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Cat Dementia: Vet-Explained Signs, Causes & Treatment

Dr. Iulia Mihai Photo

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dementia is more than just aging. In medical terms, this condition is called cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Senior cats have the highest prevalence, the disease being directly related to the aging of the brain. Dementia in pets has clinical signs comparable to those of Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

The clinical signs of dementia in cats are represented by changes in awareness, deficits in learning and memory, and decreased responsiveness to stimuli. Feline dementia has no treatment, but vets can try to improve your cat’s well-being (relief of anxiety, support of cognitive function, etc.).

In this article, you will find out what feline dementia is, its clinical signs and causes, and treatment options.


What Is Cat Dementia?

CDS, or dementia, in cats, is a degeneration of the brain and nervous system. This condition is comparable to Alzheimer’s disease in humans because it is determined by physical and chemical changes in the brain, not being part of normal aging.

Cats suffering from dementia have impaired cognitive abilities, which lead to behavioral changes that can become obstacles for your pet and you and your family members. Clinical signs become noticeable in cats aged 10 years and over. The clinical signs increase proportionally with the age of the pet.

Feline dementia is a complicated disease that is often underdiagnosed, misunderstood, and undertreated, both by doctors and owners. Most of the time, the owners simply attribute the behavioral changes to the fact that their cat is getting older.

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What Are the Signs of Cat Dementia?

The older the cat is, the more obvious the clinical signs will be. As a result, cats with dementia will show gradual changes in behavior, which may not be visible at first but will become severe over time. However, behavioral changes can also be the result of systemic diseases like kidney failure or hypothyroidism. In this case, an evaluation at the veterinary clinic is necessary to obtain a diagnosis and exclude other conditions. Also, owners may deny these changes in behavior and attribute them to the fact that their cat is just getting older.

In short, the most common behavioral changes in cats with dementia are represented by the acronym DISHAA,

which means:

  • Disorientation — Your cat does not recognize familiar faces, they want to go out on the wrong side of the door, or familiar places seem unfamiliar to them.
  • Interactions — Your cat may become more withdrawn, distant, irritated, or clingy toward family members or other pets.
  • Sleep-wake cycle— Your cat will undergo changes in their sleep-wake cycle that will lead to an increase in the duration of sleep during the day (so, less sleep at night), restlessness, and pacing.
  • House soiling— Your cat will eliminate outside the litter box or in unauthorized places. It is possible that they will not adapt at all or adapt with difficulty to various changes in their schedule.
  • Activity — Your cat can suffer changes in their level of activity. They will show a low interest in playing, will have difficulties with accommodation, or will have repetitive behaviors, such as overgrooming.
  • Anxiety — Some cats can become anxious. They will be frightened by new stimuli, such as loud noises, or may suffer from separation anxiety.

In addition to these clinical signs, cats suffering from dementia may have a low interest in food and water and may vocalize loudly at night.

What Are the Causes of Cat Dementia?

Feline CDS is caused by neuropathological changes in the brain. The condition occurs as a result of brain aging. Although the process is not fully understood and the cause is not currently known, it is believed that genetic, nutritional, and environmental factors may predispose cats to develop this disease.

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How Is Cat Dementia Diagnosed?

Dementia is mainly diagnosed when other diseases are excluded. There is a wide range of aging diseases in cats that can lead to clinical signs similar to those of feline dementia. These conditions, which will be part of the differential diagnosis of the veterinarian, tend to occur at the same stage of a cat’s life. The most common diseases with clinical signs similar to those of dementia in cats are:

Clinical Signs

  • Hyperthyroidism —Cats beg for food or vocalize loudly (among other clinical signs).
  • High blood pressure —This condition can lead to blindness, which in turn, can lead to anxiety and confusion.
  • Deafness and sensory decline —Cats become disoriented and confused.
  • Osteoarthritis —Cats use the litter box less often, eliminate in unauthorized places, are less active, are less willing to play, and can vocalize loudly.
  • Brain tumors and other neurological diseases —Cats can show clinical signs similar to those of dementia. These conditions can also lead to seizures and collapse.

How Is Cat Dementia Treated?

Treatment of feline dementia can be difficult, as the condition cannot be reversed or cured. The goal of the treatment is to improve your cat’s well-being through therapies focused on relieving anxiety, slowing the disease process, and supporting cognitive function.

Once the disease is diagnosed, the veterinarian can prescribe your cat special diets, supplements, medication, and environmental enrichment.

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How Do I Care for a Cat With Dementia?

If your cat has been diagnosed with dementia, here’s what you can do to help:

How to help:

  • Keep your pet indoors. This is how you prevent situations in which they can get lost because they don’t know how to return home.
  • Establish a regular schedule for feeding your pet and lighting the house.
  • Avoid adopting a new pet, moving to a new house, or making other major changes in your home life. These things will disorient your pet and make them (more) anxious.
  • Give your cat supplements to support brain health (vitamin E, salmon oil).
  • Place several litter boxes in the house, and set up a ramp for each one to make it easier for your cat to use them.
  • Avoid making your cat go up and down stairs for food and water.
  • Offer your cat several warm and accessible places to sleep.
  • Take your cat to the vet regularly.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Long Can Cats Live With Dementia?

Cats can live long lives even if they have been diagnosed with dementia. Depending on the age at which your cat was diagnosed, they can live another 5 or 10 years. However, each individual is unique, and in some cats, the disease can progress faster or slower than in others, which can affect their life expectancy.

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Can Cats With Dementia Become Aggressive?

Yes, dementia can make cats become aggressive, but it also makes them anxious and antisocial. So, if your cat is old and has started to change their behavior, a visit to the vet is essential. Your cat may have dementia or other conditions that have similar clinical signs. Following the diagnosis, the veterinarian will find the best approach for your cat’s condition.



Dementia in cats is a major neurocognitive disorder that decreases their quality of life. This condition occurs in senior cats that are 10 years old and older. Depending on the age at which it is diagnosed and how quickly the disease progresses, cats have a life expectancy of 5–10 years from the moment of diagnosis.

Cats with dementia suffer from behavioral changes that include house soiling, decreased activity, anxiety, sleep-wake cycle changes, vocalization, and disorientation. Also, cats can become withdrawn, aggressive, or clingy. Feline dementia has no treatment; the established therapy only aims to improve your cat’s quality of life. If your cat suffers from behavioral changes, schedule an appointment at the vet clinic.

Featured Image Credit: Alice Rodnova, Shutterstock

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