Common Signs of Senior Dementia in Cats

Learn how to spot feline senility

As your cat ages, you may begin to notice behavioral changes. Similar to people, senior cats can develop dementia, called cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

It is not uncommon for cats to begin showing signs of decreased cognitive function in their later years. Many cats tend to exhibit particular signs, though they will be a little different for every cat. You know your cat best and will likely notice changes in his behavior due to memory loss, disorientation, or other things that can lead to confusion.

The most important thing is to not discount behavioral changes as nothing more than old age. Many of these behaviors are also signs of illness and medical issues. It is best to schedule a vet visit to rule out those possibilities.

  • 01 of 07

    Loud or Odd Vocalizations

    Man scratching head of old cat

    Every cat has a certain level of talkativeness. Some are always quiet and purring while others meow about everything. The change seen with senior dementia is one of increased or excessive vocalizations and not just a simple meow.

    Cats experiencing this may appear to be confused and not totally sure of their surroundings while vocalizing. This behavior is more common at night.

    It is important to remember other possible causes of new or odd vocalizations. These include pain due to arthritis or injury or, in some cases, changes related to hyperthyroidism. If your cat does not have any of these underlying medical conditions, it may be a sign of the onset of dementia.

  • 02 of 07

    Loss of Litter Box Training

    Shy cat peeking from her litter box
    Copyright Artem Vorobiev / Getty Images

    The confusion that comes along with senior dementia may lead some cats to forget their years of proper litter box behavior. Cats are fastidious, especially about their toilet manners, so a cat going outside the box all of a sudden is a cause for concern.

    Inappropriate urination or defecation can be symptoms of many diseases. Schedule an appointment with the vet so an infection or impaction (constipation) can be ruled out before doing anything else.

  • 03 of 07

    Lack of Attention to Grooming

    A fat cat leaning against wall
    Olivia ZZ / Getty Images

    Cats prefer to keep themselves clean. If your feline friend begins to neglect this essential task, it's a sign that something's not quite right.

    Like most changes in behavior, a lack of grooming may be a sign of many illnesses, in addition to simply not feeling well. It's common for senile cats to no longer care about keeping their coat in good condition. If your cat is overweight, that may contribute to the problem as well because it may be too difficult to reach everywhere.

  • 04 of 07

    Increased Agitation, Especially at Night

    Cat on windowsil looking at city at night
    Benjamin Torode / Getty Images

    Cats are naturally nocturnal, as many of us find out with the occasional 2 a.m. wake up meows. Yet, you might notice that your cat begins to appear more anxious at night in its later years.

    It's not uncommon for senile cats to become disoriented when everyone else goes to bed. This can lead to separation anxiety. In some cases, the cat might even confuse day and night, spending days sleeping peacefully and the night hours stressed out or vocalizing. 

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Sleeping More Than Usual

    A baby sleeping with cat
    D-BASE / Getty Images

    If your cat is sleeping longer than normal, this change may be due to cognitive decline. For instance, it may not wake up for his scheduled dinner time or fail to greet you at the door after work.

  • 06 of 07

    Irritable or Cranky

    Cute Cat Indoors
    Emlia Kssia Viana Correa / EyeEm / Getty Images

    You may begin to notice that your cat doesn't respond as you have come to expect. Not seeming to recognize family members (or other pets) or becoming stressed under "normal" conditions may indicate senior dementia as well.

    This type of behavior may also be the result of a painful condition or ailment, so rule out arthritis, injury, or other potential causes.

  • 07 of 07

    Decreased Appetite

    Cat lying on the ground looking at caremra
    by CaoWei / Getty Images

    Cats suffering from senile dementia may forget to eat. Like the litter box, this is another sign that you should see the vet about because it can be linked to a serious health issue. Additionally, cats that go without food for too long are susceptible to hepatic lipidosis.

    There are many reasons why a cat would have a decrease in appetite or stop eating altogether. This is something that needs to be investigated as soon as possible for cats of any age, especially seniors. 

If You Notice Some of These Signs

Keep a log of the changes in behavior that you have noticed, including the timeframe and how often you notice each. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss your observations.

Keep in mind that the first step for any behavior problem is to rule out any medical causes first. For example, if your cat is urinating out of the box and never did this before, your vet will want to rule out urinary problems before addressing senior dementia changes.

There are many steps you can take that can help your cat, including diet changes and nutritional supplements. Sticking to routines and ensuring he stays active and engaged can also do wonders for reducing confusion and maintaining brain function.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.