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Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in humans, occurs in aging cats as their brain and its subsequent functions begin to deteriorate.
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome affects a cat’s memory, their ability to learn, and awareness of their environment, which in turn causes a host of behavioral changes affecting sleep patterns, responses to stimuli, and anxiety levels.
The symptoms of CDS include several behavioral changes that can start to become noticeable as early as 10 years of age. Often, CDS goes undiagnosed as the signs can mimic those of general aging, or other medical conditions, but often become even more pronounced between the ages of 16 to 20 years. Signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome include:
Changes in Relationships
Changes in Activity
While the chemistry behind the development of cognitive dysfunction syndrome is continuously being researched, scientists have found some reasons why the brain may experience changes that can lead to this disease. These may include:
- As the brain ages, the antioxidants that normally stop free radicals from damaging neurons begin to fail. The resultant oxidative damage to the neurons can kill them, and greatly reduce the number of neurons, which results in cognitive dysfunction and behavioral changes.
- This essential protein forms and repairs synapses, the parts of a neuron that pass information from one neuron to another. The reduction of APP may be a factor in age-related reduction of synapses that directly inhibits memory.
- Naturally occurring amyloid beta proteins can begin to misfold onto each other, creating plaques that physically cover the brain’s neurons. This accumulation affects neuron and synapse functions that lead to a loss of brain function, and is the currently accepted reason behind Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
Since the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be similar to those of other medical issues, your veterinarian will need to know all the unusual behaviors or changes you have noticed in your aging cat. Be sure to tell them of any behavioral, sleep or appetite changes you’ve noticed, when they began, and if they have been increasing as your cat ages.
After a physical exam, your veterinarian may run a series of tests to rule out other medical conditions that could be causing the symptoms, such as arthritis, kidney disease, urinary tract disease, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, dental disease, cancer, decreased sight or hearing, or a neurological disorder. Tests can include blood work, urine tests, measuring blood pressure, imaging tests including X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds, oral exams, sight and hearing tests, and neurological functioning tests.
If your cat has been cleared of any other physical conditions, your veterinarian may ask additional questions to determine if there are other behavioral issues going on. CDS can occur in conjunction with other physical or behavioral issues. Once it has been determined that your cat is experiencing cognitive dysfunction syndrome, treatment can be prescribed.
Since cognitive dysfunction syndrome cannot be cured, treatment aims at making your cat more comfortable by dealing with factors that contribute to their confusion and anxiety, while supporting their cognitive function. Treatments can include adapting the environment, as well as medicinal and nutritional therapies.
Adapting the Environment
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is a progressive disease without a cure. Treatments and environmental adjustments should be made throughout the rest of your cat’s life to keep them as safe and comfortable as possible. Expect to make adjustments to treatments as your cat ages and symptoms intensify.
Elderly cats should continue to have regular checkups with their veterinarian to address their progressing needs and symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome, as well as to treat any other aging issue they may be experiencing.
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Written by Kim Rain
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 04/09/2021, edited: 04/09/2021
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