Q: My sweet 17-year-old Ellie Catz is the apple of my eye. She’s been my companion since I rescued her when she was 1 week old. I am very worried about her. Recently she started walking around the house late at night crying and wailing loudly. I noticed it started after I bought some new furniture and rearranged the house. Should I be concerned?
A: It is not unusual for elderly cats to become disoriented and to develop cognitive dysfunctions and impairments. Cats, like people, suffer the consequences of aging. Before approaching this as a behavior problem, take your cat to her veterinarian for a geriatric exam. There are diseases that are more prevalent in elderly cats, manifested by many of the symptoms you have described. While Ellie is having her checkup, talk to the veterinarian about her distressing behaviors.
If the veterinarian identifies this as a behavioral or cognitive challenge, you can help Ellie Catz overcome her nighttime confusion. Install night lights throughout the house. Calling her name while she is crying out can also help re-orient her. Familiarity and consistency in schedule, diet and environment is also important. When bringing in new pieces of furniture or rearranging the house, do it gradually, allowing Ellie Catz to familiarize herself with the new locations of the furniture. Also place her scent on the new furniture by gently petting her cheeks with a soft towel or sock and then rubbing the socks or towels on the new pieces of furniture. She will recognize her own scent, which will help her feel a little more secure.
Mental stimulation and activity are important for helping keep senior cats young. Clicker training is one example of a training method that stimulates and challenges cats, even elderly ones. I’ve observed from working with both my mildly cognitively impaired 16-year-old cat and a client’s elderly cats, that older cats who are clicker trained become more mentally alert and active. The sessions do not have to be long; sessions as brief as five minutes a day can make a difference in a cat’s alertness and activity level. And, elderly cats can learn new tricks. Keep the individual cat’s limitations in mind though. For instance, if your cat suffers from arthritis or joint pain, don’t ask her to do high or long jumps. Simple tricks such as sitting, waiting and shaking hands will be easy and fun to teach.