Cat using food puzzle

At the veterinary clinic where I work, I often hear people say when I ask about their cat’s activity and play, “she sleeps most of the time and meows a lot at night. She doesn’t play – she’s an older cat”. How much of these behaviors is due to “normal” aging? How much is due to other medical conditions or a declining brain?

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in cats or cat dementia refers to the decline in mental abilities associated with aging.

Cat dementia results from damage to the brain.  As your cat ages, the the numbers of molecules called  free radicals are no longer balanced out by the antioxidants in his body. These free radicals are reactive and cross the blood-brain barrier, damaging cells in the brain.

Changes in blood flow to the brain can also cause damage by starving the neurons of oxygen.  High blood pressure, heart disease, anemia – are all conditions that alter the flow of blood to the brain.

How can we tell if our cats are undergoing mental decline? Is there anything we can do about it?

VISHDAAL – behavior changes


Changes in behavior can indicate if your cat’s mental state has declined. The acronym VISHDAAL summarizes the behavior changes we need to monitor in our senior cats, from the most prevalent (vocalizing) to least frequent (changes in learning and memory).

V = vocalization
I = changes in interaction with us and other pets
S = changes in sleep-wake cycle
H = house soiling
D = disorientation
A = changes in activity
A = anxiety
L = learning and memory

How do we sort out behavior changes due to disease and those due to declining mental capacity?

Changes in behavior signal the onset of cognitive decline but they may also arise from other health issues:

  • Cats with untreated high blood pressure or hyperthyroidism may meow at night (vocalizing).
  • Cats with untreated hyperthyroidism may be restless and beg us for food (changes in interactions and sleep).
  • Kidney disease can be accompanied by increased thirst and urination which may result in house soiling (house soiling)
  • Cats with osteoarthritis may have difficulty accessing the litter box (house soiling).

behavior changes: disease vs Dementia


Regular veterinary exams and diagnostics can identify medical conditions such as high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, and osteoarthritis.  If behavioral changes persist after treating these other medical conditions, your cat may have CDS or cat dementia. 

Cat dementia is a “diagnosis of exclusion” – it is the diagnosis that remains after all the other possible diagnoses have been eliminated. Cat dementia will usually have a slow onset and behavioral symptoms will gradually get worse.

Cognitive Dysfunction (CDS) cannot be cured but management can reduce the symptoms and improve the Quality of Life for both you and your cat.

managing cat dementia


  • environmental enrichment/modification
  • dietary supplements
  • therapeutic diets
  • medication

Environmental enrichment/modification


In the early stages of cat dementia, enrichment increases mental stimulation, leading to the growth and survival of neurons, preserving the thinking processes.  Enrichment should be tailored to the individual cat.  For example, some cats prefer high places; others are “ground dwellers”.  Arthritic cats will not have the range of motion of healthier cats but will still enjoy play that does not require lots of jumping.

Ways to enrich your cat’s environment:

  • play – interactive play and toys
  • scent enrichment – catnip, silvervine
  • food puzzles
  • motion – climbing (cat trees) and exploring (cardboard boxes)
  • supervised outdoor access

As CDS progresses…

Environmental changes become stressful and confusing. Cats with severe cat dementia need an environment that does not change much – daily routines and feeding schedules must be maintained. Litter boxes and feeding stations need to stay in the same place.

A cat with severe CDS may benefit from a “room of his own”, with easy access to his resources. Changes that need to be made must be done slowly. If you need to move a litter box or feeding station, do it gradually over a number of days so the cat can still find it.

Environmental modifications

Modifications to the environment of the cat with dementia should take into account the behavior that she is exhibiting.

  • Cats that constantly beg for food may benefit from a timed feeder at night or treat balls. 
  • Cats with house soiling tendencies may need more litter boxes and ones that are easily accessed, with a lower entry for example. 
  • Cats that become disoriented and confused may benefit from a night light and radio playing soft music.

Dietary Supplements


Dietary supplements in general seek to restore the balance between the activity of antioxidants in the body and the  production of free radicals.  Antioxidants give up electrons to the free radical, effectively “neutralizing” it so that it is no longer reactive. So, these supplements usually contain antioxidants.

