Do cats really get depressed?
Although every cat is unique, cats are generally recognized for their playful, quirky and often feisty personalities. However, as animal behaviourists found out in the 1990s, cats, just like humans, can and do get “down in the dumps”.
Unfortunately, this can sometimes be very difficult to detect because the changes some cats exhibit when they are sad can be quite subtle, especially if your cat has a personality that has always been quiet and less outgoing than other cats.
So, how can you tell if your cat is depressed?
Every cat has its own unique traits and characteristics, and sometimes it can be easy to detect a change in your cat’s behaviour. For example, if you have a cat that is naturally social and outgoing and out of the blue, she suddenly becomes reserved and quiet over an extended period of time, this can be a sign that your cat may be unhappy.
In general, here are signs and symptoms that can indicate that your cat might be feeling the dreaded blues:
- Has your cat lost interest in food for more than 24-48 hours?
- Has your cat been overeating?
- Has your cat stopped grooming herself? Does she appear dishevelled or unkempt?
- Is your cat over-grooming herself that she licks bald patches in her coat? The action of licking in cats is known to release natural morphine-like substances which help to make the cat feel more secure.
- Is your cat excessively vocal with low-pitched, mournful yowls or does she meow more than normal?
- Has your cat lost interest in playful activities she used to enjoy?
- Do you notice a sudden change in your cat’s personality?
- Is your cat exhibiting abnormally aggressive behaviour such biting, scratching or hissing?
- Has your cat stopped using her litterbox properly?
- Does your cat appear to lack energy and sleep all the time?
- Is your cat hunched up, reluctant to move, tucking its tail, holding her ears back, flitching her tail or standing her hair on end?
- Has your cat started chewing things, hiding under beds, in closets or isolated spaces and generally avoiding interaction with you and others?
- Do you notice a heightened fear of strangers?
If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, it is important that you take your pet to your veterinarian for a thorough check-up to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
What are common causes of cat depression?
It is important to for you to identify the exact cause of your cat’s unhappiness by pinpointing when you started noticing the symptoms. There are several reasons why a cat can suddenly become depressed.
Here are a few examples:
Pain or illness
According to the experts, pain is one of the leading causes of depression in senior cats in particular. However, even if they are really suffering, cats naturally tend to hide signs of pain or illness to in order to avoid showing obvious signs weakness to their enemies. This is a trait they inherited from their ancestors, who needed to avoid becoming prey for other animals. Consequently, this can make it hard to detect if your cat is sick or in pain. This is why it is critically important to visit a veterinarian as soon as you suspect your cat might be depressed.
Stress and Anxiety
Even though cats appear to be independent and solitary animals, cats are actually social animals, and they form strong bonds with family members and other cats. Changes in the family can make cats feel stressed and anxious, and this can have a significant impact on the pet’s emotional and physical well-being. Things like divorce, children leaving for university or any type of loss in the family can all be a major disruption in the cat’s life, and this could lead to depression.
Cats are hyper sensitive creatures of habit, and they tend to become closely attached to their surroundings. As territorial animals, cats tend to mark their territory by scratching or rubbing their bodies all over various household objects. If you’ve moved recently, this will affect their stress levels, because the move takes them out of their comfort zone, especially if the new home has residual scents from other cats.
Even though they are known to be solitary animals, cats are actually social animals. They love to play with people and other animals. If you leave your cat at home when you go to work, this can lead to behavioural problems such as increased vocalization or aggression as a way to work out some pent-up energy.
Arrival of a baby
In most cases, the arrival of a baby is always a traumatic experience in the life of most pets, and they will react emotionally and physically to the new baby. This is because they will feel the transfer of love and attention towards the baby, especially if you haven’t done anything to prepare for what will be quite a big change in your feline’s life.
How to Cheer Up a Sad or Depressed Cat
If you have determined that your cat is suffering from depression, the first thing you should do is to identify the root cause of the depression so that you can deal with it head on. Once your cat has been given a clean bill of health from the vet, you can approach this as a purely behavioral problem.
How to deal with a loss or change in the family
If your cat has lost a person or animal that they were close to, this can be a very traumatic time for everyone involved as she grieves. And cats really do grieve. A study in 1996 by the ASPCA proved that pets really do feel grief.
The study found that after the death of a feline companion:
- 46 percent of cats ate less.
- 70 percent meowed a lot more or a lot less than normal.
- More than 50% became more affectionate and “clingy” with their owners.
- Many slept more or slept in different places than they previously had.
- 65 percent showed four or more behavioral changes after the death of a fellow pet.
Your pet’s grief can manifest itself emotionally and physiologically, depending on her personality and her current environment. However she chooses to grieve, it can be truly heart breaking to watch, and it is really important to be as supportive of her as possible during this period. For example, you might find that she is more clingy than normal. Try to understand that it is her own way of dealing with grief.
Here are some suggestions for helping your cat cope with her grief:
Keep things consistent.
