As they age, cats often suffer a decline in functioning, including their cognitive functioning. It’s estimated that cognitive decline-referred to as feline cognitive dysfunction, or FCD-affects more than 55% of cats aged 11 to 15 years and more than 80% of cats aged 16 to 20 years. Memory, ability to learn, awareness, and sight and hearing perception can all deteriorate in cats affected with FCD. This deterioration can cause disturbances in sleeping patterns, disorientation or reduced activity. A common sign of cognitive dysfunction is yowling at night or crying at odd times.
FCD can make cats forget previously learned habits they once knew well, such as the location of the litter box or their food bowls. It can increase their anxiety and make them more clingy. It can also change their social relationships with you and with other pets in your home. Understanding the changes your cat is undergoing can help you compassionately and effectively deal with behaviour problems that may arise in her senior years.
Some effects of aging aren’t related to cognitive dysfunction. Often these effects can contribute to behaviour changes that only look like cognitive decline. Be sure to report all changes you see to your cat’s veterinarian. Don’t assume that your cat is “just getting old” and nothing can be done to help her. Many changes in behavior are signs of treatable medical disorders, and there are a variety of therapies that can comfort your cat and ease her symptoms, including any pain she might be experiencing.