Handling Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FCD) in oldies

There’s nothing like the seasoned love of an old pet! But the older they get, the more your responsibility increases. Feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) is quite common in older cats and it is part of behavior issues. Put your best pet-parenting foot forward and tackle behavioral issues in older cats.
–by Nitya Ramachandran

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As cats age, they may star t exhibiting behavioral changes like forgetfulness, getting irritated, or not showing interest in any activity, all of which could be signs of feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD). It can affect many older cats, causing problems with their memory, awareness, and learning ability. It also adversely impacts your pet’s equation with you and the other pets. Symptoms of FCD are visible in different areas of your cat’s behaviour.

Spatial disorientation

• Gets stuck and cannot navigate over or around obstacles
• Wanders around without a purpose
• Gets lost easily, even in familiar places such as home
• Stares blankly into space
• Obsessively fixates on objects
• Can wander away from home if left unsupervised.

Memory and learning ability

• Doesn’t recognize familiar faces- people or pets
• Stops using the litter box
• Eliminates near where they sleep or eat

Anxiety

• Ac ts ag itat e d a nd restless
• Irritable disposition
• Vocalizations seem more urgent

Activity levels

• Less interes ted in exploring surroundings
• Loss of appetite
• Grooms less frequently
• Less responsive to things going on in her surroundings

Relationships

• Less interested in interacting with people or other pets
• Doesn’t like being petted
• Becomes excessively cling y a nd dependent
• Needs to be in constant contact

Sleep routine

• Increased vocalization at night
• Sleepless at night
• Sleeps more during daytime

Other causes for behavioral changes

Your pet can also display any of the above symptoms due tomedical or degenerative illnesses such as arthritis, thyroid dysfunction, dental disease, impaired vision or hearing, or UTI. Talk to the veterinarian to rule out any medical cause for her behavior. Find out whether the behavioral changes started much before your pet began aging.

Tackling and managing FCD

While no known cure for FCD exists, you can help your pet feel better by easing the symptoms. By making helpful changes to your kitty’s environment and keeping her daily schedule consistent, you should be able to deal with behavioral issues that arise as she ages.

Here are a few areas you can treat
cognitive dysfunction in your cat –

• Make her happy and mobile

Cats experiencing FCD may forget where their litter box is. If your pet has trouble getting around, provide her with multiple litter boxes around the house. These should have low sides to make it easy for her to get in and out of them. Keep the existing l itter boxes in their original place, but put new boxes in areas that are easy to find. The idea is that your pet should always be able to find an appropriate place to eliminate. You could use the sandy litter, which is softer on your pet’s paws. Provide her with mobility aids such as ramps and steps if required.

• Curb the confusion and ditch the disorientation

If your pet is confused, she will benefit from a predictable routine and environment. Keep her food bowls, water dishes, and litter boxes in a consistent spot. Try to feed her at the same time every day. You could confine her to a smaller space to make it easier for her to find what she needs.

• Tackling disrupted sleep

An increased need to eliminate and a decreased ability to locate or access a litter box can prompt your pet to wake up and wander around at night. Geriatric anxiety can manifest as nighttime anxiety and restlessness. She could become anxious about being separated from family members who are asleep or worry about navigating the house in the dark. She may keep you awake by meowing, pacing up and down your room, and pawing at you for attention.

Set-up routines that encourage play during the day and sleepingin night. Cats like to be warm, so place their beds in a place protected from cold air. If your pet has trouble seeing clearly at night, plug in a night light.

• Increased patience for increased vocalization

Help your pet sleep at night to decrease their nighttime vocalizations. Block noises that could wake her up. Play soothing music to lull her to sleep. Give her extra love, attention, and reassurance. Older cats may vocalize excessively for several reasons, including loss of hearing and pain due to one or more medical conditions. FCD can cause increased vocalizations related to anxiety, disorientation, and separation distress. Excessive vocalizing can become problematic if your pet does it too often or at inappropriate times. Using feline pheromone sprays or diffusers in areas where she spends maximum time may reduce her anxiety. Speak to your vet, who may prescribe appropriate anti-anxiety medications for your feline friend!

• Show love with lifestyle and diet changes

Reduce any potential stressors in the house. Do not bring any new pets into the home or make other changes that may stress your pet. Feed her a diet rich in vitamin E and antioxidants, as these are known to slow the adverse effects of aging. Aging is inevitable, but you can make it more comfortable and easier for your pet! Patience is of prime importance, especially with older pets.

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