Cats do not respond well to change, so it is important to keep everything within the environment as stable and as consistent as possible. For example, keep feeding your cat at the same times every day, and try to engage her in the same activities that she used to enjoy before the loss.
Don’t rush to get another pet.
You might be tempted to adopt another pet to help your cat cope with the loss. However, this would be highly disruptive and will really not help at all. It is important to retain the status quo for as long as possible before taking on a new pet.
Talk to your cat.
Cats can pick up on emotions, and they will respond to the warm and reassuring tone of your soothing voice. Just hold her in your lap and tell her the same things you would say to someone who’s lost their companion.
Keep track of her appetite
Your cat may experience a loss of appetite, and it’s actually a pretty serious issue if your cat doesn’t eat. Cats that do not eat leave themselves vulnerable to respiratory viruses and a dangerous condition known as hepatic lipidosis which can lead to liver failure. If your cat is not eating, you should consult your veterinarian to see what can be done to stimulate her appetite.
Try giving your cat Zylkene.
Zylkene is a food supplement that has been clinically proven to help alleviate anxiety and stress in cats. It has no side effects, and its active ingredient is derived from milk protein, with a calming influence that removes some of the cat’s anxiety.
How to help your stressed or anxious cat adjust to new surroundings
If the cat has been moved to a new environment, you need to keep in mind that this will be a traumatic for your cat. As creatures of habit, cats can become very attached and form great bonds with their surroundings, and she will be unsettled by the change. The best way to help the cat at this time is to help her adjust, and this could take weeks.
You can help your cat feel better using the following tips:
- Keep your cat indoors until they shake off the stress of moving. Although there are no set rules for how long you should keep her indoors, most experts agree that cats should be kept indoors for at least one to two weeks so that she can feel safe within the confines of the new home.
- You can expect the cat to be bolting under furniture and hiding in closets and other isolated places as she adjusts to the new home. This is natural, and you should just let her be. She’ll eventually grow out of this.
- Try to keep the daily routine as consistent as possible by feeding her at the same times every day. This will help her feel confident and safe. In addition, try to engage her in the same activities that she used to enjoy before the move. Keep the litter box, food, water, all of her toys and everything else that is familiar to her in the same room. Note that she may not be interested in eating during the first day as she tries to get used to her new surroundings.
- Add things that smell like you in the room like your old clothes as this will provide them with some comfort during this stressful time.
- If you already know what type of personality your cat has, you can focus on what you already know her individual needs to be, which can help her to adjust to the new environment.
How to help a lonely cat
Cats are social creatures, and they tend to thrive in the company of humans and other creatures. Since we all have to go out to school or work, go on vacation and spend time with family and friends, our pets can find themselves on their own a lot of the time.
When this happens, they can become increasingly aggressive or depressed and act out in different ways such as chewing up or scratching things, hiding under beds, in closets or isolated spaces and generally avoiding interaction with you and others.
Here are some lonely cat solutions to help your cat feel less lonely when there is no one at home:
- Let her look outside. As super visual creatures, cats love to sit in windows and watch the wildlife. In fact, they can spend the whole day focusing their attention out the window watching rabbits, squirrels and birds run around. This helps the day pass by more quickly for them.
- If you have the financial means to care for multiple pets, it may be a good idea to get your cat a feline companion by adopting or buying another cat. Before you do so however, make sure you take her along so you can make sure that the two cats get along. You don’t want a situation where both cats hate each other, which can cause absolute mayhem.
- Leave the television or music on when you go out. Cats are known to enjoy classical music, and sights and sounds are comforting for pets as long as the volume is at a reasonable level.
- Keep her occupied. Having plenty of toys to play with will keep your cat busy, stimulated and entertained when no one is at home. For example, interactive cat toys tend to provide regular mental and physical stimulation. Be sure to choose toys that will match her personality and keep her delighted for hours.
How to help your cat deal with the arrival of a new baby
The arrival of a baby is always a traumatic time for some cats, and the way your cat reacts to the change in circumstances will surely depend on her personality type.
If you have a cat that craves human attention, she’ll have a harder time dealing with the baby than the other cat personalities, and her world will have been turned upside down. In actual fact, the best way to approach this is to have prepared your cat for your baby’s arrival, so that your cat will hardly notice any difference when they baby actually arrives.
However, if you did not prepare your cat for the baby’s arrival, then the best way to make your cat feel better is to safely “introduce” her to the baby. First of all, try your best to continue showing your cat some attention so she doesn’t feel ignored. Talk to her when you’re holding the baby and reassure her that she’s still part of your world. She may not understand what you’re saying, but she will pick up on your emotions.
Experts also suggest that you help your cat become more familiar with the baby’s scent so that she becomes used to the smell of the new baby. One way to do this is to allow your cat to sleep with towels or cloths you have used on your baby so that she’s surrounded with the baby’s scent.