You notice your cat no longer greets you at the door when you come home. They’re also sleeping for longer periods of time and don’t even get up to eat. You may be wondering, “Is my cat depressed?”
Cats can’t outright tell us how they’re feeling, so sometimes it can be hard to tell if they’re sad or upset. But there are luckily a variety of ways to identify if your cat is depressed — and there are even more ways to make them feel better!
Do Cats Experience Depression?
The short answer is: Yes.
Cats are intelligent animals that experience a wide range of emotions, including happiness, love, fear, sadness, and anger. Of course, they express these emotions differently than us, which is why some people aren’t able to identify their cat’s feelings right away.
When a cat is happy they will purr instead of laugh or smile. They also purr when they’re in pain or upset in an attempt to comfort themselves. When they’re sad, they might cry out or whine instead of shed a tear — humans are the only animals who cry in response to an emotion.
Cats may not think or act like us, but their emotions are still very real!
Is Feline Depression Like Human Depression?
While cats can definitely feel depressed, it’s generally not the same as clinical depression in humans. For people with depression, the diagnosis is often based on self-reported symptoms, like losing interest in a favorite hobby, not feeling motivated, or a deep sense of sadness and loneliness.
Veterinarians are unfortunately unable to find out these same symptoms in cats. Instead, vets and cat owners must look at the cat’s behaviors when it comes to identifying depression. Some of the behaviors exhibited by depressed cats are quite similar to what humans experience, like a lack of appetite and disrupted sleep patterns.
How to Tell If Your Cat is Depressed
Cats can’t communicate with us vocally — although they try with a range of meows. Still, we will never fully understand what they’re trying to say to us. Instead, cat owners have to look at their cat’s actions and compare them to the cat’s typical behavior. If your cat is depressed you’ll quickly notice some worrying signs.
Depressed Cat: Symptoms
Change in Litter Box Habits
Cats love routine. Just like humans, they most likely have specific bathroom habits, including a certain time of day that they use the litter box. If your cat is suddenly not using the litter box and is instead urinating and defecating outside of it or around the house, this could definitely be a sign of stress or depression.
Suddenly Becoming Lethargic
Cats sleep an average of 15 hours a day. But when they’re not resting, cats love to play, explore, and interact with you. Depression in cats could lead to them sleeping even more than usual or not wanting to do much of anything when they’re finally awake. If your cat is feeling down you may notice that they don’t seem excited or interested in things they once enjoyed.
No Desire to Eat
If there’s one thing cat owners know it’s that cats love to eat. They’ll beg for food mere minutes after being given their meal. When they hear a can being opened, they’ll stop what they’re doing immediately and run to the kitchen from any room in the house. A cat experiencing depression may not have any interest in food anymore. They may also stop eating food they once liked.
Over or Under Grooming
If you notice a change in your cat’s grooming habits, that may be a sign of depression. You may also notice that their fur is matted or extra oily. They may develop dandruff and look a lot shabbier than usual. A sad cat may also over-groom, leaving irritated skin and bald patches where they excessively lick. This can also be a sign of anxiety.
They’re Less Affectionate
If your cat is normally social and cuddly but they’ve become suddenly withdrawn and distant — even leaving when you sit near them or try to pet them — that could be a sign of depression. Some depressed cats may also start to hide, no longer wanting to bother with the people or animals in your home.
Noticeably More Aggressive
A cat experiencing depression could be irritatable or on edge. This can result in hissing and growling from an otherwise friendly cat. You might even get scratched if you don’t leave them alone after a few warnings!
More Vocal Than Usual
You are probably well aware of what makes your cat meow or the times they are the loudest or quietest. A sign of depression could be your cat being excessively vocal during times when they were previously silent. And it won’t just be meowing. Sometimes a depressed cat will yowl.
Why Do Cats Get Depressed?
Just like us, there are many reasons cats may become depressed. It’s possible that it was caused by a chemical imbalance in their brain, but for cats, there’s often a reason behind their newly formed behaviors.
A cat that constantly doesn’t feel well could also become upset — even depressed. Some common illnesses that leave cats with serious health problems, as well as mental anguish, include FIV, FeLV, diabetes, dental disease, and fatty liver disease.
