When To Euthanize A Cat With Feline Dementia

There is nothing we want more than a long and happy life for our feline companions.

A cat that lives into their senior years can have so many beautiful memories at our side, but there is an increased risk of health complications with each year that passes.

One of the many possible complications on the list is feline dementia.

Many of us have heard of dementia in humans, but did you know that our beloved cats can experience this cognitive decline as well?

To help you better understand how this condition can impact our cats down the line, let’s discuss the details below.

When To Euthanize A Cat With Feline Dementia

Can Cats Get Dementia?

Unfortunately, our cats can develop dementia. Just as humans can experience a gradual decline in their mental capabilities, so can our feline friends.

Our cat’s lives are significantly shorter than ours, so a cat that is 11 and older is considered senior or geriatric.

In this period of their lives, they can certainly develop the cognitive decline known as cat dementia.

What Is Cat Dementia?

Cat dementia, or cognitive dysfunction syndrome, is a condition that develops due to the aging process of the cat’s brain.

This natural process can lead to decreased cognitive function as the years go by, leading to complications with memory, awareness, and behavior.

Many cat owners will notice significant changes in their cat’s behavior as the condition progresses, and it will typically worsen as each year passes. It often has a gradual onset, but once significant cognitive decline has begun, it’s hard to ignore.

Is Cat Dementia Like Alzheimer’s In People?

Anytime we discuss cognitive decline in our furry friends, many pet owners will compare it to the human condition known as Alzheimer’s.

Due to Alzheimer’s impacting memory and cognitive function in humans, many assume cat dementia is the same thing. While there are many similarities between the two, it is an entirely different condition.

Comparing Alzheimer’s to dementia in cats can help some pet owners better understand how cognitive decline works, but there are distinct differences between the two conditions.

While feline dementia refers to a gradual decline in cognitive functions due to the natural aging process, Alzheimer’s is often linked to certain predispositions and lifestyle factors.

Feline dementia is actually such a natural process that anywhere from 60-70% of cats will develop it as they surpass 11 years of age, while Alzheimer’s in humans is much less common.

The memory and behavioral changes of feline dementia are comparable to those of Alzheimer’s, but it’s still important to remember the differences.

Common Cat Behavioral Changes Caused By Dementia

Cats can typically begin to experience the effects of cognitive decline by the time they reach 11 years old, with senile dementia developing after 15 years of age.

Due to how common this occurrence is in our feline friends, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and behavioral changes you may see.

Some of the most common behavioral changes of cats with dementia include:

  • Urinating or defecating outside of the litter box
  • No longer grooming themselves
  • Increased vocalizations
  • Appearing disoriented or confused
  • Hiding away or avoiding interactions
  • Forgetting learned behaviors
  • Appearing to forget where their food, litterbox, or other items are
  • Changes in their normal sleeping routine
  • Increased anxiety at night
  • Walking around aimlessly, often at night
  • Changes in their appetite

In cats with dementia, these behavioral changes will typically have a gradual onset and continue to worsen as time goes by.

Many cats will even transition into senile dysfunction disorder as they reach 14-15 years of age, which is often just severe displays of the above symptoms.

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your feline companion, we suggest reaching out to your vet for guidance on how to best help your cat moving forward.

What Age Do Cats Get Dementia?

Most cats will begin to display signs of cat dementia between 11-14 years of age.

Because feline cognitive dysfunction impacts 60-70% of older cats, this means that many cat parents will notice these behavioral changes once they reach their senior years.

If you have a cat that is over 10 years of age, we suggest keeping an eye out for any decline in their cognitive abilities.

How Is Cat Dementia Diagnosed

There is no set diagnostic that tests for the presence of dementia in cats.

Most vets diagnose the condition by asking about your cat’s behavioral changes at home, as well as ruling out any underlying conditions that could lead to their symptoms.

By performing routine diagnostics and painting a clear picture about your cat’s declined cognitive health, they will typically feel comfortable with offering a diagnosis of feline dementia.

Just keep in mind that any time your cat is experiencing a change in behavior or decline in health, your vet will likely want to perform a full panel of blood tests to search for any underlying conditions.

These blood tests will not diagnose feline dementia, but they can rule out other conditions that can develop in older feline friends.

For example, kidney disease can lead to altered behavior in cats, so this is one of many conditions that will need to be ruled out.

How To Treat Cat Dementia

Unfortunately for our beloved cats with dementia, there is no way to reverse the changes that have already occurred within the brain.

While you may not be able to reverse any damage, there is a possibility of slowing the progression of dementia in cats.

To help you better understand which management options are available to your senior cat, let’s break down the options below.

Mental Exercises For Cats

One of the best ways to slow the progression of dementia in cats is by keeping them as sharp as possible.

You can do this by implementing different mental exercises, most of which our cats will thoroughly enjoy.

Some of these mental exercises for cats include:

  • Chasing a feather toy
  • Hiding treats in interactive toys
  • Playing fetch with their favorite toy
  • Sprinkling catnip on their favorite toy (as this encourages them to play with it)
  • Interactive toys that simulate a chase response
  • Setting up obstacle courses for your cat

Brain Supplements

There is some evidence that daily supplements can improve cognitive functions in both cats and dogs with signs of dementia.

