Cats and Dementia
Can a cat get dementia and if so what are the symptoms? (Stephanie Hampson - Australia)
In terms of a progressive decline in cognitive function, then yes cats can suffer from dementia. As with dogs and humans, cats live longer in a domestic setting than in the wild environment and as such sometimes they lost their cognitive functions before suffering from any old-age-related physical problems. Scientists have found abnormal proteins similar to those in humans suffering from Alzheimer's in the brains of diseased cats during routine autopsies by using special tests. And many owners of older cats will be familiar with the signs of dementia.
Senility is a gradual process and may be barely noticeable until the cat begins house-soiling or an indoor/outdoor cat gets lost frequently or wanders erratically. Just like the kidneys, liver and heart, your cat's brain degenerates and his memory and behavior change. Genetics plays a part in determining when and how fast these changes occur - sometimes as young as 12 years old, sometimes not at all, even in a cat of 20+ years old.
A senile cat is often forgetful of his own well-being. He may venture into risky areas, be unable to find his way back home, and become incontinent. He may show repetitive behaviors such as walking in circles, plucking fur or aimless movements. It is also important to point out, however, that some indications of dementia can also be a symptom of a physical illness - for example incontinence could be caused by bladder disease. Therefore, I always recommend that your cat has a thorough veterinary examination whenever you notice a change in behavior.
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