Friday, July 31, 2015

Feline dementia or feline arthritis? Sometimes, it's hard to tell

Eamon the cat waiting for his vet appointment in his cat carrier
Senior cats and foreign cars have a lot in common. They're both finicky, prone to difficulties and expensive to fix. And yet, they're both intensely lovable (at least to me).

Today, I had to take my foreign car... er, senior cat to the veterinarian for an annual workup, and I got some pretty surprising news.

Eamon has been dealing with arthritis for about 5 years now. He takes supplements every morning, and has a muscle injection two times per week. Every day, he also takes the medication gapapentin for pain. That means I spend a lot of time, every day, trying to keep his pain under control. It's a top-of-mind issue for me, mainly because there are so many details to stay on top of.

And, of course, anytime he has any kind of strange and new behavior, I blame that on the pain. Recently, he's started throwing out a ton of these new behaviors. So off to the vet we went, and mentioned Eamon's:
  • Sedation. He's been sleeping for the majority of the day, and he's been sleeping in the middle of the room. That means he's often interfering with the flow of traffic, and he doesn't seem to move when people walk by. My interpretation: Sedation from the drugs. 
  • Aggression. I've been bitten by Eamon twice. Neither bite broke the skin, but both the nibbles were pretty hard and they came during petting sessions. He's never done anything like this before. My interpretation: Pain from arthritis. 
  • Short temper. Eamon often initiates play sessions with the other pets. But when they play, he seems to tire of them really quickly, and the play suddenly becomes a fight. My interpretation: Pain from arthritis. 
  • Forgetfulness. Several times throughout the day, Eamon seems to hear an internal breakfast bell. If I walk through the kitchen, he runs to his breakfast spot, even if he's just finished eating. My interpretation: Side effect of medications.
  • Vocalization. Eamon has always liked to sing for his supper. But lately, his cries have been ever more piercing. And he's been starting them earlier and earlier in the day. My interpretation: ??? (if I'm being honest).
All of my interpretations might very well have merit. But there might be something else going on, too. Turns out, Eamon might have a bit of feline dementia.

At 14 years old, Eamon is right in the pocket for dementia onset, and every single one of the signs I'm seeing could be caused by a decaying mind. The kicker? A true hallmark of dementia is increased hollering in the midnight hour. That's something we've struggled with in the past, but it's not constant. I didn't even think of it until the veterinarian mentioned the issue.

Eamon the brown tabby and Troy the black cat resting together
At the moment, there are no good options for feline dementia treatment. Dogs, apparently, have a good therapeutic options. But no such luck for cats.

And this is just a tiny sliver of all of the problems impacting Eamon right now. He also seems to have a mass in his mouth (tumor?) that's growing. It's not painful, but it's awfully firm. That smacks of the big C. And, he's lost about a pound of weight within the last year, even though he's been eating the same amount of food this entire time.

This poor guy is dealing with a lot of difficulties, all at once. So his behavior changes might also be due to cancer, a metabolic problem or something else altogether.

So we're talking quality of life. I really HATE that discussion.

In the interim, we're backing off his gabapentin dose and adding in a different pain medication that isn't sedating. We'll monitor and see if some of the sleepies and grouchies and weirdness goes away, and if he isn't painful and limping as a result.

And if that doesn't work?

I don't want to talk about it.

But, I do want to hear from you if your cat has dementia. What sorts of things have you tried to make quality of life better? What worked? Share with me in the comments, won't you?


  1. I'm 12 years old now and the mom worries about stuff like this is gonna happen to me. I'm a little more vocal these days than I used to be.

    We're purring for Eamon and hope he's okay.


    1. Thanks so much. This whole situation is so hard. I'm really hoping this new medication will help.

  2. one of our cats Freddy had been back and forth from the Doctor countless times over the past two years. We kept thinking she has a urinary tract infection, but every time we checked her urine it was normal. She started crying occasionally in the potty, (one out of three trips) Then she started going in and sitting in there and not doing anything. When I described the behavior to the vet he thought it was Arthritis. Freddy is now 15 years old. We had her ex-rayed and ultra sounded and found that she indeed had Arthritis but when I video taped her in the potty, the vet agreed with me that it did not look like she was crying because of pain. She wasn't crying when she got in position, she cried when she was digging around trying to find the right spot. Any way she is on tramadol for pain but she still cries in the potty and out of the potty and before she goes in. She follows us into the kitchen but does not want food. She is much more needy now, She wants to be pet much more than ever, and she forgets what she is doing. She had to be reminded to eat and drink. She is also very paranoid and hyper alert. We had her tested for everything under the sun. My conclusion and the vets agreement is that she is in the early stages of dementia. I have read that there are some dietary changes that might help but we have not gotten there yet. She is one of 5 in the house four of which are 15- 15.5 years. She is the only one with signs of dementia so far. The doc wants to try Diazepam to help calm her nerves, but we are still running a trial with the Tramadol so we are in a wait and see stage. So far she is not improving very much, and as the Dementia progresses she will be harder to care for. For now we are doing every thing we can including hand feeding her to make sure she eats.

    1. Oh, this is heartbreaking. I'm so sorry. I do think you're on the right track with your program, and I agree that the Diazepam might help if the Tramadol does not. The only other thing I might suggest is creating a household routine. Eamon did better when we got up at the same time, ate at the same time, turned on the radio at the same time.... Even on weekends. That might help. And it does seem to be random, as far as what cats get it. I had 3 cats that were 15 or so when Eamon got dementia, and he others were smart as whips with no signs at all.