But when I took her on a road trip earlier this summer in our RV she spent the whole trip yowling in her carrier. She has never done that before. I ended up coming home early because she was so upset. Even now she does not seem to be the same happy cat as before the trip. She sits and stares at the wall for hours and then at night she wanders around instead of sleeping. Could all of this have been caused by the stress of the trip? What should I do? Signed, Jim
Dear Jim --
Bottom line—Betsy is old, ancient even. We checked with our friends at the ASPCA about behavior changes in older cats and found out that it can be a problem. Feline cognitive dysfunction, or FCD, can affect cats from about age 10 years and is found in more than 80% of cats aged 16 to 20 years. Memory, ability to learn, awareness, and sight and hearing perception can all deteriorate in cats affected with FCD. It can cause disturbances in sleeping patterns, disorientation or reduced activity. It can make cats forget previously learned habits they once knew well, such as the location of the litter box or their food bowls. It can increase their anxiety and tendency to react aggressively. It can also change their social relationships with you and with other pets in your home.
But, and it’s a big BUT, not all effects of aging are caused by cognitive decline. So, your first step, as always, is to schedule an appointment with your vet to have Betsy checked out for treatable medical conditions that can also cause behavioral changes. Don’t assume that Betsy is “just getting old” and nothing can be done to help her.
Any medical or degenerative illness that causes pain, discomfort or decreased mobility—such as arthritis, dental disease, thyroid dysfunction, cancer, impaired sight or hearing, or urinary tract disease—can lead to changes in behavior that look like FCD.
If all these medical problems are ruled out, then Betsy’s behavior is probably caused by the effects of aging on the brain. Treatment mainly consists of making helpful changes to Betsy’s environment and keeping her daily schedule consistent. There are also some medicines that may help cats with FCD, and your vet can make recommendations about that.
Disorientation can be reduced by increasing the predictability of Betsy’s environment and schedule. Avoid changes to her food, food placement, litter and litter box placement. Try to keep her daily routine as consistent as possible. If she’s really distressed, it may be best to confine her to a relatively small space, such as one floor of your house or, in advanced cases, one room. Doing this will make it easy for her to find everything she needs. If she is diagnosed with FCD, it was not caused by the trip this summer, but you should probably not take her on any more trips. Treat her like the old lady she is. Let her stay home and enjoy these last years to the fullest.
The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County. Located at 29 West Seneca Street, Oswego, New York. Phone (315) 207-1070. Email: [email protected] Website: www.oswegohumane.