SAMe: (S-adenosyl-methionine)  aids in the production of glutathione, an antioxidant. When elderly cats were supplemented with SAMe, there was improvement in cognitive tests. SAMe is best used pro-actively – it is most effective in cats in the early stages of cat dementia.

Proprietary supplements containing vitamins, resveratrol (antioxidant), and fish oils are on the market but there is no clinical data testing cats for these at this time.

other supplements


Melatonin: hormone in the body that is thought to promote sleep. It also has antioxidant properties. Melatonin declines with age.

Pheromones (Feliway), Zylkene, Anxitane (L-theanine) may help reduce anxiety in cats that are disoriented and may promote sleep.

Therapeutic diets


Therapeutic diets containing antioxidants and fish oils have been shown to help cat dementia. 

  • Feline Mature adult Hill’s Pet Nutrition
  • Purina Pro Plan Age 7+
  • Hills prescription diet j/d with fish oil for osteroarthritis

Diets that reduce anxiety may also help with cat dementia

  • RC Calm diets
  • Hill’s urinary support

Medications


Selegiline: licensed to treat dementia in dogs. Like the dietary suplements, it aims to reduce the production of free radicals.  Selegiline stimulates the production of enzymes that eliminate free radicals.

Anxiolytics: Prozac, gabapentin and clonazepam are used to treat dementia by reducing anxiety.

boxes as enrichment for cats
Boxes can be source of enrichment for senior cats.

If you feel there has been a significant change in your cat’s behaviors, keep a journal or log and make sure to mention it at her next senior exam. Start the conversation with your vet about cat dementia and how to manage it!

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

Subscribe

 

It’s 1:50 am – you know by the red numbers on your alarm clock. That darn cat meows at night and has woken you up once again.Cat and alarm clock

What is happening?
If this is a new pattern, it is time for a vet visit to make sure that there is not a medical cause underlying the nocturnal activity. High blood pressure and hyperthyroidism are two conditions that can contribute to meowing at night. Treating these conditions may solve the tendency toward night-time activity and meowing.

If your cat has had a physical exam recently and has no untreated health issues, there may different things underlying the “feline nocturnes”. In the wild, cats hunt at dusk, nighttime and dawn when their prey, small rodents, are foraging.

Our indoor cats usually adapt well to being active during daylight hours and snoozing at night.
If this is not the case, what can you do to reset your cat’s internal clock?

Perhaps your cat meows at night because he is bored and awake. He may be seeking your attention.

  • Make sure your cat is active during the day. Give him some play sessions during the day;  engage him in foraging behavior with food puzzles.
  • Establish a night time routine. Cats thrive on routine – it lets them know what is going to happen. Pets can be as good as a clock when reminding you for dinner. Let’s come up with a sequence of activities that signal that the household is slowing down and ready for sleep.

Bedtime Routines when your cat meows at night


Play/Treat time: My cats look forward to treats before bed every evening. After dinner and TV, the litter boxes are scooped and then – IT’S TIME.
All 4 cats proceed to the hallway where they take up their stations and wait to have treats tossed to them. After that, it is time to settle down and they each go to their sleeping place and tuck in.

Your cat might enjoy a play session before treats. This session does not have to be long – 10-15 minutes should do the trick. After that – IT’S TIME FOR BED!

Foraging toys: Try leaving some foraging toys (food puzzles) out and turn in. Again, this is a bedtime routine – you put the toys out and you turn in.

You can try closing the bedroom door. Of course, for many cats, if you close a door, this is the place they have to get into and will shake and rattle the door for access.

My Cat meows at night – Does he need a room of his own?


 

You have tried more play during the day and you are putting out food toys at night – still your cat meows at night.

This may be time for some “tough love” – after all, you need your sleep. If you have the space, give your cat a “bedroom” at night. This could be a spare bedroom or walk-in closet, someplace where you can close the door. Put all his resources (litter box, toys, water) in this room. Put a “calming” pheromone diffuser in this room.

