The short answer to can cats get depressed is yes. However, cat depression and anxiety can look quite different from the same syndromes in humans. And confusingly, the symptoms of depression in cats can also be a sign of other potential cat health issues. So there is quite a bit that cat owners should know about cats and depression.
Can Cats Get Depressed? 9 Things to Know
1. Cat Depression Can be Hard to Identify
Of course, we don’t know exactly what or how our cats are feeling. We look to their behaviour to help us understand what is going on inside of them. As cats can’t communicate with us directly it can be hard to identify if your cat is depressed – particularly if it is naturally a loner type.
2. Signs that your Cat May be Depressed
- Lack of appetite and weight loss
- Loss of interest in playing or moving around
- Excessive amount of time hiding
- Less interested in physical contact with their humans and/or other animals in the house (this would be relative to how they have behaved in the past.
- More sleeping than normal
- Loss of interest in grooming and allowing their coat to become matted.
If you see a mix of these signs and are concerned that your cat is depressed the best thing to do is contact your veterinarian. It is notoriously difficult to diagnose pain in cats so some of these symptoms may be because your cat is in pain and unwell rather than being depressed. Thus a visit to the vet is critical.
3. Causes of Depression in Cats
Depression in cats, like humans, can often be triggered by a change in their lives. As cats tend to have a slightly smaller world than us humans what can see like a small change to us could be a big change to them.
The types of changes that can trigger depression in cats include:
- Moving house
- A new human or animal in the house
- Construction or work in the house
- Guests in the house
- A change in the work schedule for their humans
- Major changes in the lives of their human eg illness, divorce
- A traumatic event experienced by your cat such as being attacked by another animal or hit by a car
Often the signs of depression may only last as long as the event eg if it is guests in your home. If it is a more permanent change your cat may adjust but do keep an eye on them.
Cats particularly don’t like changes to their home. This can include changes as small as moving furniture around to moving house. The bigger the change, the more difficult it will be for your cat to process. If you move from a large country house to a small city apartment for example this would be particularly upsetting for your account due to the number of changes in their environment, and all changes over which they have no control.
Cats with terminal illnesses can often display symptoms of depression. However, often these symptoms are because your cat is in pain or nauseous rather than depression or anxiety.
Cats who have lost a long term human or other animal can also exhibit signs of grief and depression. Again, this are most likely to be situational but should always be checked with a veterinarian in case they are signs of a physical illness.
4. Best Ways to Help your cat if it is depressed
As mentioned earlier, the first you to do if you think your cat is depressed is it seek advice from your veterinarian. They may be able to prescribe some medication. In addition to that there are some behavioural changes that may help your cat to return to its normal disposition all of which are around enriching your cats life and providing them with some extra attention:
- Try playing classical music or jazz – see what your cat responds to. Music can help to soothe.
- Give them lots of cuddles and love whether they ask for it or not.
- Play with them more frequently and/or try some new toys. Puzzles can be particularly effective or even playing hide and seek style games with your cat. These types of games distract their minds and help them connect to their natural instinct to hunt and can be very helpful.
- Keep to a routine for feeding and other typical parts of your cat’s day. Keeping to a routine consistently can help your cat to relax.
- Look at adding something special to their meals like a little bit of chicken stock.
- Add a catio to your home or add a new tall scratching post or somewhere new for your cat to sit with a view (most cats love being up high). Even cardboard boxes can be effective.
- Try some obediance training. Contrary to popular opinion cats can be trained. Your cat may well enjoy learning a new skill and will enjoy having one to one time with you.
Do remember to be patient. Initially your cat may have a lacklustre response to a new feather toy. However, if you persist in 5 to 10 minutes a day at the same time each day that response may improve as time goes by. Like humans cats take time to recover from depression and anxiety, there are few overnight fixes.
It can help to have a vet or cat trainer come and look at your home to see if there are any elements that may be causing stress and depression in your cat. For example, cats need to be able to hide. If there are limited pieces of furniture that they can scurry underneath of spaces they can fit into they can become stressed.
If your cat has stopped grooming itself then you will need to make sure you are regularly brushing and combing it to prevent matting.
If there is more than one cat in your home or other pets it is also key that your cat has its own litter box, bowls and space relative to the other pets. And do keep an eye on your cat’s litter box as changes in pee and poop frequency and amounts can be key signs of potential problems.
This is also not the time to bring anything else new into your cat’s life. If you can avoid any changes to your cat’s life including potentially limiting guests or moving around furniture.
5. Anxiety in cats can have similar characteristics but there are some differences
The signs, causes and suggested treatments for anxiety in a cat are similar to that of a cat with depression. However, there are a few differences to note. Some signs of anxiety rather than depression in cat include going outside the litterbox, excessive grooming and other cat behaviours done excessively and and excessive meowing.
6. There are Cat Therapists
You may well see quite a few listings when you google cat therapist or cat therapy. However, this area is not exactly regulated so I would highly recommend starting with asking your veterinarian for recommendations on this one rather than using the internet.
7. Depressed Cats can develop compulsive behaviours
Compulsive activity in cats can manifest for several reasons, one being depression. Others include boredom, anxiety or fear. Compulsive behaviour in cats can take several forms:
- Excessive grooming
- Chewing on themselves eg their paw or tail
- Lots of meowing and noise making
- Pacing back and forth or continuously turning in circles
Treat these behaviours in the same way as recommended for signs of depression. Start with speaking to your veterinarian and then look at similar types of methods for supporting your cat eg keeping to routines, lots of love etc
8. Depression can lead to serious health problems in cats
Depression itself is unlikely to directly cause extreme illness or death in your cat. However, some of the ways in which it manifests can lead to serious health issues and even death. These include your cat losing an unhealthy amount of weight and/or refusing to drink. It is critical to seek advice from your veterinarian if this is something you are seeing in your cat.
9. Inside vs Outside Doesn’t Seem to be a Factor
Some may hypothesise that an indoor cat could be more likely to suffer from depression than an outdoor cat as they are not able to roam and hunt as freely. However, there is no evidence to support this view. Most cats who grow up inside a house show no desire to head outside and explore.
It does appear that depression in cats is most likely to be caused by a change to your cat’s situation vs a fundamental approach such as being indoor vs outdoor.