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Survey of risk factors and frequency of clinical signs observed with feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome

MacQuiddy, B.; Moreno, J.; Frank, J.; Mcgrath, S.; (2022). “Survey of risk factors and frequency of clinical signs observed with feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome”. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery: 1098612X221095680.


With advances in veterinary medicine and general increases in feline welfare, the population of elderly cats is growing. Approximately 28% of cats aged 11-14 years and 50% of cats aged 15 years or older were found to show behavior changes attributed to cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease. These changes include vocalization, alterations in interactions, changes in the sleep-wake cycle, house soiling, disorientation, and alterations in activity levels, anxiety, learning, and memory. The exact cause of feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) is not known, but it is certainly not a normal aging process. There is currently no established screening tool to diagnose FCD, and as a result, little is known about it.
The aims of this study were to distribute a survey to cat owners to identify common clinical signs of feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) and to evaluate for potential risk factors.

A 29-question survey was designed to identify cats with signs of FCD and determine associated risk factors as identified from studies in dogs and humans. An email was sent to every owner of a cat that had presented to Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital from 2015 to 2020. 615 anonymous surveys were completed and included in the final analysis, excluding cats with a known underlying condition.

Of the 615 completed surveys, 80 (13%) cats were deemed FCD positive, and 114 (18.5%) were deemed FCD negative controls. The rest were excluded due to underlying medical conditions. The most common clinical sign in the FCD positive group was inappropriate vocalization, which occurred in 32 of the 80 cats (40%). The only risk factor that had a statistical significance was the environmental setting, where cats in rural areas were more associated with FCD than those in urban or suburban areas.

The limitations of this study are largely attributed to the fact that it was a voluntary survey. Only a limited number of questions could be asked to keep the participant’s attention. Accuracy of answers is always a concern when asking owners to recall information, and there was no information on how long the participant had owned the cat. People who felt their cat did not have a cognitive dysfunction may have chosen not to participate in the study. Diagnosis of FCD was based on clinical signs rather than a thorough medical history and diagnostic tests.

In this study, the most common clinical sign associated with FCD was inappropriate vocalization, which is consistent with a previous report. Cats living in rural environments may be at lower risk for dysfunction. More studies are needed to better understand this complex syndrome.     ~SDW

See Also
Landsber, GM, DePorter T and Araujo JA. “Clinical signs and management of anxiety, sleeplessness, and cognitive dysfunction in the senior pet”. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2011; 41: 565-590
Gunn-Moore D, Moffat K, Christie LA, et al. “Cognitive dysfunction and the neurobiology of aging in cats.” J Small Anim Pract 2007; 48: 546-553

Related Blog Posts
Cognitive Dysfunction in Senior Cats

Related Terms
Cognitive dysfunction, dementia, neurodegeneration