day I die, and I’ll always have a smack for you, you insolent kitten.
Thomas: I am not a kitten! I’m seven years old, thank you! And I have earned the title of Most Puissant Rat Slayer. My claws are registered as deadly weapons in seven acres ….
Dahlia: Anyway. Getting back to your issue, Deborah: You don’t say when your cat does most of his yowling and pacing, but if it’s at night, we’d say this might be part of his problem. If he does this during the day, it could very well be that he does see another cat in the yard.
Siouxsie: One way you can help your cat to be less anxious about visiting cats is to pull down the blinds or put some sort of curtain across the lower half of sliding doors to block the view at cat’s-eye level. If he doesn’t see the interloper, he might not be so anxious about it.
Thomas: But you should also know that changes in behavior such as yowling and pacing can also be signs of illnesses that tend to befall senior cats, such as hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. We’d definitely recommend that you take your cat to the veterinarian for a checkup so that you can rule out any physical causes for his behavior changes.
Dahlia: One of the things your vet will probably want to do is a blood test. This will measure his blood cell count and the level of particular enzymes and chemicals in his blood, and thereby reveal any changes in kidney, liver and thyroid function. The blood test will also check your cat’s blood sugar level to rule out diabetes, and the number of red and white blood cells present will tell your vet whether your cat has an infection or some other blood disease.
Siouxsie: If the blood test and physical exam don’t reveal any illnesses, then the next most likely diagnosis will be cognitive dysfunction.
Thomas: Veterinarians sometimes prescribe the drug selegiline hydrochloride (Anipryl) to treat cognitive dysfunction. It seems to prevent breakdown of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, and can thereby reduce some of the symptoms related to CDS. It is not approved by the FDA for use in cats–although it is used to treat CDS in dogs–and in some cases vets will use it “extra-label” to help a cat with severe CDS to regain some quality of life.
Dahlia: However, if your cat has cognitive dysfunction but it’s not so severe that he’s constantly anxious and fearful and can’t remember how or where to go to the toilet, we think the best thing you can do is be compassionate and do your best to accommodate his special needs.
Siouxsie: You may find that your cat sleeps better if he can spend the night with you. Of course, if you do allow kitty in your bedroom, you’ll want to close the door so he doesn’t go out and get lost in the great, big house.
Thomas: If you let him sleep in your room, consider buying or making him a nice, warm bed so that he won’t catch a chill if he’s sleeping near the floor. The bed should be just big enough for your cat and should have high sides, something like this one (product in link is used as an example only and should not necessarily be taken as an endorsement for this specific product or retailer–although if I didn’t sleep with Mama, I’d certainly like one of these).
Dahlia: You’ll want to make sure he also has a litterbox there and knows where it is.
Siouxsie: Not only will spending the nights with you allow your cat to be reassured by your presence, but if he wakes up in the middle of the night and starts crying, you can reassure him by talking to him and inviting him to the bed for some petting and love.
Thomas: Because cats undergo many changes as they age, we’d recommend that you read Complete Care for Your Aging Cat by Amy D. Shojai. This book contains a lot of important information about caring for elderly cats and is interspersed with inspiring and moving “Golden Moments” stories about actual people and cats dealing with the issues discussed in the book.
Dahlia: So, Deborah. We’d say the first thing you should do is take your cat to the vet. Find out whether he has any illnesses, and if not, start gathering information on how you can make your kitty’s life easier on him (and you) as he goes through his golden years. Good luck, and please let us know how things turn out!