Cognitive dysfunction is a very common problem among cats that are 11 years of age and older. According to the ASPCA, 55% of cats aged 11-14 will suffer from some kind of cognitive dysfunction while that number shoots up to 80% in cats that are 16-20 years old. You might feel helpless as a cat owner watching this process unfold. However, there are things that you can do to help keep your cat functioning at the highest level possible for the longest time possible.
What is Cognitive Dysfunction in cats?
As your cat progresses through their senior years, you may see his/her behaviors begin to change. The cat may begin going potty outside of the litter box, wandering aimlessly, grooming less, becoming more vocal, or forgetting things. Though these things may be seen as simply “getting older,” they are signs of declining functioning of the brain. Physical changes in the brain are happening as the cat ages including oxidation, atrophy, and the development of beta-amyloid plaques (these substances are also seen in human Alzheimer’s disease). There is no one specific test that can be done to diagnose cognitive dysfunction in cats. Rather, it is a diagnosis that is given when all other causes for the new behaviors are ruled out. Therapies and treatments are available, but these will need to be continued for the rest of the cat’s life.
Helping Your Cat Beat Cognitive Dysfunction
If your cat is experiencing cognitive dysfunction, there are some things you can do to help slow it down. As always, talk to your veterinarian if you think that your cat may be having this or any other medical problem.
#1 Get regular checkups with a veterinarian.
The earlier that cognitive dysfunction is caught, the more you can do to slow the process. Routinely taking your cat to the veterinarian can help catch the signs of cognitive dysfunction as early as possible. Any time you see a change in behavior, make sure to relay that to your veterinarian. It might be a good idea to write these changes down in between visits to the veterinarian so you don’t forget to bring them up.
#2 Carefully Choose Your Cat’s Diet
Nutrition is really important to your cat’s body’s ability to function. As the body routinely replaces its cells, it builds the new cells from amino acids and proteins found in the food the cat has eaten. Excellent quality, species-appropriate food equals optimal functioning in the body!
Cats need a diet that is high in moisture and animal protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates. Start feeding your cat the freshest, highest quality food that you can afford to feed. If your cat eats a dry cat food, switch to a wet or raw food diet. Dry food does not provide the moisture a cat needs. Cats that eat wet foods consume twice as much moisture even though they drink out of the water bowl less than cats on a dry food diet. Dry food also contains far more carbohydrates than a cat’s body use.
It is also important to note that obesity in cats can increase your cat’s chances of developing a number of diseases as he/she ages. These diseases include diabetes, joint problems, cancer and more. Good nutrition can help keep your cat slim. It might take a change of food or simply a change in portion size. Talk to your veterinarian if your cat needs help shedding those extra pounds.
#3 Use Supplements That Support Brain Health
There are a few vitamins and supplements that you could add to your cat’s diet that might help keep his/her brain going stronger longer. Talk to your veterinarian before adding any supplements to ensure that they will work well with any medications your cat may be on. A few possible supplements to use are:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Krill Oil (Omega 3 Fatty Acids)
- SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine)
- Coconut oil (medium chain triglycerides)
#4 Exercise Your Cat’s Body and Mind
As the adage says “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Make sure that your cat continues to get a healthy amount of exercise into his/her golden years. Bring out the toys and have some interactive play! Your cat will love the attention and benefit physically and mentally from the exercise. Even a few minutes per day can make a difference!
You want to stimulate your cat’s brain to continue functioning normally. For a mental challenge, try out a toy that dispenses treats or a puzzle feeder. These toys don’t need to be expensive. Even hiding a treat and letting your cat find it can be helpful.
#5 Make the Necessary Accommodations at Home
You can slow down the process of cognitive decline, but you can’t stop it completely. Eventually, you may have to do some things around your home to make life easier for your aging cat. One of these things could be adding more litter boxes around your home so that your cat doesn’t have to go as far to get to one. Another thing would be to make sure that the cat doesn’t have a high lid to step over to get into the litter box. If your cat has developed arthritis, walking and bending their joints may be difficult. Your veterinarian can help you to figure out exactly which accommodations your cat will need.
Have you ever known a cat that had cognitive dysfunction?
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