These helpful supplements include omega fatty acids, medium chain triglycerides, and certain antioxidants.

If your cat has been diagnosed with feline dementia, we suggest asking your vet about their opinion on these supplements.

Prescribed Medications

Anipryl has not yet been licensed for use in cats as it has been in dogs, but there has been some research on its effectiveness in our feline friends.

The point of this medication is to prevent free radical damage and improve blood flow within the brain, helping to slow the progression of dementia once it develops.

Not every vet will be familiar with its use in cats, so we suggest simply asking your vet about this option.

Every case will vary, so we suggest speaking with your vet about the best treatment options available to your beloved cat.

Early detection will also make management much more successful, which is why we suggest reaching out to your vet at the first sign of cognitive decline.

How To Improve Your Cat’s Life With Dementia

Not only are there a few different ways to manage feline cognitive dysfunction in your cat, there are also a list of ways you can improve their quality of life.

Ranging from lifestyle modifications to diet changes, let’s list some of the best life improvement tools for cats with dementia below.

You can help your cat with dementia by implementing the following changes:

  • Try to avoid changing their environment as much as possible. Even something as simple as rearranging furniture can be challenging for a cat with dementia. This especially means keeping all their items in the same place (bowls, beds, etc.), as well as any other spots in the home they spend quite a bit of their time in. 
  • Adding nightlights to the areas of the home they seem to roam at night. This is especially important around their litter box or food and water bowls. 
  • Try to avoid leaving your cat home alone for long periods, as this can increase their anxiety. 
  • Create as many cozy sleeping spaces around your home as possible, as they may forget where they typically enjoyed napping before. 
  • Try to limit any stressful citations in your home as much as possible. For example, if you have any visitors over to your home and your cat is nervous because of it, we suggest keeping them in a small space in which they can feel safe until everyone leaves. 
  • If your older cat is struggling with stiffness or joint pain, we suggest placing small ramps that lead up to any furniture or beds they like to rest on. This will be much easier for their painful joints, and will hopefully encourage them to still enjoy these familiar spaces.

My Cat With Dementia Meows All The Time

Increased vocalization is common in cats with cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

This is often a result of the confusion they experience each day, as well as anxiety that develops because of it.

Cats with dementia can become distressed for a number of reasons, causing them to wander around aimlessly and meow.

If this is the case for your cat with dementia, then we suggest trying a few of the lifestyle and environmental changes we listed above.

If the meowing still doesn’t improve, it may be time to speak with your vet about medication for feline anxiety.

This can essentially take the edge off for a stressed cat with dementia, allowing them to calm down and get some rest.

Expected Life Expectancy Of Cat with Feline Dementia

If your cat has recently been diagnosed with feline dementia, you are likely wondering how long a cat with dementia can live.

Many people automatically link feline dementia to Alzheimer’s in humans, leading them to believe that the condition in itself can be fatal.

Though there are similar characteristics of cognitive decline with feline dementia, it is not considered fatal in itself.

Cat dementia can deeply impact a cat’s quality of life, and that’s often when owners will choose to put their beloved pets to sleep.

Feline dementia will not often lead to a decline in their physical health, but their mental health will become so severe that they are suffering.

While the condition is not considered fatal in itself, it can certainly lead owners to making a tough decision down the line.

Can Cats Die From Dementia?

Dementia in cats is not a deadly condition in itself, but it can cause significant changes in their mental wellbeing.

While their cognitive decline will not cause any dangerous physical symptoms, their decreased quality of life can warrant the need to put them to sleep.

So while cat dementia itself is not considered fatal, it is often a deciding factor in many senior cat euthanasia’s.

When To Euthanize A Cat With Feline Dementia

If your cat with feline dementia is beginning to suffer, you may be struggling with the decision of when it is time to say goodbye.

We understand that there will always be so much uncertainty and guilt surrounding this decision, so any guidance in this situation can help you come to terms with what to do.

You know your cat best, so you can best determine when it seems like they are having more bad days than good.

If it has gotten to the point that your cat is struggling with the effects of their cognitive decline each day, it may be time to consider saying goodbye.

Some of the signs of a cat beginning to suffer with senile cognitive dysfunction include:

  • Severe confusion that makes day to day life challenging
  • Constant meowing or vocalizations
  • Wandering aimlessly each day
  • Severe anxiety at night
  • Significant decline in appetite
  • No longer being interested in things they once enjoyed

If any of these behavioral signs seem to impact your feline companion, it may be time to speak with your vet about their general quality of life.

We know how tough it can be to consider letting go of your cat in these situations, so we always suggest leaning on the shoulders of your veterinary team. When in doubt, they can guide you in the best direction for your furry friend.

Final Thoughts

Cat dementia is a life altering condition that impacts the senior feline friends in our home.

We encourage you to monitor your senior cat for any signs of cognitive decline, and to always reach out to your vet when behavioral changes develop.

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