What to Know About Dementia in Cats

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on February 14, 2024
4 min read

Due to advances in pet nutrition and veterinary care, domestic cats are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. While this is good news for pet owners who want as much time as possible with their feline friends, it also means that cat dementia is becoming more common in older cats. Here’s what you need to know about feline dementia in senior cats.

Senior cats can develop cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). CDS is often referred to as cat or feline dementia. Noticing signs of dementia in cats can be harder than in humans unless you know the signs and symptoms.

Between ages 7 and 11, cats may start to show cognitive signs of aging. At around the age of 10 years, cats are considered seniors. This age marker doesn’t necessarily mean that all cats with feline dementia will start to show symptoms at this time.

Not all cats develop CDS as they get older. Research shows that about 36% of cats between ages 11 and 21 are affected by feline dementia. Fifty percent of cats over age 15 show changes in behavior that are linked with cat dementia.

Dementia in cats causes many of the same changes in the feline brain that Alzheimer’s disease does in the human brain. Many factors can determine if your cat will develop dementia, but research suggests that it is linked to the buildup of certain proteins in the brain. As your cat gets older, there are signs of dementia in cats that you can look out for:

  • Lack of interest in playing
  • Spatial disorientation
  • Wandering away from home
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Loss of interest in food and water, or change in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns or sleeping too much
  • Going to the bathroom outside of the litter box
  • Long periods of meowing or vocalizing for seemingly no reason, especially at night
  • Staring into space or at the walls for long stretches of time

Memory loss may become apparent in different ways. You may notice that your cat stops responding to commands that they’ve already learned. Memory loss may also cause them to get lost in familiar places or forget simple things, like where their litter box is. Your cat may stop caring about food or might overeat since they’ve forgotten that they have already eaten.

If you start to notice these changes in your cat, you should take them to the vet to make sure that their behavior isn’t being caused by something else. Since these symptoms overlap with many different illnesses, your vet will only diagnose your cat with CDS if everything else has been ruled out. Even though there is no cure for dementia in cats, it’s important to get a diagnosis to help keep your cat comfortable and care for them the best that you can.

There is no cat dementia treatment but there are ways to help your cat cope. The best thing you can do is to keep your cat’s schedule as consistent as possible to avoid any more confusion or disorientation. You may need to make some small changes around your house to help them avoid having accidents or getting lost. This includes adding extra litter boxes without moving the original one.

Medication. There are multiple options which include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), omega-3 fatty acids, free radical scavengers and antioxidants, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e) and L-theanine. Your vet may prescribe a medication called selegiline that raises dopamine levels in the brain. This may help to improve their memory. Another option is an anti-anxiety medication. This won’t help with your cat’s memory but it will help them to stay calm when they feel confused or disoriented.

Diet. Researchers believe that a diet high in antioxidants can help improve memory and brain function. Try to incorporate essential fatty acids and foods that don’t have free radicals to help stop your cat’s brain from degenerating further.

Comfort. Give your cat plenty of attention. Stroke or pet them if they will tolerate it and let them know you’re there. If your cat can’t groom themselves anymore, brush and keep them clean. Since your cat may be resting more, provide them with soft areas with pillows or blankets so they can get comfy.

Unfortunately, there is only so much that you can do for your cat. The end stage of dementia in cats may happen when they have lost interest in anything they previously liked or when their quality of life has gone down significantly. Even though it’s hard to think about euthanasia, some experts believe it’s better to say goodbye to your pet while you still have a bond with them rather than before it’s too late.