Cognitive Dysfunction in Cats: A Syndrome We Used to Dismiss as 'Old Age'

J Feline Med Surg. 2010 Nov;12(11):837-48. doi: 10.1016/j.jfms.2010.09.004.


Practical relevance: Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a widely accepted diagnosis in dogs, with established treatment options. In cats, however, our understanding of cognitive dysfunction is still being shaped by ongoing research in the field, and limited treatment options are available. Recent clinical studies indicate that old age in the cat is accompanied by increased behavioural signs such as wandering, vocalization and night-time activity that are not attributable to identifiable medical problems. It is essential, therefore, that veterinarians include behavioural well-being in the routine care of senior cats.

Patient group: While the exact age of onset is not established, studies suggest that age-related behavioural changes consistent with cognitive dysfunction are prevalent in cats as early as 10 years of age and that prevalence increases significantly in older cats.

Clinical challenges: The diagnosis of cognitive dysfunction requires the identification of geriatric behavioural changes that are not caused by other medical problems, although the two may not be mutually exclusive. Therefore, the practitioner must rely heavily on owner reports and history to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment. The absence of any approved dietary or pharmaceutical interventions for cognitive dysfunction adds a further challenge, although several possibilities exist.

Evidence base: This article draws on recent research that has produced neuropathological, cognitive and behavioural evidence for cognitive dysfunction in aging cats. As an impetus to further our understanding of this disease and potential treatment options, the authors propose a behavioural checklist that might aid in the clinical diagnosis of feline CDS and discuss treatment options that have proven successful in the canine counterpart of this disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cat Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Cats
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Syndrome