By Dr. Becker
Like many animals, our kitty companions undergo age-related changes as they get up in years that can affect their mental acuity. Senior and geriatric cats can develop cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), along with simple age-related loss of focus and the feline version of “forgetfulness.” Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to help maintain good mental function in your cat for most or all of her life, and it’s never too soon to start — even if she’s still a kitten.
5 Daily To-Dos to Help Keep Kitty’s Brain Sharp
1. Daily consistency
It’s the very nature of felines to set their own schedules, exert maximum control over their environment and depend on no other creature for survival. Just because your kitty lives indoors doesn’t mean he’s lost his natural instinct to rule his environment.
The more you can do to help him feel in control and not trapped in unknown or unfriendly territory, the less stress he’ll feel and the better his health and quality of life will be. Stressful events for your cat can include the addition of a new family member, either two- or four-legged, or the sudden absence of a family member through death or divorce.
Other potential stressors: moving to a new home; a change in your schedule that has you coming and going at different times than your pet is used to; loud parties; neighbor cats close enough that your kitty can see, hear or smell them through a window or door; and the stress of getting older.
As much as possible, create minimally stressful living quarters for your kitty and reduce or eliminate events that can cause anxiety. Cats are extremely sensitive to environmental stressors such as chemicals, EMFs, air, water and light quality.
To minimize environmental stress, remove airborne contaminants, including off-gasses from carpets and upholstery by purifying the air and not smoking in your home. Eliminate room sprays, plug-ins and scented candles, and switch to all natural, eco-friendly home cleaning products.
Create a toxin-free room for your cat (and you!) with no fluorescent or LED lighting, wireless routers or other major electronics. Consider offering a grounding or earthing pad if you live in a high rise condo or apartment. Open the window shades during the day and close them tight at night.
Routine care (e.g., teeth brushing, coat brushing) and feeding should occur at about the same time each day. Your cat’s food and water bowls and litterbox should be kept in a safe, secure location and not moved from room to room. Make sure to keep the litterbox scrupulously clean.
Performing little rituals, for example when you leave the house and upon your return, can help your cat feel more comfortable with the comings and goings of humans in the household. A ritual can be as simple as giving him a treat each time you leave and a bit of petting as soon as you come back through the door.
2. Daily nutrition
Feed a balanced, antioxidant-rich species-appropriate diet. Your kitty’s diet should include omega-3 essential fats, such as krill oil, which are critical for cognitive health. The perfect fuel for pets no matter their age is a healthy variety of fresh, living foods suitable for your carnivorous cat.
Eliminate all refined carbohydrates (grains, potatoes and legumes) to allow more room for excellent-quality protein, full of critical amino acids. Eliminating extruded foods (kibble) means your cat won't be consuming the toxic byproducts of the manufacturing process, including heterocyclic amines and acrylamides.
You can improve digestion and absorption of nutrients by feeding a less processed diet, not to mention enhancing kitty’s microbiome, which has been linked to improved cognitive health in humans. Feed meals from shallow, wide, glass or stainless steel (not plastic) bowls that accommodate feline whiskers and offer purified water, free from chlorine and fluoride (no city tap water).
3. Daily supplementation for brain health
Provide a SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) supplement as a safe and effective way to stall or improve mental decline. Consult your holistic veterinarian for the right dose size for your cat. There are also commercial cognitive support products available.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older pets. Coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support.
Other supplements to consider are jellyfish extracts, resveratrol (Japanese knotweed), which protects against free radical damage and beta-amyloid deposits, ginkgo biloba, gotu kola and phosphatidylserine, which is a nutritional supplement that can inhibit age-related cognitive deficits. Consult a holistic veterinarian for dosing guidance.
4. Daily exercise
Make sure your kitty has things to climb on in your home, like a multi-level cat tree or tower. This will give him the opportunity to get some good stretching, scratching and climbing time in each day. Also provide a few empty cardboard boxes to spark his creative play instincts:
Consider investing in a laser toy, either a very inexpensive, simple one or something more sophisticated like the FroliCat. Many kitties get quite a workout diving around after the beams or dots from these toys. Don’t neglect your cat’s need for mental stimulation as well. Food puzzles and treat-release toys can be beneficial for some kitties. Also think of creative ways to enrich your cat's indoor environment that provide mental and physical activity.
Just because Mr. Whiskers lives indoors doesn't mean he doesn't need or deserve to spend time outside. Just like dogs, cats require mental stimulation and the opportunity to explore the world beyond their front door. One way to broaden a willing cat's horizons and enrich his comfortable, if under-stimulating indoor existence is to train him to walk on a harness and leash.
In fact, walking your cat can be an ideal way to allow him safe, controlled access to the great outdoors and increase his physical activity level at the same time.
5. Daily playtime
Invest in a few interactive cat toys. To pick the best ones, consider things from kitty’s point of view. She's a hunter, so when choosing toys and activities to engage her, think in terms of appealing to her natural instincts to stalk and bring down prey. For example, if you have a cat toy like Da Bird, make it land and take off like the real thing. To keep her interest, every so often have the bird land on a tasty treat and let your cat discover it when she pounces on her prey.
Also keep some low-tech interactive toys on hand, like a piece of string you drag across the floor, ping-pong balls or bits of paper rolled into balls. Any lightweight object that can be made to move fast and in unexpected directions will entice almost any cat to chase after it. If you’re a crafty person, you can even create your own homemade cat toys.
In addition to the things mentioned above, it’s also important to keep your cat at a healthy weight, maintain her dental health and take her in for regular (preferably twice-yearly) vet visits to monitor vital organ function.
Indoor kitties don’t require annual vaccines, as they are protected for life, like most mammals, after immunization from core vaccines. Keeping abreast of your kitty’s physical and mental changes as she ages is the best way to catch any disease process early, including cognitive decline.