Can cats be depressed? Here are 9 ways they may show how they feel and 8 ways to help

Cat

Koni (A499883) is a bit of a shy kitty at first. But with time and patience, this scaredy-cat will begin to relax and trust a person. Using treats, toys and patience, Koni begins to relax andapproach people. This shows that she can fit into a quiet home, probably best with adults only, and she has a sweet personality waiting to come out!

A friend of mine recently separated from her partner of 9 years. It’s an amicable split, fortunately. Together, they have a dog and a cat. They’ve decided to share custody of their dog, but since cats don’t generally travel well, my friend is going to keep Bruce (the cat) full time.

Bruce was not happy about the move to a new apartment four months ago. He communicated his displeasure in a few ways during those first days in his new home. He’d spend almost all of his time under the bed hiding, and barely ate the first week.

Gradually though, he started to venture out from under the bed, but his normally gregarious and playful nature was suddenly muted. He was also being much more vocal than usual, his appetite waned, and he wasn’t interested in being affectionate or particularly active.

“I suppose it’s to be expected that he’d be kind of off given the move, but I just didn’t expect that it go on for months now,” she told me.

“Is it possible he’s just depressed?” I wondered.

“Can cat’s get depressed?” she asked, bewildered, “Is that a thing?”

As it turns out, yes, it is a thing.

People with depression experience persistent feelings of sadness and a lack of interest in life. When it comes to cats, we can’t really know for sure if they experience the mental state of sadness, but we can observe their behaviors to determine whether they experience a lack of interest in life and may be suffering from depression.

In reading up about it, I learned that the most common situations that lead to depressive signs in cats are:

–Loss of a family member

–Moving to a new house

–A change in the family’s schedule

–A change in physical health

In Bruce’s case, he was hit with a triple whammy. He was used to having two humans caring for him and now there was only one. He was also not seeing his dog companion regularly anymore either. And in addition to living in a new apartment, my friend had recently started going back into the office three days a week instead of working from home 100% of the time.

That is a lot of change in a very short period of time, and it obviously has Bruce shaken.

Many people still think of cats as solitary in nature. However, cats can be more or less social, depending on their experiences and living situations, and they can experience loss and grief similar to people.

When a family member moves out of the house or passes away, the family cat will experience a loss if they had a social connection to that person. It is also not uncommon for cats to grieve when a feline or canine housemate leaves or dies.

Aside from the stress of the move itself, moving from a large house to a smaller house or apartment would cut down the amount of space a cat has to explore and may restrict their level of activity, leading to depression.

How can you tell if your cat is depressed?

Some depressed cats may exhibit very obvious changes in behavior, whereas other cats may only exhibit subtle signs that you need to carefully look for.

Cats experiencing depression may show:

–Decreased appetite

–Loss of interest in playing with their toys

–Less interest in interacting with feline/canine housemates or family members

–Increased vocalizations

–Decreased interest in going outside (if allowed outdoor access)

–An increase in the amount of time spent sleeping

–A decreased in the amount of time spent grooming (they have an unkempt coat or mats)

–Increased frequency of urination in the litter box

–House soiling or not consistently using their litter box. If your cat is not consistently using the litter box, take them to your vet to be examined.

Some of these signs can also be exhibited by a cat if they have an underlying health problem.

Cats are predators to small creatures but prey to larger predators. As prey animals, cats have learned to hide the signs of any physical illness really well. Therefore, it is always important to have your cat examined by your veterinarian and diagnostic tests performed to rule out any underlying medical problems.

Although cats can experience depression, there are many things you can do to help them improve their mental health. Here are some suggestions:

More quality time. To help your depressed cat, you can spend more time with them. Just sitting with them and petting them can soothe to a depressed cat. Some cats may enjoy ear rubs, scratches on the side of their face or under the chin, or even being brushed.

Introduce some new toys. You can also try to spark your cat’s interest in life again by engaging your cat in more activities or offering them new toys of different sizes, textures, and colors.

Actively participate in playing, using fishing pole–type toys to entice your cat. You can also offer puzzle toys to encourage your cat to work for tasty treats, or provide toys that move around the floor in unusual patterns or make interesting noises. Download games made for cats to your mobile devices to engage your cat or subscribe to cat TV (yes, that’s a real thing!).

Try some new types of food. Some cats may show interest in different flavors or brands of food, or even human food such as boiled or roasted chicken, yogurt or cheese. Other cats may respond well to meat-based baby food. Before feeding your cat human food, have your vet okay the type and amount of food.

Play calming music. There is soothing music designed specifically for cats that you can find on YouTube, such as a channel called “Music for Cats” that some cats may enjoy. The music contains underlying tracks of cats purring and other frequencies of sound that cats can hear. (Yes, this is also a thing!)

Better life through chemistry. There are natural supplements that contain l-theanine and l-tryptophan that can increase serotonin in a cat’s brain to help combat depression. Serotonin is sometimes known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter and higher levels are connected to feelings of calm and happiness.

Use pheromones and invigorating scents. Feline pheromones may be calming to cats. You can also offer your cats different scents, such as mint, catnip and rosemary to waken their senses.

Consider adopting another cat. Some cats may enjoy the companionship of another cat. But be careful here. Even if your cat was very social with a previous feline housemate who passed away, getting another cat may not be the right answer. Your resident cat may not want a replacement for their recently departed housemate. One way to test this out would be fostering kittens.

Get professional help. You can also speak to your regular veterinarian regarding psychoactive medication for your cat. Ask for a recommendation for a veterinary behaviorist for a customized treatment plan and pharmaceuticals to help your cat.

Change is a part of life. And sometimes, big changes happen all at once in a way that throws us completely off our game. The same is true for your pets. Pretending as though it isn’t a problem though won’t help. If your pet is showing signs of depression, be generous with your time, and take the steps necessary to help them through their rough patch. Trust me, it’s worth it for allthe purrs you’ll get in return!