Q & A: Can cats become ‘senile’ in old age?

Q.I have heard that dogs can become senile in old age. Is this true for cats as well?

Does your geriatric kitty wake up in he middle of the night, meowing excessively while looking rather disorientated? This is a classic sign that your cat might be going senile, and one of the symptoms you will notice first.

Other symptoms are sitting in a corner and staring aimlessly at a wall, showing signs of anxiety, frequently not urinating or defecating in her litter box, a decreased appetite, looking rather dishevelled and ungroomed, and sleeping more during the day with insomnia at night. These signs can also be due to certain medical conditions, so be sure to take your geriatric kitty to a vet for a check-up.

Feline senility or cognitive disorder cannot be cured but you can slow the progression. Feeding your kitty a diet high in antioxidants and keeping her mind and body active have also been shown to alleviate the symptoms. A daily routine is key in keeping your cat anticipating the next play or training session.

So invest in a clicker, some treats, a few more litter trays, lots of climbing trees and some chase toys. Keep in mind your kitty’s physical limitations as a geriatric. Keep her safely inside. It will also help her to keep a dim light on at night – like for children who are afraid of the dark.

Q. Can cats be inoculated against the feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) and will that offer them 100% protection? Also, what are the symptoms of FeLV and can the disease be treated?

A.You want to do the best that you can for your cat and protecting her

 from common cat diseases forms part of that challenge. Yes, you can vaccinate your cat against feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) but remember that no vaccine is 100% effective. Cats should be tested for FeLV and vaccinated if they arenegative. Kittens receive their first vaccination when they are older than eight weeks, followed by a booster one month later. They receive annual boosters until they are at least four years old. Older cats receive an initial vaccine, followed by a booster one month later and then they receive annual boosters.When looking at the symptoms of FeLV, it helps to know that FeLV is a type of virus called a retrovirus. That puts it in the same family as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Feline leukaemia virus affects the immune system and makes cats susceptible to infections. It is also the most common cause of cancer in cats.
The clinical signs of disease are variable as many systems in the body can be affected. During the early stages of infection, cats normally do not show signs of disease at all. However, over time (weeks, months or even years) the cat’s health may progressively deteriorate or there will be periods of relative health, with recurrent episodes of severe illness. Signs can include slow but progressive weight loss, lethargy and loss of appetite; pale gums (anaemia); cancer within the chest causing increased breathing effort or struggling to get air in; infections of the skin, urinary bladder and upper respiratory tract; persistent diarrhoea; continuous fever; and a variety of eye conditions.

There is no treatment to eliminate the virus from the body. However, many cats showing FeLV-related diseases will improve with symptomatic treatment, at least for a while. For example, if FeLV is causing immunosuppression and the patient develops secondary infections, these can be treated with antibiotics or anaemia can be treated with blood transfusions. Unfortunately, the prognosis for the cat is poor.

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