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How to Look Out for Feline Senile Dementia

29 August 2014

GLOBAL - As cats start to reach an old age they often become susceptible to both mental and physical changes. Whilst physical changes (for example, arthritis) can be easier to spot, the mental changes may be a little less obvious.

With that in mind Animal Friends Pet Insurance has created a guide on feline senile dementia which includes what behavioural changes to look out for and how you can help.

When does the onset of senile dementia occur?

There has long been a debate on what age a cat should be classed as old, some believe a cat over eight-years-old is entering its old age, whilst others feel that 14 – 15 years should be classed as an old cat.

Although every cat is an individual on average their cognitive abilities will actually start to decline around 11 – 12 years of age, with the on- set of senile dementia more commonly occurring in cats from the age of 15 years and over.


If you notice that your elderly cat is starting to behave out of character then this can be a sign that dementia is setting in. A clear indication to look out for is if your cat seems confused and disorientated. This kind of behaviour can present itself in any capacity but it will be unusual behaviour that you need to look out for, such as your cat no longer using the litter tray or sitting in their favourite resting spot of the house.

Aversion to Contact

Cats that usually like to cuddle up or love being stroked tend to keep this trait throughout their lives. So if your older cat begins to stray away from being stoked and starts to become easily irritated, then this may be a sign of cognitive deterioration; with severe cases of dementia a cat may, at times, not recognise you.

Increased Meowing

With the onset of senility many cats will start to chatter and become very vocal as result of being confused and unsure about their immediate surroundings. The increase in vocalisation can become even more prevalent during the night when a cat suffering from dementia will be restless, unable to sleep and unaware of where they are as a result of the dark.


Everyone knows that cats love to sleep quite a lot and so this sign may not be as noticeable. However, if you notice a drastic increase in the amount of time your cat spends asleep, then do not rule out the possibility of cognitive issues.

In addition, if they are extremely inactive then this can also be attributed to cognitive deterioration. It is important to note, however, that an old cat will be less mobile as a result of physical conditions that stem from old age. So if this is the only sign that you notice then it may be nothing to do with dementia.


Cats are extremely fastidious animals and although they need help with grooming from time-to-time, they are very self-sufficient when it comes to grooming themselves. If you notice that your elderly cat starts to look a lot more dishevelled and unkempt, then this may be because their cognitive abilities have considerably declined.

How can you help?

If your cat is diagnosed as having senile dementia then don’t worry, there are a lot of things you can do to help them live as comfortable a life as possible.

  • To help with their disorientation do not move anything around, this includes furniture, their litter tray and their food bowls. This will make it a lot easier for your cat to navigate their way around the house without becoming lost or confused.
  • To help with the crying out during the night try keeping a light on, this can help a restless cat as there is more chance of them recognising where they are if they can see.
  • If your cat will let you, try brushing and grooming them more often as they may find it comforting.
  • Speaking to your veterinarian can give you better insight into how to help your cat with their cognitive declination. Depending on the severity level of your cat’s anxiousness your vet may want to prescribe them with senility medication such as Selegiline.

Please be aware that this article is for advice purposes only and should not be read as a medical document.

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