If I’m unable to pinpoint exactly when I first noticed that my own mind wasn’t what it used to be, I can definitely narrow down when my eldest cat, Buddy, started exhibiting mental lapses; it was a couple of weeks ago. Initially, he became much more vocal than he’d ever been. Then he started doing strange things. And while I’d dealt with sick, aging cats before, I’ve never come up against anything like this.
I adopted Buddy when he was a kitten. Owing to the fact that his mother was feral, Buddy wasn’t particularly well-socialized. Regrettably, no matter how much energy I invested in changing that, Buddy remained a don’t-touch-me kind of cat for the next fourteen years. I could pet him, I just couldn’t pet him for very long; After 40 seconds or so, he’d get up and move away.
Suddenly, though, he became very pet-able. He would actually seek me out and ask for attention. At night, lying on my side as I drifted off to sleep, he would perch on my hip. If I ignored his presence, he’d let out the sort of yowl that I was far more accustomed to hearing from Big Baby Spanky (who, contrary to his name, is actually 13-years old). It was all rather strange.
If you’ve read my columns dealing with our acquisition of cat-killing dog Munster, you may recall that, in order to keep the peace – and all 4 cats alive – we had to install a door which divided the house in half. The cats reside in the western half, and Munster resides in the eastern half. And since the eastern side of the house is where the living room and telly are located, it’s natural that the cats would want to join us there as they used to do. Every now and again, of an evening, we would hear someone meow on the other side of the house. Usually it’s Junebug, asking for more kibble. Sometimes, the meow comes from Baby Spanky, who has, I must say, the poorest self-image of any animal I’ve ever known, rendering him extremely needy. But I digress.
Lately, the requests come from Buddy, a cat who, previously, meowed so quietly that sometimes, I barely heard him at all. Now, however, he’s very vocal and very loud. Every night, we’re treated to any number of “ye-ooowww!”’s from across the house, and they don’t stop until the hubs or I go and shower him with attention. He’s almost overtaken Spanky in the neediness department.
At first, I thought he was simply losing his hearing. Indeed, the few times I’ve conducted informal experiments on the matter – which consist solely (for lack of any other ideas) of waiting until he looks away, and then loudly clapping my hands – his lack of response confirms that something is amiss. Since he never reacts, I’m forced to conclude that there is indeed some hearing loss.
That may explain the loudness of his nightly cries, but I’ve picked up on a few other oddities as well: the other night, as I walked into the loo, I found Buddy already there, standing staring at the corner of the wall. Upon inspection, I found nothing. Not so much as a dust mite, never mind something more interesting, like a spider. There was absolutely nothing to account for his interest in the wall. In addition, he’s spending more time wandering round and less time sleeping. I actually had a grandmother who did the same thing, but she was 92. And that perching on my hip as I’m trying to fall asleep – that’s completely out of character for old Bud.
When, out of curiosity, I Googled feline dementia, I learned that Buddy’s new habits are, for the most part, in keeping with the symptoms. Symptoms that Buddy hasn’t displayed include avoiding the litter box and eliminating elsewhere. I really hope that doesn’t happen; I don’t think Bud would tolerate having to wear nappies.
The articles that I read on the matter had nothing to offer in terms of hope or treatment. All they said was “consult your veterinarian.” For what? How exactly do you conduct a memory test on a cat? It’s not as if you can ask him to remember three words, and then repeat them later.
Now, in my new book, Sorry Honey, But The Critters Come First (available on Amazon), I’ve written, in gripping detail, how I cared for a desperately sick OAP of a cat who had liver disease. Since I’d much prefer that you buy the book and read it at your leisure, I won’t get into details here. Suffice to say that there are treatments for a good many feline illnesses, but there’s not much help available to treat dementia. So how do you treat the untreatable? Well, first of all, allow me to copy and paste a bit of what I found online:
The following symptoms can be indicators for feline dementia:
- loud vocalization.
- eliminating outside the litter box.
- increased anxiety or agitation, especially at night.
- lack of interest in grooming.
- appearing to be lost in familiar surroundings.
- decreased appetite.
- increased sleeping time.
- disorientation.I found this via Ingrid King’s Conscious Cat blog. Buddy has definitely experienced the loud vocalizations, the increased anxiety at night, and a certain amount of disorientation. In addition, I believe he has lost a bit of weight. Suggestions for addressing feline dementia seem to vary from a holistic approach to the sort of physical stuff that’s easy for anyone to do:
* Medications: Psychoactive drugs can improve brain function. Anipryl is one of these drugs, and it is most often used to treat dogs with dementia. However, The American Association of Feline Practitioners supports its use on cats who have been diagnosed with dementia by a veterinarian.
* Diet Change: Your veterinarian will be able to provide recommendations for foods and dietary supplements that promote brain health. They will most likely include the following ingredients, which are all great for cognitive function: antioxidants, vitamins C and E, beta carotene, carnitine, carotenoids, Omega-3, flavonoids, and selenium.
* Enrichment Activities: New toys, exercise, and training can help to improve your cat’s memory and cognizance. However, avoid extreme changes to your cat’s environment or routine that may result in further confusion and disorientation.
(That last courtesy of www.petcarerx.com)
While I haven’t taken Buddy to the vet yet, I have implemented a couple of things designed to calm him down while at the same time pique his interest in something new. First, I went on Ebay and ordered some feline pheromone diffusers, the kind that you plug into an electric socket. I’ve used them in the past with great success, and would recommend them to anyone whose cat has issues. I should’ve gotten them immediately after we brought Munster home, but the thought didn’t occur. Happily, the pheromones appear to be doing their job, and all the cats are noticeably calmer.
Second, I bought a laser light toy. To my considerable surprise, Buddy jumped all over that like it was a 3-legged mouse! He chased that red dot round the bedroom, into the lounge, and back to the bedroom again as though he were 4-years old instead of 14. I haven’t seen him expend that much energy in quite some time. It was good to see him so engaged in something new and interesting, and I’ve endeavored to spend a few minutes with Bud and the laser every day.
While I expected some sort of illness to befall my cats in their dotage, I never imagined that it would be dementia. I have no idea how much worse Buddy will get, or where the dividing line is – the line that, once your pet’s health crosses it, tells you that it’s time to consider euthanasia. I’ve put animals down before; anyone who’s had a pet has had to give the matter some thought at one point or another. But how do you know when a senile cat no longer has good quality of life?
I currently have no answer to that question. Bud seems to be holding his own, at the moment. You can be sure, though, that I will monitor this issue closely, and make a decision when one seems warranted. In the meantime, I urge you all to spend extra time with your beloved pets on a daily basis – you never know how close they are to the end.
Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!