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  • karenleehall

How do you know if a cat has dementia?

Updated: Jun 24, 2022



I love watching the cat, always have. Although he’s not my cat, he’s my cat as much as any cat. I’ve known him all his life, like an auntie. Even took him in while his true parents were trotting around the globe, cat-free. Of course, 5 months of care didn’t earn me lifelong affection. A week after he returned home, when I went to visit, he’d forgotten me and we were back to the regular hissing and scratching from the before times. Clearly one shouldn’t expect a cat to remember you as a dog does. Oh how wonderful are dogs’ memories.


Well, I was watching the cat one day not too long ago when it suddenly occurred to me, “how would I know if this cat has dementia? What could the signs possibly be?”


We’ve already discussed memory with a young cat – and how once you’ve left their daily routine for as little as a week you might as well be a predator animal. The whole “staring off into the middle distance’ thing wouldn’t really be much of a clue. Neither would purring one minute and then attacking the hand that comforts in the next. Circling the bed, pushing the food bowl with his head, lying next to but ignoring his cat toy are also not going to offer any clues.


My cat who is not really my cat is a very old cat. And for the most part, his parts are all working just fine. He knows where the food is, where the litter box is. He knows where the door to outside is, he knows how to get what he needs and what he needs is always the same. So no help there either.


It is notable we never see him clean his fur anymore. It’s very muppet-like now, all tufts no fluff. Does he not clean himself because he has dementia and forgets? Or does he simply not give a damn like so many older people who have finally realized vanity is for fools? We all respect the old codger that cares not what anyone else thinks. Yet don’t we all shudder with pity for the oldie who doesn’t realize a week has passed since his last bath?


The cat still knows his name when it’s called, and still pretends to ignore it. Again, same old same old. But in the days before now – when my reflexes were good, but his were better – this cat used to hate me. Would hiss and scratch anytime I was within reach. Now he slips between my feet like a living feather boa. This could possibly be proof he no longer knows who I am, or at least that he’s forgotten his complete loathing of me.


Yet the big clue, for me, was the day he needed to go to his bank. I offered to drive, of course, but once we had buckled in and I asked which way - he had no idea. We drove around in circles until we ended up on the street where he was born, where he lived as a kitten, an adolescent, and where he lived when he opened the account. From there he could figure out how to get to his bank. I got us back home fine, but I must say, this is the true proof he is suffering cognitive loss. It’s a good thing his routine doesn’t ever need to change. He’ll be my cat who isn’t really my cat until the end and luckily we’ve done all the banking he’ll ever need as I closed out the account and we only bank online now.

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