Cats often experience cognitive decline as they age, said ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing animal cruelty. Cognitive decline and dysfunction can make your feline friend forget where its food bowl or litter box is located or the habits they knew before. It can also heighten their anxiety and aggression and alter your cat’s relationship between you and its furry companions. Avoid assuming your Felix is “just getting old,” disregarding potential problem behaviors that come with aging. In fact, many behavioral changes are symptoms of treatable medical conditions, and your veterinarian can offer you a variety of therapies to ease its symptoms, relieve pain, and make senior years more comfortable.
Potential Causes of Increased Vocalization Among Cats With Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) (June 2020)
Petra Černá and colleagues of MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute), a research portal that publishes peer-reviewed, open-access journals, opened a survey from January 2016 to August 2018, recruiting 37 cats with CDS from 37 households. All cats had been diagnosed with CDS so they exhibited increased vocalization as part of their clinical profile. Aside from CDS, the most common health issues were osteoarthritis (24.3%), hyperthyroidism (13.5%), chronic kidney disease (10.8%), asthma (5.4%), diabetes mellitus (5.4%), hypertension (5.4%), gastrointestinal small cell lymphoma (2.7%) and chronic cystitis (2.7%).
Regarding the triggers that led to increased vocalization, the owners reported moving to another house (10.8%), losing a sibling (8.1%), losing a family member (8.1%), having a new cat/dog in the family (5.4%), going to a cattery (2.7%), and undergoing significant veterinary treatment (2.7%). Only 62.1% of owners reported no initial trigger. When the respondents were asked if the cats vocalized at night or during the day, they said their cats vocalized at night (35.1%), mostly at night (34.4%), and during both day and night (32.4%).
When asked about the “major” behavior and likely motivation for their feline’s increased vocalization, the owners mentioned that the main cause was likely to be attention-seeking (40.5%) or disorientation (40.5%). Only 16.2% of owners reported resource seeking as the main cause and 2.7% mentioned pain. However, 64.8% believed that there was more than one cause behind their cat’s vocalization.
Likewise, there were some behaviors associated with “major” behaviors. For instance, behavioral signs correlated with attention-seeking included increased affection (67.6%) and maintained eye contact when vocalizing (51.4%). According to the owners, the vocalization stopped after engaging in positive physical contact (43.2%). For felines that appeared lost or disoriented, the owners said that the cat vocalized in a separate room (78.4%) and aimlessly wandered while vocalizing (64.9%). When cats sought a resource like food, they vocalized during mealtimes (43.2%) or despite already having eaten (43.2%).
Along with increased vocalization, some of the most common behavioral changes were increased social time with owners (54.0%), aimless wandering (51.4%), and staring into space (51.4%). Other changes were less territory outside the house when outside (40.5%), increased social time with visitors (40.5%), altered appetite (32.4%), changes in sleep/wake cycle (29.7%), decreased grooming (27.0%), and location-related confusion (24.3%). More studies are needed to improve people’s understanding cognitive dysfunction syndrome to assist more cats and their owners, the authors emphasized.
What Are the Behavioral Changes Associated With Aging?
1. Excessive Vocalization
Senior cats vocalize because they lost their hearing, appear disoriented, or cry out in pain due to one more medical complications. Take your cat to your veterinarian so that they can perform a thorough physical examination to rule out or treat any medical issues. Vocalizing can be a problem if your cat does it too often or at inappropriate times such as when you’re sleeping. Venting out your frustration or punishing your cat for this behavior can make it more anxious, worsening the problem. Addressing vocalization entails increasing your cat’s activity during the day and helping it reestablish its sleep-wake cycle. Pheromone or drug therapy can help ease anxiety. Consider using feline pheromone sprays or diffusers in areas where your cat usually frequents.
Your cat can become restless due to feline cognitive dysfunction, but sensory changes like vision or hearing loss can trigger restlessness at night, compromising its depth of sleep. Anxiety can also lead to increased restlessness at night. In fact, geriatric anxiety can manifest as nighttime anxiety. Maybe your cat is anxious about being separated from you and other family members or moving around the house in the dark. Hence, your cat may prevent you from falling asleep by calling, purring at your head, pacing in the room, and pawing you for attention. Drug therapy and consulting your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist
3. House Soiling/Inappropriate Elimination
Stress triggers inappropriate elimination regardless of your cat’s age, noted Lauren Jones, VMD, of Pet Coach, whose objective is to provide the best care and attention to your pet. Senior cats may not be as capable of dealing with stress unlike their younger counterparts. Hence, stressors like moving, routine changes, or changes in the makeup of the family can cause inappropriate elimination. Calming pheromones can reduce anxiety, decreasing your cat’s likelihood of urine spraying or inappropriate urination. Felines may also start to dislike their litter box or the substrate. In this case, it is recommended to try using different types of litter, including sand and shredded newspapers. Use enzyme cleaners to sanitize areas that have been soiled with pee or droppings.
This might be caused by a medical issue such as arthritis, vision, or hearing loss (making your cat more easily startled), or any disease affecting the nervous system. Counterconditioning— which teaches your cat a different response when exposed to certain stressors— along with desensitization (gradual reintroduction of the cat to the stimuli), medical therapy, and calming pheromones can address your cat’s aggressive behavior.
Disorientation is usually the first sign of cognitive decline that you will notice in your senior cat. Reduce disorientation by increasing the predictability of its surroundings and schedule. Don’t make any changes to its litter box or food bowl location, as well as the placement of the food. Be as consistent as possible.
Senior cats experience cognitive decline, triggering anxiety and other behavioral changes. Owners are advised to establish a consistent routine to increase predictability. They can also take their cats to their veterinarian for a thorough examination.