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Understanding Feline Cognitive Dysfunction

In the United States, cats are living longer due to improvements in veterinary care, nutrition, and better routine care from their pet parents. With longer lives comes age-related complications like feline cognitive dysfunction (FCS). FCS is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. By the time a cat is 15 years of age or older, there’s a >50% chance they will develop some signs of dementia. While age-related changes in the brain are almost inevitable and cannot be reversed, you can support your cat’s cognitive health to help extend their healthy years.

What is Feline Cognitive Dysfunction?
As cats age, their brain undergoes physical changes. The brain will decrease in volume, and the ventricles, the four cavities that make up the brain, become enlarged. The sulci, or shallow grooves on the surface of the brain, also become wider. Plaques also begin to surround nerve cells within the brain. These changes in the brain’s structure will eventually impair the processes that control appetite, motor skills, sensory input, learning, and memory.

Symptoms of Feline Cognitive Dysfunction
The symptoms of FCD can appear differently across individuals, and they can also be signs of other health conditions. For example, soiling in the house outside the litterbox is also a sign of chronic kidney disease or diabetes, and it can also happen when a cat suffering from osteoarthritis is unable to access their litterbox. If you notice any of these symptoms, see your veterinarian to rule out other possible underlying causes.

Common symptoms of FCS:

  • Urinating and/or defecating outside the litterbox
  • Increased clinginess
  • Reduced social interaction
  • Reduced appetite
  • Excessive vocalizing at night
  • Becoming disoriented
  • Zoning out i.e. staring at walls, getting stuck in corners
  • Reduced self-grooming

How Is Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Treated?
While there is no cure for feline cognitive dysfunction, the condition is similar to age-related dementia in humans, dogs, and other animals, so there has been a lot of research conducted on supplements, nutritional support, and other treatments that can help slow the progression of the disease.
Most senior cats can benefit from an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to support not only their cognitive health, but also their joints and heart health. Free Form tablets contain DHA, the type of long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that supports cognitive health.
Vitamins E and C seem to help humans with dementia, and can help senior cats. Vetoquinol tablets are a good source of vitamins E, C, and amino acids that are known for helping to slow the progression of dementia.
In the meantime, you can support your cat’s changing needs with a few easy accommodations. If they don’t seem to be using the facilities as much, try providing extra food bowls, water bowls, and litter boxes around your home If they are no longer sleeping through the night, you can put up night lights to prevent them from feeling disoriented. Avoid major changes like throwing away old, familiar beds and toys, or bringing in a new kitten. Symptoms of feline cognitive dysfunction develop gradually, so even though you may be starting to notice changes in your aging cat, you may still have months, even years to enjoy your time together.