On the outside, our felines often look younger than their physical years. But cats, sadly, are not immune to cognitive dysfunction. Some do indeed become senile in their senior years. I always assumed my 20 year old cat was senile–lots of deep meooowing and copious amounts of time spent staring at the wall–but I never really knew for sure, until I read about cats and senility in The Cat Behavior Answer Book (Storey Publishing, 2007). Here, author Arden Moore addresses the issue of aging cats.
If you notice excessive yowling and confusion, you should have your senior cat examined regularly by your vet to rule out any possible underlying medical condition. Hyperthyroidism, liver disease, kidney disease, and urinary tract infection are examples of diseases that may cause hypervocalization or confusion. Some cats who become deaf also start yowling frequently.
Some cats start to exhibit certain telltale signs of cognitive dysfunction around age 12, Many animal behaviorists use the acronym DISH to refer to the symptoms and signs commonly associated with feline senility.
D IS FOR DISORIENTATION
Cats who are disoriented often walk aimlessly, stare at walls, get “stuck” in corners, seem to be lost in their own home, or lose their balance and fall.
I IS FOR INTERACTIONS
Cats with impaired mental function often display changes in their interactions with people. They’re less likely to greet people when they come home or to seek out a lap.
S IS FOR SLEEP
Cats who once slept through the night may prowl restlessly, vocalizing as they roam.
H IS FOR HOUSETRAINING
Proper bathroom habits often go by the wayside, not for medical reasons or displeasure with the state of the litter box, but because the cat just forgets to use it.
To ease nighttime howling, try to break his daytime sleep cycle by frequently but gently waking him during the day. Try to make him more tired at night. Some golden oldies will snooze through the night if you treat them to a heated or cozy pad; look for one that plugs in at a very low temperature and has a washable cover. If these steps do not work, you may ask your vet for help.
Try to stick to routine as much as possible. Add some extra litter boxes in different rooms and on each level of your house. This will help cut down on any missed litter box opportunities. Avoid litter boxes with covers, as alder cats find it harder to get into them. Lower sides are also best too as the hind legs sometimes become stiff.
Most important, shower your cat with love. Spend plenty of time cuddling him and speaking to him in reassuring tones. Enjoy the time you have left with him.