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Is Your Cat Senile?

Is Your Cat Senile?

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.

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.


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.

Cats who once slept through the night may prowl restlessly, vocalizing as they roam.

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.

Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cats, Pets, ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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8:42AM PST on Feb 21, 2012

luckly mys only 3 years old!

8:38AM PST on Feb 21, 2012

Good article and beautiful picture!

11:37PM PST on Jan 15, 2012

Thank you for the information.

2:14PM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

Try leaving a nightlight in the room you have your litter box in. Leave other doors of rooms you're not using closed. This fixed my 17 year old cat's missing the box problem. You have to love them and do what you can for them. :o)

6:19PM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

Thanks Melissa.

7:33AM PDT on Jul 20, 2011

This article is so helpful. I posted a link to it on my facebook page "I Love my senile cat." It is heartbreaking to see your cat become so confused, but this article has a lot of good information and advice.

11:35AM PDT on Apr 14, 2011

Great article -- my little girl is 13-14 and was the product of a feral mom and the runt of the litter -- I am surprised she's lived this long, but has become very vocal, disoriented and has lost weight -- I've been getting her canned tuna and cream, she seems to like that (unfortunately, so do the other 4!). I hestitate to take her to the vet, because all she seems to care about is running up a bill and doing tests -- and to me, that's not quality care -- plus any meds for the cat, in this state, would just upset her more. I thought it was senility when she first started with the yowling and prowling.

7:53AM PDT on Mar 29, 2011

So sad to think of our furry best friends getting old and sick.

12:45AM PDT on Mar 20, 2011

Thanks for the article.

8:13AM PST on Mar 1, 2010

My cat is about 15+ years old. Over the past couple of months he has progressed from just having a little accident here and there to the point where I now have to keep him confined in a pen. He spends the day sleeping and eating, but his grooming and toilet habits have gotten so bad that he smells constantly. I have given him baths now and then, but he hates them and they are basically useless, because he will not soak and he just messes himself again as soon as he is back in his pen. He won't use a litter box, so I line the pen with paper and absorbant pads, which he soils and then burrows under.. He will not use a single area for his toilet so he ends up sleeping in his own excrement. and doesn't seem to care. Before his condition worsened my home was completely non-toxic, but I am now forced to use chemical bleach because I feel that nothing is clean enough anymore. I used cloth diapers for my children, but now I have absorbant pads for my cat. I throw away piles of paper everyday, use gallons of extra water each week. He is worth the effort, but it is breaking my heart to see him like this, and I do feel guilty about all of the trash we are producing. I don't know what to do anymore, and I don't know if anyone has any suggestions- I guess I just need to voice my frustration. I love Snowy so much and I will be lost without him. But at the same time I worry about my family's health because he is in close proximity to our living and eating areas (my house is extremely small)

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