Is Your Cat Suffering From Depression?
Cats can suffer from depression just like people, but once it's correctly identified, is usually short term.
It is important not to attribute human emotions to our pets, but most families can tell when their cat is sad and not feeling like herself. In fact, you can even predict that some situations may lead to depression in your cat. Death of a long-time companion, a drastic change in environment, or a change in routine can all add up to mental stress for your cat. Once you pick up the telltale signs of depression, there are ways to help your cat back to her normal disposition.
Do Cats Really Get Depressed?
The answer is yes, cats can suffer from depression, but not exactly like the way humans do. In most cases, it is a short term problem for cats. Felines tend to "live in the moment" so they don't get the soul-crushing chronic depression cycles that some people suffer from.
Signs of Depression in Cats
Classic signs of depression in cats include:
- Decrease in activity
- Not eating normally
- Retreating from other pets of family members
- Sleeping more than usual
- Changes in bathroom habits
- Lack of interest in activities that they previously enjoyed (playing, seeking out affection)
- Failure to groom properly
- Reactivity when other pets or people try to interact with them
These symptoms of depression also mimic a number of other health problems, so your first step should be a visit to the veterinarian to rule out any physical illness. It is unlikely that a cat would become severely ill or die from depression alone, but cats can develop hepatic lipidosis (a.k.a. fatty liver syndrome) from not eating, which can be fatal.
What Causes Depression in Cats?
The list of potential causes can be quite extensive, as cats typically do not handle change well. Addition of a new pet, a new baby, or a new roommate can all cause a cat to go into a funk. Even a change in your work schedule can make your pet unhappy, especially if this is an abrupt change.
Cats get very attached to their homes. They don't like changes like rearranging the furniture or moving a litter box to a new location. A move to a new home can also be very upsetting. This is especially true if your cat goes from a quiet home in a rural area to an apartment in a noisy building. That is a surefire recipe for hiding and depression, along with some anxiety.
While cats are often portrayed as solitary animals, many cats develop close relationships with other pets or with certain people. My own cats, Jenny and Venus, were adopted a year apart. For 17 years they were inseparable. They shared the window seat, they curled up together in a big cat bed, they ate side-by-side. When Venus died, Jenny wandered the house meowing plaintively for days. Cats whose owners have passed will react strongly as well.
How Do You Help Your Depressed Cat to Feel Better?
Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, DACVB is an emeritus veterinary behaviorist at Cornell University. She emphasizes that you must be patient. Enrichment and attention are key to help your cat. Consider some of these ideas to help improve your cat's mood:
The goal is to keep your cat active!
If your cat is not grooming, you need to brush or comb her. Make sure she is urinating and pooping normally and be really on top of your litter box maintenance. Stick to your regular routine as much as possible to provide your cat with some stability.
Houpt does not suggest adding a new cat or kitten to your family during this time. Introducing them can sometimes be a challenge and cats can be very fussy about who they will befriend. An older cat may be irritated by a kitten and may react negatively to the new addition. And two adult cats may simply not like each other, so adopting a new shelter cat may also be challenging for your cat to adapt to during this time.
Luckily feline depression tends to be short lived, so with a little help from you and your vet, your cat should be back to normal soon!