According to vets, the Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is a common condition prevalent in older dogs. However, recent clinical studies suggest that cats can develop this condition too.

Based on a study performed in 2003, 28% of the cats between 11 and 14 years old exhibit at least one sign of CDS, whereas for felines over 15 years old the incidence grows to 50%.
Before you fret, take note that a decrease in cognitive functions in your beloved companion is normal. As your pet gets older, they’re likely to experience a decline in functioning and suffer changes in memory, learning, perception and overall awareness. Therefore, an older cat is likely to forget learned behaviors such as housetraining, have altered sleep-wake cycles and fail to recognize people, places and other pets.

Symptoms of CDS in cats

The best way to determine whether your cat is suffering from cognitive dysfunction is to take it to the vet’s office. Then again, pet owners can also establish if there are any reasons to worry by watching out for one or more of the following symptoms:

• Severe disorientation – getting lost inside their own home, staring at a fixed spot for prolonged times, wandering aimlessly or getting stuck in objects around its path;

• Behavior changes – presents less interest in interacting with you and other pets or conversely, becomes very dependent and starts seeking constant contact with the owner. Some felines stop grooming themselves and are less active, while others are restless, irritable and very vocal during the night;

• Memory changes – because they’re unable to recognize familiar places and locations, there’s a fair chance the cat stops using its litter box;

• Circadian cycle alterations – cognitive dysfunction will alter a cat’s sleeping pattern, meaning that the sleep-wake cycle may appear reversed.

Diagnosis and treatment of CDS

Diagnosing the CDS in your cat is done by eliminating other conditions with similar symptoms prevalent in older felines. For example, cats suffering from chronic kidney disease or with diabetes are likely to miss the litter box. At the same time, arthritis and hyperthyroidism can cause abnormal meowing and yowling. Eliminating these conditions entails blood and urine tests as well as an X-ray to determine the health of the joints.

In case your cat has been diagnosed with CDS, you should know that there’s no treatment for the condition. Fortunately, the symptoms can be alleviated by:

  • Purchasing it more interactive and puzzle-like toys to create an enriched environment that stimulates its brain
  • Making small modifications around the house so that it becomes easier to navigate for your cat, such as placing ramps or providing it a low-profile litter box, for example
  • Avoiding major changes in the routine that could cause stress in your cat and ideally, sticking to a predefined schedule

As a last resort, discuss with your vet the possibility of giving your furry friend medication designed for cognitive dysfunction, like selegiline. In addition, you could re-evaluate its diet and make sure the cat receives plenty of food rich in vitamins E and C, alpha-lipoic acid, selenium, and beta-carotene.