The CATalyst: Help for Alzheimer?s in Cats

Steve Dale, CAT FANCY writer and syndicated newspaper pet columnist, provides a weekly cat news roundup.

By Steve Dale, CABC | Posted: March 1, 2012, 12 p.m. EST

Steve Dale
Author Steve Dale

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Like people, our dogs and cats generally live longer these days. With a long life comes associated illnesses such as kidney disease (few cats over 12 lack signs), hyperthyroid disease, some cancers, arthritis and feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome — a cat’s version of Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study confirms that, with early intervention, a nutraceutical may delay a worsening onset and potentially improve mental acuity of affected cats.  

Most people are familiar with Alzheimer’s. These days, many families are in some way touched by this horrible illness.

Amazingly, the amyloid plaque associated with Alzheimer’s in humans closely resembles the damage seen inside the brain of a dog or cat with canine or feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome. In fact, the symptoms in pets are, in some ways, remarkably similar to those in people with Alzheimer‘s disease.

Alzheimer’s in cats and dogs often follows a scale with the acronym, DISHA.

•    Disorientation: Cats display a general confusion, seemingly forgetting favorite people. A cat may yowl as if the cat is lost in his own house.
•    Interactions with people: Clingy cats become aloof, or vice versa; pets who were always independent suddenly become Velcro cats.
•    Sleep pattern changes: A cat who typically slept through the night now cries out in the night, sometimes pacing, seemingly agitated and/or confused.
•    Housetraining errors: A cat that has accidents (not directly due to a medical cause, litterbox aversion, litter aversion or a new cat added to the home, etc.). This includes urinating or defecating outside the box, or both.  
•    Activity level: Of course, older (and sadly, often overweight) cats aren‘t going to chase and pounce like kittens, and catnaps are common. But sometimes cats will do nothing but sleep and express little curiosity or interest in the world around them.

Like so many areas of study, far more work has been done to understand canine medical issues, compared to feline. In this instance, dogs who may naturally get canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome have been used in various studies as a model to better understand Alzheimer’s in people. And the results have been amazing – helping researchers to understand aging in people as well as canines.  

Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome Research
Dr. Carl Cottman, director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at the University of California, Irvine, has studied cognitive decline in dogs and people. In one study, a group of dogs enrolled in canine education followed exercises and ate a special anti-aging diet. In comparison, a control group hung out as couch potatoes at home. All dogs were periodically tested for cognitive skills.

Cottman couldn't believe the results. “It was a fantasy come true because the results were so definitive, proving social interactions, exercise, enrichment and diet really do make a significant difference in dogs,” he notes. “We believe the same must be true for people.”

If it’s true for dogs and for people, is it also true for cats? “Likely, it is but there’s more to learn,” says researcher and veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada,

Hope for Alzheimer's in Cats
A recent study published in The International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine shows that early intervention with a treatment of NOVIFIT (NoviSAMe) tablets might help cats (it previously helped dogs). Landsberg was one of five authors of the study.

NOVIFIT is a nutritional SAMe supplement (S-adenosylmethionine). SAMe is also manufactured for people as a supplement SAMe is present in every living cell in the body. However, levels tend to decline with age. The supplement offers a boost.

In dogs and cats, the boost improves executive function. This includes execution of tasks, like cats who walk into a room and seemingly forget why they are there and yowl inexplicably, as well as presumably improving memory and ability to do things, aiming for the litterbox, for example.

In the study, NOVIFIT – purchased through veterinary clinics – significantly reversed learning errors in cats.

Outside the setting of a study, however, people might not realize their cat is gradually having cognitive problems until things have become really bad.  Unfortunately, some veterinarians may reply, “Well, what do you expect – your cat is getting old.”

Certainly, some cognitive changes may occur as cats age normally. When several clear signs described above in the DISHA formula simultaneously occur, start a conversation with your veterinarian.

Products available for aging dogs have increased, particularly for dogs with cognitive disorder. Sadly, cat studies typically lag behind.

Here’s what I hope they study: It turns out that one SAMe study on depression in people included lots of folks who happened to have arthritis. Yes, SAMe did lessen their depression, but study participants all reported that their arthritis symptoms diminished. SAMEe is now sometimes used to treat arthritis in people.

We now know that even though the majority of older cats may not “complain” about arthritis pain, arthritic changes are seen on X-rays on the majority older cats. We have a shortage of pain relief choices for cats. Does SAMe work to also help cats with osteoarthritis? Wouldn’t it be great to find out?
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Reader Comments

Victoria    Hartford, VT

11/25/2013 3:33:52 PM

I will ask my vet about the SAMe. Sometimes my kitty doesn't seem to know her food is right in front of her.

Also she must have been hit by a car at some point in her life as her hips have severe arthritis. She is on Gabapentine every day and a shot of adequan once a month. This has eliminated the lameness.

Dianne    International

5/7/2013 10:22:26 PM

I think my cat Simon might have Feline Cognitive Disorder!! He sometimes paces and walks very slowly. His appetite has decreased, is sometimes very clingy with me, other times he wants distance, his eyes look like "nobody's home", etc. This makes me very sad! :(

Pat    Omaha, NE

3/8/2012 5:46:47 AM

That's news to me, how sad, for both animals and people.

Shirley    Tucson, AZ

3/8/2012 3:16:16 AM

Good article and thank you.

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