Cognitive Dysfunction in Cats: Clinical Assessment and Management

Gunn-Moore D.A.

Top Companion Anim Med, 2011. 26(1): p.17-24.


Increasing numbers of cats are living to become elderly and they commonly develop behavioral changes. The objectives of this article are to consider the possible causes and prevalence of behavioral problems in pet cats, to describe how cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) typically presents, and how its diagnosis and management are often complicated by the concurrent presence of multiple interacting disease processes. The most frequently reported behavioral problems in old cats are loss of litter box training and crying out loudly at night. The most common causes of these problems are CDS, osteoarthritis, systemic hypertension (commonly secondary to chronic kidney disease or hyperthyroidism), hyperthyroidism (even without hypertension), deafness, and brain tumors. These conditions all occur frequently in older cats, many of which suffer from a number of concurrent interacting conditions. Owners and veterinary surgeons often mistake these for “normal aging changes,” so many treatable conditions are neglected and go untreated. Almost one third of cats 11 to 14 years of age develop at least one geriatric-onset behavior problem that appears to relate to CDS, and this increases to over 50% for cats 15 years of age or older. For optimum management of elderly cats with behavioral problems, all interacting conditions need to be diagnosed and addressed concurrently with management for CDS.