Anyone who has followed Catipilla will know that our story began with Smudge, our 18-year-old family cat who was losing the ability to climb. As Smudge grew older, we noticed that her behaviour began to change considerably. Being our first cat, we weren’t aware of the extent of these changes. Our immediate concern was making Smudge as comfortable as possible. Since then, however, we have learned as much as we can so we are better prepared next time round. This information is what we wanted to share with you today.
As cats age, many suffer from a natural decline in cognitive function. Research has shown that feline cognitive dysfunction, or FCD, affects more than 55% of cats aged 11 to 15 years and more than 80% of cats aged 16 to 20 years. These changes are a result of natural ageing but can be monitored and adequately treated to ensure your elderly cat has the best years ahead of them.
To make for easy reading, we’ve split the main symptoms of FCD into paragraphs below. To be clear, we’re not professionals – this is just a guide that has stemmed from our own investigations into changes in Smudge’s behaviour. We should also say that if your cat is showing any signs of these symptoms, we would recommend seeing a vet just to be on the safe side.
1. More Talkative
Cats can excessively vocalise with age, which can be a symptom of disorientation or anxiety. As cats age, eyesight and hearing can be affected which can lead to increases in stress-related behaviour. A vocal cat could also be in discomfort from joint pain such as arthritis.
2. Restlessness / Anxiety / Waking at Night
An ageing cat’s loss of cognitive function (eyesight and hearing) can impact how deeply she sleeps. This lack of sleep can further lead to increases in anxiety and stress. Also, as a cat ages the bladder weakens. Naturally, this will make a cat wake more at night and will disturb any deep sleep.
3. Using the House as a Litter Box / Memory Loss / Getting Lost
Using the house as a litter box is the most common symptom of FCD. It’s important to remember that your cat isn’t being disobedient but may well be struggling with a loss of bladder control, decreased mobility and memory loss. These symptoms are a natural side-effect of FCD and should be tackled by adjusting your cat’s environment. Adding a couple of litter boxes, particularly with lower sides, will help.
4. Apathy / Decrease in Activity
Ageing makes all elderly cats slow down. Only a drastic drop in activity should be a cause for concern in this instance. It’s important however to keep cats as active as possible no matter their age. From personal experience, Smudge was a far happier and healthier cat the more she was up and about.
5. An Upside-Down Schedule
Normally, cats are most active during the night. However, as they grow older this schedule tends to flip on its head. One way to help your cat get the best night sleep possible is to tire her out before bedtime with some active play. Another way in which a cat can be calmed before bedtime is through grooming. This is a natural, relaxing practise that will help to increase the chances of a deep sleep.
Thankfully, this behaviour is one that we didn’t experience with Smudge, however an increase of aggression can be down to joint pain, confusion or discomfort. The best way to calm an agitated cat is to place her in a darkened room where she can settle down and relax in her own space.
Treating Feline Cognitive Dysfunction
As we said earlier in this post, we aren’t properly qualified so we cannot offer professional advice. So, instead, we have gone searching for some. Petcha is a leading website on pet health that offers a plethora of information on cat care. For elderly cats that are going through FDC, Petcha advises the following:
‘Cats are creatures of habit and find comfort in the familiar. If your senior cat is experiencing cognitive decline, you might try to create a safe place where she can feel secure. If you have younger cats or other animals living in your home, this will be even more important. You might create soft comfortable sleeping places lower to the ground to keep your cat from having to jump up to rest. You might place a pair of your socks or other worn garment near her resting spot so that she senses your presence even while you are away. Place food and water in her safe zone and of course a litter box, too. Keep a few of her favourite toys close by her space to create her own special environment.’
Finally, Petcha make clear that the best support you can offer an elderly cat is patience, love and support. This is a statement that we fully endorse.
More information can be found about ageing cats here.