Danielle Gunn-Moore

  • Webinar recorded on Thu 18th August, 2016
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Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome by Danielle Gunn. The life expectancy of pet cats is increasing, such that over 10% are now over 12 years of age. Unfortunately, accompanying this growing geriatric population there are many more cats with age-associated behavioural changes. The behavioural changes reported most frequently to veterinary surgeons are loss of litter box training (particularly inappropriate urination) and crying out loudly at night. Two unpublished studies from the UK, each looking at ~1000 elderly cats each (with the cats being of at least 12 years of age), found that increased vocalisation (i.e. crying out loudly for no apparent reason and/or to try to gain the owner’s attention) occurred in 54-66% of cats, with 30-37% of them vocalising most at night (V. Hall, unpublished data 2002; author, S. Caney and V. Halls, unpublished data 2015). Interestingly, these studies both showed that with age, cats often become more affectionate towards their owners, and more demanding of their attention (30-81% of the cats), and the increased vocalisation was often aimed at trying to gain their owners attention. However, at other times the cats appeared to be vocalising excessively and frantically about something quite mundane e.g. being fed or using the litter box, while at others they were meowing for no apparent reason at all. Many owners reported that these behaviours were, at times, quite frustrating, and having an elderly cat crying loudly at night and/or suffering from inappropriate elimination can be very distressing, causing significant damage the owner-cat bond and testing family loyalties.  These age-associated behavioural changes can result from a number of different disorders, including systemic illness (e.g. hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, and/or systemic hypertension; recrudescent Toxoplasmosis; some urinary tract infections), organic brain disease (e.g. brain tumours, especially meningioma), true behavioural problems (e.g. separation anxiety), degenerative conditions such as deafness, blindness, or cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), and/or be associated with pain (e.g. osteoarthritis). Determining the cause of the behavioural change(s) involves a detailed investigation looking for physical and behavioural problems, with CDS being diagnosed once other conditions have been excluded. Almost a third of pet cats of 11–14 years of age develop at least one geriatric-onset behaviour problem that appears to relate to CDS; increasing to over 50% for cats of 15 years of age or older. In confirmed cases of CDS, the most commonly seen behavioural changes, in addition to inappropriate urination/defecation and  inappropriate vocalisation, include spatial or temporal disorientation and confusion, altered interaction with the family, changes in sleep-wake cycles, and changes in activity. CDS is seen mostly in older cats, as are many of the other conditions that can cause similar changes in behaviour. Since many of these conditions occur frequently in older cats, many older cats suffer from a number of concurrent interacting conditions. This has to be considered when trying to manage these cats. However, it is only when these signs are recognised for what they are, and not just mistaken by both the owners and veterinary surgeons as ‘normal aging changes’, that they can be addressed and managed so improving the health and welfare of elderly cats.

Danièlle Gunn-Moore graduated from the R(D)SVS, University of Edinburgh, with the Dick Vet Gold Medal in 1991. After a year in small animal practice she joined The Feline Centre, University of Bristol, initially as the Feline Advisory Bureau Scholar, then the Duphar Feline Fellow, and completed a PhD study into Feline Infectious Peritonitis in 1997. After a short period as Lecturer in Veterinary Pathology, University of Bristol, she returned to Edinburgh to establish the Feline Clinic and became Professor of Feline Medicine in 2006. She is interested in all aspects of feline medicine; she is an internationally recognised expert in her area, has lectured extensively and published over a 130 peer-reviewed research papers, plus many reviews and book chapters. In 2009 she was awarded the BSAVA Woodrow Award for outstanding contribution in the field of small animal veterinary medicine, in 2011 she was awarded the International Society for Feline Medicine/Hill’s award for Outstanding Contributions to Feline Medicine, in 2012 the Royal Dick students voted her “The clinician I would most like to be”, and FECAVA awarded her “Increased Vocalisation in Elderly Cats” the most original paper in the European Journal of Companion Animal Practice award in 2016. She shares her home with her husband Frank and a 12 year old Maine Coon boy called Mortlach (named after a Scottish single malt whisky).


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