August 2009 Issue

Recognize Senility in Your Aging Cat

First, she needs to receive a clean bill of health. But feline cognitive dysfunction is common in older pets. Hereís help.

Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, itís not uncommon for a cat to live to the ripe old age of 20 ó roughly the physiologic equivalent of age 93 in a human. Thatís the good news. The bad news is that cats, like humans, become increasingly susceptible to age-related disease conditions as they grow old, and most of these disorders are bound to have an effect on an animalís behavior. For example, arthritis is likely to cause an active cat to slow down dramatically as it transitions through its golden years; kidney and urinary tract disease may affect its litter box behavior; progressive periodontal disease and tooth loss may alter its eating habits; and progressive hearing problems may make a cat decreasingly responsive to its environment. In some cases, however, an elderly catís behavioral peculiarities will remain unattributable to any underlying disease condition. In such a case, the animal is apt to be diagnosed as "senile," a vague term used to describe an animal that exhibits physiologically inexplicable cognitive dysfunction, the outward signs of which resemble those associated with age-related dementia and Alzheimerís disease in humans.

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