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Last updated on
5 min read

Key takeaways

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a chronic, progressive disease in senior cats characterized by a loss of cognitive performance, also called senility or dementia. 

  • Symptoms include disorientation, anxiety, changes to social interaction, changes to the sleep-wake cycle, and urinating or defecating outside of the litter box
  • Cats with these symptoms require veterinary care to rule out other causes with similar symptoms
  • Diagnosis is based on a questionnaire regarding changes in behavior
  • Treatments aim to slow the progress of CDS and reduce disruptions to the quality of life, including environmental and behavioral modification, dietary changes, nutritional supplements, drug therapies, and mental stimulation
  • Mental stimulation is also thought to also delay onset in young cats
  • There is no cure for CDS and it typically worsens with age
  • Early detection is necessary to slow the disease’s progress
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A closer look: Dementia in Cats

As cats age, all body systems start to decline. In some cases, the brain deteriorates more rapidly than the body, leading to signs of dementia or cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

The severity of the symptoms depends on the degree of deterioration and how the changes in cognition affect the cat’s quality of life. Early detection and treatment are beneficial to avoid severe symptoms.

With management and accommodation, aging cats can continue to lead happy lives for a time with CDS. Ongoing monitoring and veterinary assessment of quality of life are needed for senior pets to ensure they receive essential geriatric and ultimately, end of life care.

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Risk factors

CDS is very common in older cats. Cats with changes to their cognitive performance require prompt veterinary care to rule out other potential illnesses that have similar symptoms. CDS is a progressive disease, so early detection is necessary to help slow the progress and ensure continued quality of life. CDS typically occurs in older cats from about the age of 10.

Possible causes

CDS is caused by natural deterioration of the signaling pathways in the brain. As an animal ages, the brain signaling system becomes slower and less efficient at delivering the messages necessary to make decisions, learn, form and retrieve memories, maintain spatial awareness, and a wide range of other cognitive tasks.

Main symptoms

In addition, general symptoms of anxiety may occur.

Testing and diagnosis

To diagnose CDS, veterinarians typically use a questionnaire about recent changes to the cat’s abilities and behaviors. In cases where specific concerning behaviors have been noted at home, veterinarians benefit from a video as the behavior may not occur naturally in the veterinary office.

Other diagnostic tools that may be used to rule out other possible causes include:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood work
  • Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays, MRI, ultrasound
  • Urinalysis
  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Spinal tap

Steps to Recovery

There is no cure for dementia in cats. Treatment aims to slow progress of the disease and mitigate disruption to quality of life for both the cat and its carers. Treatments include:

  • Dietary changes, such as dietary supplements to improve cognitive function
  • Nutritional supplementation
  • Sleep aids
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Compression garments to reduce anxiety
  • Aromatherapy
  • Pheromone therapy
  • Herbal supplements
  • Acupuncture
  • Acupressure
  • Massage
  • Physical therapy

Changes to the environment are often helpful to maintain health and independence. Strategies include:

  • Providing mental stimulation through play, training, exercise, and toys to boost cognitive function
  • Increasing daytime exercise to promote nighttime sleep
  • Providing opportunities to engage in play and affection throughout the day
  • Placing multiple litter boxes around the house
  • Providing protected resting areas away from children or other pets
  • Providing padded surfaces for sleeping and sitting
  • Maintaining a regular routine to reduce anxiety

CDS is a chronic, progressive condition with no cure. Diagnosing and treating CDS early is the best way to slow progression. Symptoms of CDS eventually become severe, and usually lead to euthanasia once they interfere with quality of life.


Preventive measures have not been proven, but some of the same therapies that slow the progression of the disease also delay their onset. Providing high quality food, using nutritional supplements, and providing mental stimulation throughout life are recommended.

Is Dementia in Cats common?

CDS is very common in senior cats.

Typical Treatment

  • Accommodation
  • Dietary changes
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Drug therapies
  • Mental stimulation

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