When you are ready for bed…

  • Take kitty to his bedroom
  • Give him a snack.
  • Close the door – do not respond to crying at night once the cat is in the room.
  • He will be safe in there until you get him out in the morning.

While this may seem “cruel”, remember that cats are “socially flexible”. They are able to live socially with humans and other animals but do very well on their own. They don’t get “lonely” the same way we do.

to have a quiet night…


 Be sure to give your cat regular, daily playtime and activities. This may be a good time to review how you are feeding your cat – leaving out a food bowl filled all the time is like having a bowl of potato chips out all the time. Feeding can be self-soothing behavior for a bored cat.

3-4 smaller meals gives kitty something to look forward to – you can put one of these meals in his room for the night.

The Takeaway: if your cat meows at night, try giving him something to keep him busy – some extra play during the day and a bedtime routine just might silence the “kitty nocturnes”.

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Click the button below and subscribe to The Feline Purrspective.

 

Subscribe

 

Cats have 40 x the number of odor sensitive cells in their noses as we humans do. They also have a vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouths to process odors. Cats communicate by smell.

For a cat, odors can be associated with a particular place or individual animal, identifying that place or animal.

Another way cats communicate by smell is through semiochemicals. Odors can contain semiochemicals, molecules that carry “messages” from one organism to another. The organism receiving the “message” responds with a change in physiology or behavior. 

Semiochemicals that carry “messages” between members of the same species are called pheromones. For cats, pheromones are used to mark territorial boundaries, advertise that a cat is ready to mate, or send greetings. Lactating mother cats also produce a blend of “appeasing” pheromones,  that make kittens feel safe and reassured when their mothers are nearby.

Cats release pheromones from glands in their bodies. These glands can be found in…

  • the lips
  • the cheeks
  • the pads of the feet
  • at the base of the tail
  • the area surrounding the teats in females.
Glands producing pheromones
Locations of the glands that produce pheromones in the cat.

 

Cats communicate by smell


When your cat rubs his cheeks against furniture or that corner wall, he deposits pheromones there. Researchers have separated secretions from the sebaceous glands in your cat’s face into 5 pheromone-containing fractions. The “F3 fraction” is thought to be a friendly greeting, marking the area as safe.

Cat Appeasing Pheromone (CAP) is released when the mother cat nurses her kittens. It is a message to the kittens that they are safe and secure – after all, mom is there!

Cats also release pheromones when they scratch, marking territory with another pheromone, FIS or feline interdigital semiochemical. The cat making the scratch marks also leaves behind his own individual scent, giving the next cat who comes along an idea of who left the pheromone message. As time goes on, the pheromones/scents change. This change in pheromones/scents  notifies the incoming cat when the previous cat was there.

You can buy synthetic versions of feline pheromones

  • Facial marking pheromones: Feliway Classic or Comfort Zone Calming
  • CAP: Feliway Multicat or Comfort Zone Multicat.

Using Pheromones to Communicate with Your Cat


Synthetic versions of the F3 fraction of the facial pheromones and CAP have been made with the intention of calming cats and reducing conflict in multi-cat households. 

Facial Pheromones F3 Fraction


  • Diffuser or spray
  • Diffuser: place in areas you want your cat to identify as safe and secure, for example, sleeping areas.  You may not need to use the diffusers all the time – after all, your cat or cats are most likely marking these areas themselves. However, the diffuser could give an added boost in times of increased stress, such as home renovation.
  • F3 spray can help with  urine marking. Clean the marked spots with enzyme cleaners (eg. Tide), followed by rubbing alcohol. When dry, spray the spot with one of the F3 sprays.
  • The F3 spray is also useful to discourage scratching. Try spraying the area you DON’T want scratched with the F3 spray and place a scratching post nearby.

Cat Appeasing Pheromone


  • Diffuser
  • This product can be useful in multi-cat households when introducing a new cat. Place the diffuser in the common areas where all the cats will congregate.
  • You may not need to use this diffuser all the time but it can give a boost during times of stress, for example, when one cat returns from a veterinary visit.

A product called Feliscratch contained a synthetic version of FIS. Feliscratch was applied to the scratching post to encourage cats to use it.  Although this product was effective, it has recently been pulled off the market due to flagging sales.

