Ever since he was just a little kitten Otto has been one of the most social cats I've ever met. He always wanted to be near people, sitting on everyone's lap or throwing himself on his back in front of you demanding you to rub his belly. He used to come to sleep on my stomach as soon as I went to bed and in the morning he was sound asleep next to my feet at the end of the bed. He wanted to be so near that it sometimes got even a bit annoying, like trying to lie down on my laptop keyboard to get my undivided attention.
He was also one of the kindest animals around, always in a good mood and never biting, scratching or acting up. He was gentle, jovial, calm and very affectionate and always so easy to handle.
During the past year or so he started to change. Not overnight but the changes in his behavior and temperament were slow to happen, so that it took me a long time to even notice he had changed at all. It's also hard to say when the symptoms started as they worsened little by little, gradually, during a long period of time.
The first thing we noticed was his inability to find our kitchen. We had moved to a new apartment, and the floor plan was almost identical to our previous home, except that the kitchen was on the other side of the apartment. Every time Otto was hungry and wanted food he ran to the wrong room - the "old kitchen" before hurrying to the right one. Sometimes I found him sitting in the "place his bowl used to be" and had to pick him up and carry to the right room. We just thought it was kind of funny and used to laugh at him, not thinking it could be a sign of anything more serious. We had also remarked his greying fur and started to affectionately call him "grandpa cat".
He then started to get cranky and restless often pacing around the house without any real destination. He started to rip magazines and claw all the doors, probably mostly to get attention, but annoying nonetheless.
He also became more and more antisocial preferring to sleep alone in our bedroom through the day (only getting up to eat). He stopped sleeping with us preferring the sofa for his nighttime sleep. He seemed to loose grasp of the time becoming more nocturnal - I would often wake up in the middle of the night to hear his steps around the house and him meowing alone in the dark.
He demanded food all the time but when offered refused to eat anything. He acted like he was dying of hunger being really vocal and anxious about it even though his bowl might be full of food he had left untouched or he had just finished eating. On rare occasions he might even get aggressive although he has never attacked any of us.
Last November I felt like I had had enough. Otto was terrorizing the whole family and his nighttime antics left me sleep deprived. We started to discuss his future and as horrible of putting him down sounded we agreed that this couldn't continue anymore. I had always thought our cats would die of old age and Otto is not even 11 years old yet, so I felt like the worst person ever even discussing it. I didn't think it's OK to put down a perfectly healthy animal just because he is annoying.
Then one day I was talking to my friend and telling her everything that was going on, when I said that Otto was like a cranky old man and compared him to a person suffering from Alzheimer's. As soon as I had said those words it felt like all the pieces had fallen into place. It seemed to explain everything about his recent behavior and change in temperament. I did a lot of research and talked to a vet, and yes, it is possible for a cat to get Alzheimer's (though for cats it's not called Alzheimer's, but Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome). It's also very common for cats of age ten and over to get different memory disorders and dementia. Recent research from the University of Edinburgh found that half of all cats over the age of 15 and a third of those aged 11 to 14 suffer from dementia. It had never before even occurred to me that animals could suffer from memory loss as well.
There is no cure for the disease. It runs it's own course but we can try making Otto's daily life easier for him. After diagnosing his condition I've become more patient with him - it's easier for me to think he is cranky about his food because he has already forgotten he just ate than him being malicious - and tried to keep him more active and social on a daily basis making sure he gets his share of playtime and cuddles and kisses. It is very important to keep everything as routine as possible and try to predict his needs before he gets ill-humored or fretful. I think our life has become a lot calmer lately and Otto seems much more content again even if he does still have bad days every now and then.
Getting his diagnosis has been a great relief and we are now adjusting our lives and trying to find a way to live with a demented cat. It has also been relieving to know that our beloved pet hasn't just suddenly become this evil alter ego but there is a understandable explanation behind it all. At the moment we are not thinking about putting him down anymore but instead try to find ways to take care of his special needs and give him a happy retirement. It has been sad to realize that the day we have to say good-bye to him might come sooner than we thought (Otto's grandmother-cat lived to become 19 years old, and I've always naively assumed he would live to be at least as old.)
Sometimes when he is pacing from room to room and from door to door Otto might stop in front of me and I would notice he has a weird expression on his face, a questioning one, as if he is thinking "where am I?" or "what is happening?" Magnus said he had seen Otto watching him with the same look, but he had interpreted it as "who are you?" It is just heartbreaking.