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Everything you need to know about cat dementia

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How do you know if your cat has dementia? Although the question sounds like the beginning to a cruel joke, cat dementia is a fact of life for one in ten kitties

By G. John Cole

A cat with dementia needs special attention. And there's a chance you might confuse the symptoms with those of a number of other illnesses that need to be dealt with as quickly as possible. That’s why it’s important to know the facts about cat dementia.

Cat dementia: a disease on the rise

Around one in three cats is considered to be ‘senior,’ which experts identify with reaching the ripe old age of 10. And between a quarter and half of all senior cats show signs of changing behaviour. These behaviour changes are often associated with feline dementia.

And more and more cats are reaching old age (despite objections from the dog community).

“These days cats are given a better diet, they are more sheltered and tend not to spend so much time outdoors,” says Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore, professor of feline medicine at the University of Edinburgh, speaking to The Telegraph.

“And they are more likely to be treated for conditions for which they might have been put down in the past. “The sad part of this is that it does mean increasing numbers of cats are getting to an age where a lot of them will suffer from dementia.”

Can cats get dementia? Yes. But when so many cats are acting aggressively or irritably anyway, what difference does it make to know they have dementia? Let’s have a closer look.

Cat dementia: what is it?

Cat dementia is very similar to dementia in humans. In humans, the type of dementia that’s most common is Alzheimer's. In cats, we refer to the equivalent condition as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).

CDS is caused by plaque which builds up between the nerve cells of a cat’s brain, due to the accumulation of a protein called amyloid. This plaque makes it more difficult for the nerves in a cat’s brain to send messages to each other.

Can you prevent cat dementia?

The short answer is that there is no sure way, such as a vaccine, to prevent CDS. But the longer answer is that there are steps you can take to reduce the chance of your cat getting dementia.

Senior vet Dr Bradley Viner points out that because cats and humans suffer more from dementia if they spend a lot of time alone without interaction, elderly people and cats can help each other by hanging out together.

“If humans and their cats live in a poor environment with little company and stimulation, they are both at higher risk of dementia,” he writes, “so when elderly people interact with their pet cat, it is likely to be beneficial for them both.”

Unfortunately, this presupposes the idea that your cat is actually up for interaction. Providing it with food-hunting games and an antioxidant-rich diet are other ways to reduce the risk of dementia.

How do I recognize cat dementia?

If your cat’s behaviour changes dramatically, and it becomes confused or disoriented, you may have CDS on your hands. This confusion can result in different mood changes. Your cat may begin to cry at night. Or it may become more aggressive, needy, or anxious, although it can be hard to tell the difference.

Other lifestyle changes can also indicate the onset of cat dementia. If your cat begins to eat noticeably more or less than usual, or grooms itself less often, it could be CDS.

However, there are other conditions that these symptoms can indicate. These are as diverse as arthritis, brain tumour, sight problems, or even dental disease. And of course, it’s possible that your cat is just being a cat. If puss displays any of these symptoms, take it to the vet as these conditions require medical attention.

Dealing with cat dementia

There is no cure for cat dementia, but there are some medical and behavioural approaches to cope with it. Your vet can recommend food or supplements with antioxidants and vitamins that might improve your cat’s brain function.

Try to keep your cat’s lifestyle stable and reduce its living area to prevent it from becoming unnecessarily anxious and confused.

Meanwhile, The University of Edinburgh and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland are using their precious resources trying to find more answers about cat brains.

“We want to study the brains of tigers and lions stored by the Zoological Society to see whether these diseases are present,” researcher Lesa Longley told the Telegraph, “and whether the kind of environment they are kept in and the level of stimulation they get makes a difference to the likelihood of dementia.”