Cats are sensitive creatures who may not have the complex emotional life of a human but can still feel a form of depression. If your cat is not acting like his normal self and shows signs of depression, it's time to step in and help him feel better.
Signs Your Cat May Be Depressed
Cats that are depressed are generally suffering from stress brought on by environmental and physical issues. It's not unusual for a cat to become depressed if a resident cat or other pet dies, or if there are changes in the home such as moving, bringing home a baby or the loss of a person due to divorce, death or simply moving out. Cats that are depressed display a set of common symptoms.
Loss of Appetite
Your cat may start to eat less or "pick" at this food. He may also stop eating entirely and begin to lose weight. Some cats that are depressed can have the opposite problem and will overeat, although it's much rarer for that to occur.
Avoidance Behavior and Hiding
Hiding more often and avoiding contact with people are signs of depression. This is especially true for a cat that is normally outgoing and friendly that suddenly becomes withdrawn.
A depressed cat's energy level will decrease and he may spend much of the day sleeping, more so than normal. He may also just seem generally less energetic when you watch him move about the house.
Depressed cats may vocalize more and a cat that is normally quiet will make more noise than usual. Typical sounds made by depressed cats include more meowing, howling or crying in a tone that will sound urgent or even painful.
Lack of Grooming
If your cat's coat is looking dull, messy and even dirty, it means he or she may have stopped grooming. Pay attention to your cat's behavior to see if you notice them grooming at all during the day and if this normal behavior has stopped. Look also for irritated areas or sores on their bodies as depressed cats can fixate on certain spots and groom themselves too much leading to hot and bald spots.
If your cat starts to do any thing that's out of the ordinary in concert with the other behaviors noted, this is a sign he or she can be depressed. Unusual behaviors could be not using the litter box, spraying, or aggression toward you or other pets.
While depression can be caused by an underlying painful condition, some cats that become depressed for other reasons will start to become sick because their immune system becomes weaker. You may see your cat getting respiratory conditions or other common illnesses because they can't fend them off as well as a healthy, vibrant cat.
Treating Depression in Cats
There are a number of ways to help a cat that is depressed. The first step in the process is a visit with your veterinarian. This is critical as cats that are sick and in pain can exhibit all the signs of depression and you need to be sure that nothing medical is causing your cat's behavior.
If your veterinarian rules out any medical concerns and your cat's depression seems significant, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medication for your cat. Typical medications used are alprazolam, trazodone, and gabapentin. Your veterinarian may also suggest some options such as the Feliway pheromone spray and homeopathics like Rescue Remedy. Note that medication is designed to make your cat feel less physical symptoms of depression but will not "cure" it as this requires simultaneously doing a behavioral modification plan that includes physical and mental enrichment.
Giving your cat more things to focus on can help stimulate their brains and improve their moods. Enrichment really depends on your own cat's unique personality. Think of things that your cat would enjoy and work on adding more of that into their daily lives.
This could be adding in some window perches so they can watch birds and squirrels.
Some cats will perk up over getting a big new cat tree with lots of places to jump about.
Adding in more toys and actively playing with your cat with them can not only stimulate them physically and mentally but also develop your relationship which will help your cat's mood.
Some excellent toy options to play with you and your cat are fishing wand-type toys or some small tossing toys that you can pair with teaching your cat to fetch. Interactive toys that you control during play can also be a lot of fun.
Giving your cat toys that he or she can play with on their own will also keep their minds occupied during the day. Tunnel toys and ball-and-track systems are excellent options.
Not every cat can do this but if yours is amenable, acclimate them to wearing a harness and take them for walks. Exercise has been known to improve depression for cats and humans.
Along with giving their minds and bodies things to do, increasing your quality time with your cat can also help alleviate depression. Make sure you spend time with your cat throughout the day not only playing and training but also just cuddling and relaxing. You can pair this with brushing them which most cats will enjoy and can be extra helpful for the cat that has had grooming issues. Try to find more ways during your day to include your cat in your routine even if it's just as simple as letting them snuggle on your lap while you watch television or surf the internet.
Another possibility which will depend heavily on your cat's personality is adding in more animal companionship. Some cats will not be happy with the addition of a new cat and this could cause more stress, but others might welcome it, especially if their depression is over the loss of a beloved animal companion. Some cats may even do well with a new non-feline pet, such as a rabbit or guinea pig or even a dog, but this should always be decided based on each cat's unique personality.
Preventing Depression in Cats
If you think your cat is depressed, you should definitely bring him or her in to your veterinarian for a checkup. While many of the interventions for depression can be done at home on your own, you want to be 100% sure that there are no medical issues or pain that are contributing to the depression.
Review your daily schedule to make sure that you are spending time each day with your cat. It can be tough if you work a full-time job, are in school or just have a busy household, but it's possible to find small sections of time during the day for cat interaction. You don't need to make these sessions long and aiming for 15 to 30 minutes a few times a day of quality play and affection time can mean a lot to your cat.
Check Recent Changes
Look at your home life to see if it's possible that changes may have affected your cat more than you realized at first. Changes can be things that you wouldn't even necessarily associate with your cat, such as someone moving out, or even moving around furniture. Your cat may also be reacting to a change in products, such as a brand new type of litter or a new diet. Some cats can react to stimuli outside the home, such as a stray cat that hangs out in the yard or loud noises from construction next door. The more you can pinpoint what is upsetting your cat the easier it is to find ways to alleviate that stressor.
Helping Your Depressed Feline
Cats that appear depressed are either suffering from stress and anxiety over something in their environment or from pain and discomfort related to a medical condition. It's very important to see your veterinarian and make sure your cat is healthy before implementing changes to improve your cat's emotional life. In some cases, your cat's depression may not get better in which case it's recommended to work with a cat behavior professional or veterinary behaviorist experienced working with more severe cases.