LETTERS TO LUCINDA 5: Cat Behavior Solutions
Hello, two-leggeds, and welcome to the newest “Cat Behavior Solutions” column from Lucinda, your literate cat. This week I have only one letter to address. It’s from a Mrs. Davis, who has a question about her senior cat.
I have a question about my senior cat. She is 15, and I have noticed she is having some behavior issues. Are these behavior changes normal in a senior cat? For example, sometimes she misses her litter box or seems to forget where it is when she needs to use it. She is not very active any more, but now she seems to stay awake at night. Are these just natural occurrences with aging? What other behavior changes might I expect?
Dear Mrs. Davis,
Yes, your cat is getting older, and just like you two-leggeds, she will demonstrate some behavior changes as she ages.
Changes in memory may occur, or in her ability to learn new things. Check your cat’s hearing and sight — is she able to hear and see as well as she used to, or have you noticed some differences?
It is said that feline cognitive dysfunction, or FCD, affects more than 55% of cats who are 11 to 15 years old. It affects more than 80% of cats aged 16 to 20.
Not only her memory but her ability to learn can be affected, but all awareness and sight and hearing can also deteriorate in cats who have FCD. This deterioration can cause sleep pattern disturbances and reduced activity.
The cat can become disoriented and forget such things as the location of the litter box or the food bowl. Your feline friend may become more anxious or tend to act aggressive.
If you understand that your senior cat is going through changes, you can give her the love and care she needs. You need to be compassionate. After all, you will expect the same as you become a senior two-legged.
Sometimes changes in the aging cat are not effects of aging. Report all changes to your vet. Don’t just assume she is just getting old and can’t be helped. These changes could be signs of a treatable medical disorder, and your vet may be able to help her.
Some behaviors you may see: Perhaps she stops using her litter box, eliminating outside it, or perhaps in sleeping or eating areas. She may seem like she doesn’t recognize her two-legged and four-legged family members.
She can get lost in a familiar place, or she can sit and stare at nothing. She might wander around like she doesn’t know where she is going, or she may not be able to get around obstacles.
She becomes either less interested in interacting with anybody, or, on the other hand, she might become overdependent and need constant contact.
She doesn’t react to things happening around her. She seems less curious; she might bathe less or eat less.
She talks to you in an urgent tone and seems agitated, or she becomes irritable.
She may start sleeping more during the day and less at night, and she might talk a lot more at night.
I hate to admit it, but the Cat Torturer (you call this person the vet) may be able to recommend some changes in diet or a new medicine that could be helpful.
Here are some things you might do:
Make sure the litter boxes are in easily accessible locations; put one on every floor of your house. More boxes means the cat is more apt to find one when she needs it.
Keep that old cat warm. We cats all love warm spots, but an elderly cat in particular needs to be plenty warm.
Keep up playtimes but modify the activity to something the older cat can enjoy. Gentle play is the way to go.
Help with grooming. My CCL just ordered a cat grooming comb to help out my old cousin. He seems to be bathing less. At least she is not putting him in the washing machine to get clean.
If you can, clip your kitty’s claws regularly.
Get a cat water fountain, which might remind your cat to drink more regularly.
Keep kitty entertained by giving her things to watch or do. Try a puzzle feeder. We take my old cousin cat out on the deck, where he can enjoy the outdoors a bit. The yard is fenced. My cousin likes it out there because he can munch a bit of grass, which he does every day, and get a bit of exercise.
If you have room in your house, you might give kitty her own room, with everything she needs. If her behavior becomes too erratic, you can put her in her room and know that she will be safe and have everything she needs.
Most important, keep the stress level low and give lots of love. Love is always the best healer, in my eyes. Sometimes it takes away pain better than medicine.
My CCL gave me two references to read for this story. One is from the ASPCA, an organization that seems to know lots about what animals need. The other source was a section on senior cats from Wendy Christensen’s book, Outsmarting Cats. You can learn more about her book by going to http://www.outsmartingcats.com.