These problems may be strictly behavioral but it’s important to rule out physical causes. Older cats in particular may be at risk for thyroid tumors, liver failure, or a brain disorder.
- The first consideration should be hyperthyroidism.
- As many as 30 percent of older cats have benign tumors on one or both of their thyroid glands.
- It’s actually a good disease because most respond well to early treatment. Methimazole tablets control thyroid hormone levels for most affected cats; radioactive iodine treatment cures many others.
- Don’t procrastinate. If hyperthyroidism is not managed it causes severe heart disease and kidney failure. A simple blood test makes the diagnosis.
- Other possibilities
- A type of brain tumor, called meningioma, is fairly common in older cats and can be responsible for a wide variety of symptoms.
- Inflammatory brain diseases can also be manifest as behavior changes.
- Liver failure can indirectly affect the brain.
- A thorough neurologic exam and medical workup are important.
- Behavioral causes
- Cognitive dysfunction, an aging brain disease of cats as well as dogs, can be responsible for licking and repetitive pacing. A medication called selegiline can help many of these older pets feel better.
- Conflict behavior, stress, anxiety
- Compulsive disorders require other medications plus tailored behavior modification.
This sounds bad but while these problems are serious they are far from hopeless. Many cats with these symptoms have a decent chance of improvement; even brain tumors in cats often carry a positive outlook.