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Senility/mental degeneration in older cat?

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
My beloved "Freddy" is, to our best estimation, 14 this year (he was rescued at approximately 2 years old.) He has always been very personable and inquisitive, and also quite a talker. He also makes no bones about the fact that I am his favorite person in the family, probably because I'm the chief giver-of-food-and-tidbits. I left for college last fall and when I returned over winter break I noticed that Freddy had dropped weight and was losing some agility in his right hind leg. He was also much more vocal, having troubles hearing, and sometimes appeared disoriented, not quite knowing where to go in the house in which he's lived all his life. He also, for the first time in his life, showed interest in "people foods" like raisins and cereals--this from a cat who is a notoriously picky eater. During the course of the month in which I was home he put weight back on; knowing his age, I assumed that his troubles were due to his age, and left again for college with the strict instructions to my family to a) give him the occasional morsel of cheese or chicken and b) to give me regular updates on his condition. I came home from college in May to see that he had again dropped the weight he'd regained, was worrying at his right ear, and still seemed confused as to where he was and what was proper food.

Needless to say I took him to the vet (it was time for his shots anyway) and they discovered a small tumor in his right ear, which explains his discomfort in that ear as well as some of the hearing loss. Because of its location and Freddy's age, removal would be a difficult proposition and so right now we are trying to make sure that the remainder of Freddy's life is comfortable, because surgery would not be a viable option for him. The vet agreed with me that he was a little thin and thought that feeding him tidbits of cheese, chicken, and fish would be fine and would probably help him. As to Fred's mental state, he said just to keep an eye out.

Over the course of the summer, Freddy seems to have gotten, well, a bit senile. He doesn't seem to know who I am (my sister maintains that he is angry at me for leaving him behind when I went to school) and often appears confused as to where things are in the house. His food bowl has never changed locations, and yet he won't go down to it on his own; he wants to be led to it. I suspect his eyesight is going because he responds best to being called. He also is showing a marked interest in non-cat food, which is decidedly new. Yesterday, he abstractedly wandered up to the family's Golden Retriever and started eating green beans out of the dog's dish. He also miaows constantly, whether he is walking around the house, in between bites of his food, or resting in my lap. As I said he has always been a talker, but this is new; seldom does five minutes go by without a word from him.

He'll be going back to the vet in August to have his ear checked on, and I'll bring up my concerns then, but I wanted to ask the advice of other cat people to see what your opinions are on Freddy's current state. Is senility known in cats? Have your older cats started to show signs of confusion or disorientation as they aged? (Freddy is the eldest cat we've had; his peers unfortunately crossed the bridge young.) What can I do to help my "lovebug"?
post #2 of 4
Originally Posted by Renn/aissance View Post
Is senility known in cats? Have your older cats started to show signs of confusion or disorientation as they aged? (Freddy is the eldest cat we've had; his peers unfortunately crossed the bridge young.) What can I do to help my "lovebug"?
It's known much more now that it used to be. With advances in veterinary medicine and nutrition, cats are living much longer than they used to. My late Turvy Demeter passed away just short of her 17th birthday, and she had been, for some time, showing signs of cognitive disorder (similar to human senility). She would sometimes forget where her litterbox was, and she too started "re-sampling" foods she had never liked or never tried. She would also get testy with cats she had known since they were kittens, and spent a lot of time in her room high enough not to be bothered. I even once found her sitting on the bar, having a ripping conversation with a stack of bar glasses.

The last year, she was on a special diet and medication, but I can't remember now what they were. I'll try to find some of the old vet paperwork, or maybe someone with more recent experiences will know what they are.

Edit to add: I'm back, I found the records. The medication the vet had her on was called "Cholodin".
post #3 of 4
My Bathsheba was almost 20 when she died (a stray who adopted me, so her exact age was uncertain. YES, senility is part of aging pets. The way my vet explained it, they have small strokes as their brain shrinks, and this results in the disorientation, etc. She started exhibiting this behavior at about age 17. The increase in vocalization is also a sign of aging, and my girl did this incessantly, especially after she became totally deaf at about age 16.

Your cat's decline may have been accelerated by your absence at college because he is so close to you. As in humans, any trauma in the aged can increase problems. My girl was almost feral and never really affectionate, but in her last years, she became incredibly attached. Your cat may be especially vulnerable, since the person he most loves is not available for such a close attachment now.

You are obviously concerned for him and taking good care of him. The best thing we can do for our elderly pets is give them the comforts they need as they decline physically.
post #4 of 4
Thread Starter 
Thank you both for your help. I'll consult with the vet before we make any more changes to his life; he went off his feed for a day or so but I've got him eating again. (Personally, I think he was on strike because there was salmon at the human table and cat kibble in his dish. He also does forget where his dish actually is, but I led him down there and he wanted nothing of it.) Now he's at the door asking for some of my bagel!

I am going to ensure that the rest of the family knows that he is not just being "a pisser" or "a pain in the ---" but that YES he is actually going senile, the talking is part of aging, and that he needs some courtesy.
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