No Feliscratch?

  • Make scratchers appealing with treats or catnip
  • If your cat will knead a small fleece blanket, it is possible that this blanket may have FIS deposited on it.
  • Placing the blanket near a new scratching post may attract your cat to the scratcher.

How effective are pheromones in communicating messages to cats?


How receptive an individual cat is to pheromone signals may depend upon her experience.  A free-roaming cat or cat who is a member of a multi-cat household will use the signals more than an indoor cat who lives alone.

You can think of pheromones as those signs in the library asking you to KEEP QUIET or the NO SMOKING signs – there is always someone who is talking or smoking. Compliance is never 100%.

Since cats communicate by smell, synthetic cat pheromones allow us to add some basic messages when we are trying to change a cat’s behavior. Pheromones are best used in conjunction with other behavior modifications.

Like what you see?

A Cat and his Territory

Cats are territorial. What does this mean for cat guardians?


An outdoor cat’s home range is the maximum area he roams and hunts in. Within the home range is a smaller area that the cat will actively defend – his territory. Inside this defended area is a smaller area called the “core territory”, where the cat can rest, has shelter, and feels safe from predators and other cats.

Free-roaming cats establish their territories around food supplies. They remain solitary hunters and don’t share prey with other cats.  Access to food, water and places to rest and shelter are some reasons why cats will fight with each other. Having a secure, established territory is essential to the free-roaming cat’s survival.

When cats move inside, their territories shrink and the house becomes the territory. Home ranges still apply for cats with outdoor access. Within the house, cats will choose their core territories – their safe places where they go to nap and feel secure. 

In my 4 cat household, Athena and Marley choose the master bedroom as their safe place, with comfortable resting places, water and access to a litter box; Gus’s safe place is the back office; Zelda floats between the office and the master bedroom.

What are the threats to the territory of the indoor cat?


  1. Outdoor cats: Neighborhood cats that come in the yard or come to the windows of the home may be seen as a threat by the indoor resident cat(s).  The threatened cat may strike out at humans or other pets nearby because he can’t get at the cat outside but is prepared to defend his territory.
  2. Other resident cats: Cats are territorial and remain territorial when they are kept indoors. There are often multiple social groups in a multi-cat home. Cats of one social group may guard resources such as litter boxes, food and water from cats of another group.
  3. People, other animals, inanimate objects:  Although territorial  behavior usually involves other cats, cats may see other species or things as threats to their resources and well-being, as threats to a secure territory. 

You will see your cat rubbing her face against walls and furniture. She is depositing pheromones from glands in her face to mark the area as safe. Cats also routinely mark areas by scratching, releasing another pheromone from glands in their paws, an olfactory signal to other cats that they passed by. This is normal behavior that the cat guardian needs to accommodate by providing scratching post and cleaning the “whisker walls” sparingly. Maintain the colony scent..

If your indoor cat perceives a threat, he may feel the need to mark the house with urine (sometimes feces) to establish the house as his territory. He also may respond to the “threat” with aggression.

It is up to the cat guardian to understand that cats are territorial and ideally modify the environment before marking or aggression starts.

What you can do:


Diagram social groups cats
There are 3 social groups in this 4 cat household.
  1. Outdoor animals: Restrict access to your yard if you can. “Critter spikes” can deter some cats and raccoons from scaling fences. A motion activated yard sprinkler can also be effective. You may wish to cover windows with static cling window film so that cats can’t see out.
  2. Multi-cat conflict: Identify the social groups in the household. Make sure resources are spread out and all the cats in the household have easy access to resources of their choice. Pay particular attention to the dynamics of feeding, using litter boxes, and resting. Make sure that all cats have an opportunity to exercise their hunting skills through play. Set up time-sharing for social groups if necessary.
  3. People, other animals, inanimate objects: Isolate your cat from the stressor or desensitize her if possible. For example, if she feels threatened by visitors, train her to go a safe place out of reach when visitors arrive.  Request that visitors refrain from interacting with your cat unless she chooses to interact. Make sure to reward her with something she likes in her safe place. She may elect to leave the room or observe from her safe place.

