3/28/2022 | By Cathy M. Rosenthal

Just like people, cats experience age-related physical changes and have special needs. According to an article from Cornell Feline Health Center, their immune systems weaken and their kidneys may become impaired. They may become dehydrated more easily and experience hearing loss and cognitive decline. In this article, pet advisor Cathy M. Rosenthal addresses the potential signs of feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) in senior or geriatric cats. Cornell Feline Health Center warns, “Never assume that changes you see in your older cat are simply due to old age, and are therefore untreatable … Any alteration in your cat’s behavior or physical condition should alert you to contact your veterinarian.”

Dear Cathy,

I read with interest your response to Kathy from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, who reported that her family’s 17-year-old indoor cat was keeping them awake with his nighttime howling. They reported that the cat had been crying “for years” after they went to bed but that the crying had gotten worse and escalated to howls. I was disappointed that you did not suggest that the cause of the changed nighttime vocalization could be Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (FCD). As someone who has owned and/or fostered nearly 90 kitties over the past 60 years, I’ve had my fair share of super seniors, and many have developed FCD as they aged. Loud distressed-sounding nighttime vocalization and increased attention-seeking are pretty common symptoms of this disorder.

man resting with his cat on his chest. photo by Jevtic Dreamstime.jpg

There are usually many other indicators of FCD, like getting lost in a familiar space or staring at a wall for hours along with behavioral problems like eliminating outside of the litter box, but I think it might be helpful for Kathy from New Smyrna Beach to discuss feline cognitive disorder with her vet as a possible cause of her kitty’s nighttime howling. There are several medications that can be tried to help reduce this behavior, like Prozac or Gabapentin. I hope you will make this information available to your other readers who may be struggling with the same situation in the hopes that they can find a way to improve their kitties’ quality of life and their own.

Marilyn, Canton, Connecticut

Dear Marilyn,

You will be happy to know I checked in with Kathy and in a follow-up email. She said: “There have been times when he acts as if he has had a stroke or something. He will stare at the wall for extended periods…sometimes he sits in the corner and just howls. It’s heartbreaking but as he is almost 18, I figured there was little to be done. Am I wrong?”

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At that time, I told her he should be checked for Feline Cognitive Dysfunction, but she said he had been on Gabapentin for a year for a left paw injury and saw no changes in his behavior. While it sounds like FCD, he has also been less active this year as a result of the paw injury. In addition to the activities I suggested, I recommended she follow up with her vet regarding FCD. Thanks for your letter.

Cathy M. Rosenthal

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.