Dementia is frequent in senior cats but with the right diet, it can be slowed down or even prevented.
In this post you will find out what the signs of cat dementia are and how a “catified” version of the Mediterranean diet can help.
What is cat dementia?
The life expectancy of pet cats has increased to 14 years!
This is according to a study conducted to assess the longevity and mortality of cats attending veterinary clinics in England.
So, pet cats are living longer these days.
This is all thanks to great pet parents like you who take exceptional care of their cats.
The flip side is that, just like in people, living longer means a higher incidence of chronic diseases, one of these being dementia.
Dementia in cats is called Cognitive Disfunction Syndrome or CDS, and it’s equivalent to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
You might have already experienced some sleepless nights courtesy of your cat’s new habit of nocturnal yowling.
Or perhaps you have encountered unpleasant litter box accidents not exactly at the litter box.
While most cat parents associate these behaviors with normal aging, they can be some of the manifestations of your cat’s cognitive decline.
The problem is, changes in cognition are subtle and difficult to diagnose, even for your vet.
The fact that some of the symptoms overlap with those of other conditions common to old cats, such as arthritis pain, hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease, makes things more complicated.
The older your cat gets, the more severe the cognitive decline she/he may develop.
What are the signs of cat dementia?
Major signs of Cognitive Disfunction Syndrome in cats are:
- Excessive vocalization: is the most common sign, especially at night.
- Alterations in interactions with the owners: increased affection seeking.
- Alterations in the sleep-wake cycle.
- Alterations in activity levels.
- Learning and memory problems.
What causes the deterioration of cognitive function in cats?
While the exact cause of CDS in cats is not well known, scientists have identified changes in the brain that might be involved.
Oxidative stress is one of them.
In normal conditions, there’s a balance between production and elimination of free radicals, a by-product of metabolism.
With aging, and other factors such as disease and stress, this balance is altered promoting the accumulation of toxic molecules in the brain. This also creates brain inflammation.
In senior cats, blood flow to and within the brain can become compromised. This is due to changes on the blood vessels but can also be worsened by hypertension, heart disease, anemia, and other age-related conditions.
A reduced blood flow limits the amount of oxygen the brain receives and jeopardizes its normal functioning.
Structural brain changes have also been described in old cats. Cerebral cortex atrophy, loss of neurons, and reduced number of synapses are observed in cats as young as 6-7 years of age and are more frequent in cats 10 years and older.
The hippocampus, the area in the brain specialized in learning and memory, is also affected.
Interestingly, the factors leading to deterioration of cognitive function are remarkably similar in cats, dogs, and humans.
Will my senior cat develop dementia?
But…not all is bad news.
This doesn’t mean that your senior cat will certainly develop CDS.
A published study concluded the following:
“the prevalence of the signs of CDS varies for pet cats. Around 28% of cats between 11 and 14 years of age develop at least one behavioral problem related to CDS, with this increasing to 50% in cats over 15 years of age”.
Even at 15 years of age or more, “only” half of senior cats on average develop signs of mental decline.
So, going into the golden years does not always equate to brain disfunction.
The question is: what’re you suppose to do, wait and see if your cat got lucky at the genetic lottery or be proactive and take measures to prevent or slow down the disease?
Management of cats with dementia.
It’s important to understand that once symptoms of CDS have develop in your cat, there’s no cure, mainly due to the structural brain changes I already described.
However, appropriate management can slow down the progression of the disease and improve your cat’s quality of life
And yours too.
CDS is also a huge burden for you, the cat parent (think of all those broken nights!).
You can help your cat with environmental enrichment/modification for mental stimulation and higher activity levels.
You can also discuss with your vet the use of medications which have different levels of efficacity but also a lot of side effects.
And, as you know, we’re huge believers of the healing power of food, and dietary interventions seem to work pretty well in cats with CDS.
Diets for cats with dementia.
The power of food to reduce or even prevent diseases is often underestimated.
In humans, diets high in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, as well as vitamins C, E and B12, delay the development of dementia.
Middle-aged and older cats fed for a year with a diet supplemented with fish oil, antioxidants, the amino acid arginine, and vitamin B significantly improved their brain function.
This was reflected by a better performance on several cognitive tests that evaluate their learning and memory abilities and execution functions.
The ingredients in this nutrient blend were selected based on their known ability to reduce brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
In another study, the same nutritional blend was given to middle-aged and old cats for four years to study its effect on brain atrophy.
Amazingly, this diet was able to not only improve cognitive function but also prevented brain atrophy in aged cats.
In yet another study, the activity level of aged cats increased when fed a diet that included the antioxidants vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene.
After reading all these studies, I was thrilled to find the following:
“The observed beneficial effects of the nutrient blend on brain functions in cats are consistent with the observation of a Mediterranean diet improving cognitive function in older adults. In fact, all the ingredients in the mix studied are present in the fruits, vegetables, cereals, seeds, legumes, vegetable oils, and fatty fish of the Mediterranean diet”.
Yes, people who adhere to the Mediterranean diet have less risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Mediterranean diet is even proposed as a preventive approach against dementia.
This means two things:
First, it demonstrates that cat CDS can be managed with nutrients present in natural, whole foods.
While cat dementia is frequent in senior cats and starts relatively early in their lives, it can be prevented or slowed down.
To manage brain aging successfully in your cat, you need to retard age-related changes in the brain.
You to take a preventive approach and eliminate early on the risk factors of cognitive deterioration including oxidative stress and inflammation.
The right diet, rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, can significantly improve your cat’s cognitive function and retard brain atrophy.
Cats seem to need to consume higher levels of the mentioned nutrients than those currently recommended to benefit of a healthy brain at the old age.