The Cat Friendly Home: Guiding Your Cat’s Scratching Behavior

You know that scratching is a normal cat behavior – but does she have to scratch the new sofa you spent hundreds of dollars on? Should you have her declawed?

Sharing Your Home with a Clawed Cat…


Synthetic feline pheromones can be purchased from pet stores.

To guide your cat’s scratching behavior, we have to communicate with him and let him know where to scratch.

Cats communicate in a large part by smell ( A Cat’s world: Smell)  Pheromones  are chemicals that convey messages between members of the same species – they are detected by smell. There are several feline pheromones that have been synthesized and are commercially available.

 

 

We can use facial pheromones and interdigital pheromones to guide your cat’s scratching behavior.

 

 

Getting the message across..


Feliway Classic tells your cat that this is familiar territory and there is no need to mark it – DON’T SCRATCH HERE
Feliscratch gives an olfactory as well as visual message (scratch marks) that says – SCRATCH HERE

 

The Plan…


  • Place a scratching post near the area that is being scratched.
  • Apply Feliscratch to the scratching post
  • Using Feliway Classic (or Comfort Zone Calming) spray, spray the areas where scratching is not desired. You may wish to spray a towel or throw and place this on or near the scratched area.
  • You will need to apply these daily for at least a week. After a week you can apply as needed.

Facial Pheromones

This pheromone is released when your cat rubs his cheeks against things, say the corner wall. He is marking the area as a safe place.

Feliway Classic and ComfortZone Calming come in diffusers and spray.

Appeasing Pheromones

There are synthetic versions of the pheromones released by the nursing mother cat. This pheromone assures the kittens,  blind at first and unable to move fast,  of their mother’s presence.  It helps the litter mates to bond together. This has practical uses – it helps keep the kittens together if Mom needs to go hunt.

Feliway Multicat and ComfortZone Multicat control come in diffusers.

Interdigital Pheromone

This pheromone is released by glands in your cat’s paws when he scratches. It helps mark boundaries and, combined with your cat’s signature scent, lets other cats know “Mr. Fuzzy was here at noon”

Feliscratch comes in a box of pipettes. The liquid in the pipettes is applied to a scratching post to encourage your cat to scratch.

Spray the scratched area with Feliway/ComfortZone

 

Apply Feliscratch to the scratcher you have chosen to be near the scratched place.

 

Marley checks out the “Feliscratched” scratcher.

 

Marley scratches the new scratcher.

 

During the Training period, you may wish to have nail caps (Soft Paws) applied to your cat’s claws. These are soft plastic caps that are glued onto your cat’s nails.

  • Applied every 4-6 weeks
  • Use permanent adhesive
  • But…some cats just don’t like them and chew them off!

Nail Trims for the Comfort and Safety of You and Your Cat…


Gently extend your cats claw.
Trim the end of the claw. Avoid clipping the pink area.
  • Start nail trimming early in life
  • Use positive reinforcement: treats, play, grooming, head rubs
  • Trim every 4-6 weeks
  • When trimming some cats, trim 1-2 nails at a time and do the trim over a week
  • As cats get older, their nails may get thicker and their joints stiffer, so they don’t groom as much. The nails can grow into the paw pad. Nail trims can improve these cats’ quality of life!

 

Declawing – an amputation


 

 

The Details of Declawing

  • Removal of the last bone of the cat’s toe
  • There are “good” and “bad” declaws: “good” declaws disarticulate the last (3rd) joint
  • Risk of lameness and behavior problems due to nerve damage
  • Weight is no longer supported by the junction of the 2nd and 3rd bones – it is supported by the end of the second bone which is painful.

 

 

What’s inside your cat’s toes – claw is sheathed when cat is relaxed. He must extend his claws to use them.
In a declaw surgery, the bone with the nail bed is removed.

 

A Final Word…


 

Guiding your cat’s scratching behavior can be a rewarding experience – after all, YOU are communicating with ANOTHER species!

Offer a variety of scratching stations located in strategic places:
Near doors and windows
Where the people hang out
Near the litter box
Near the sleeping area