Suddenly being in tremendous pain can greatly affect your cat’s mood. Injuries can leave cats unable to do what they previously enjoyed, like jumping onto high-up surfaces and chasing toys. Your cat might even be experiencing ongoing pain from old injuries and surgeries — cats will often hide their discomfort.
Change in Environment
Cats are extremely territorial pets. They are most comfortable when they have a defined space (like your house) to call their own. When you move to a new home, cats can often become stressed and upset — even depressed — because they get very attached to certain spaces and routines.
New Pet or Baby
Because cats can often be territorial, many cats will be angry or stressed when a new pet is introduced to the home. It can feel like their territory is being threatened or — in the case of a baby — like they’re being replaced or ignored. If they’re not introduced to the new addition properly, cats can become increasingly uncomfortable.
Many people picture cats as solitary animals. But while cats are definitely independent compared to other pets, your cat can still become depressed if they’re not given enough attention or you don’t spend enough time with them. People who leave their cats alone for eight or more hours a day will often notice their cat becoming clingy or spiteful. They can also become depressed if you leave for a long period of time on vacation.
Losing a Loved One
Cats will grieve for the loss of a loved one, human or animal. This grief can lead to depression in some cats. They will most likely need some time to heal from the loss of an especially close family member, like their favorite human or a sibling they spent a lot of time with.
Should You Go to the Vet for Cat Depression?
If you suspect that your cat is depressed you should consider taking them to the vet. Veterinarians can prescribe cat anxiety medication (trazodone, gabapentin, and midazolam) to your cat once they’re evaluated. They could also recommend behaviorists, who can further help your cat deal with their depression properly.
A visit to the vet may also uncover injuries or illnesses that have been causing your cat to feel lethargic or upset. Treating your cat for an underlying condition could also cure their behavioral issues and emotional distress in the process.
How to Cheer Up a Cat
Create a Routine
Cats like routine. You probably realized that a while ago when your cat started waking you up at the same exact time every day. They like to get fed at the same time every day. They go to the bathroom around the same time every day. And they have their particular spots they enjoy spending time in each day. That’s why moving can be such a traumatizing experience for cats. Comfort them by making sure they are always fed at the same time and even start brushing them or playing with them at the same time every day.
Encourage Them to Play
Sometimes cat owners forget that cats need exercise just like dogs. Start setting aside time to play with them every day, whether it’s throwing jingle balls down the hall or wiggling a ribbon in front of them. Try hiding treats around the room and watch your cat go sniffing around for them or try puzzle feeders that stimulate your cat’s brain and increase your interaction with them.
Give Them Their Own Territory
This is especially important if you brought a new pet into the home. While cats count the entire home as their territory, it can help them to have a specific space within the house to claim as their own. This is usually in the form of a tall cat tree or high up perches and cat shelves. This allows the cat to escape from dogs and children that can’t climb that high up. It also gives them a sense of security, knowing they can watch what’s going on from above.
While prescribed medication from a trusted vet is an option, you can also try at-home treatments for cats with signs of depression. Feliway is a synthetic cat pheromone known to calm cats. It’s also known to prevent scratching and spraying. You can also try the natural food supplement, Zylkene, which has the same anti-anxiety effects as Valium.
Catnip Spray and CBD Treats
CBD, short for Cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid found in the hemp plant (basically meaning it won’t get you or your cat high). CBD interacts with cannabinoid receptors found in every mammal’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The CBD in Holistapet’s vegan, natural, non-GMO cat treats may help balance your cat’s mood. You can also add CBD oil to your cat’s food. Our catnip spray with CBD is probably the fastest way to boost your cat’s mood since many cats immediately become excited upon smelling it.
Cats can become emotional and at times even become sad and depressed. It’s up to us to notice the symptoms and signs associated with feline depression. Paying close attention can help you spot any potential problem. Addressing any issues right away can help your cat quickly get back to normal. Remember to give your cat plenty of attention and create a proper routine for them. If your kitty is feeling down and you can’t seem to cheer them up in any way remember you can always go to the vet for help.
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Written by Olivia Richman at www.holistapet.com