We as humans have probably all felt a little sad or down at times, maybe even depressed. But according to studies done by animal behaviorists in the 1990s even cats can feel the affects of depression, too.
Veterinary behaviorist Katherine Houpt, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University defines cat depression as a change in the cat's normal behavior and vocalizations, which is usually accompanied by a loss of appetite. This can be brought on by a loss of a pet companion or human, moving to a new home or a major change in the cat's daily schedule.
To answer the question of "is my cat depressed," we've compiled a list of symptoms to check for in your feline friend.
On average a normal healthy cat can "sleep" anywhere from 16 to 20 hours each day. This sounds like a lot, but much of this sleepy time is spent cat-napping or sleeping with one eye open. These types of sleeps are generally quick and easy to get the cat up-and-moving from. However, if your cat sleeps deeply, hides away to sleep or indulges in this activity more than usually, he may be suffering from depression.
Cats that are normally friendly and outgoing that start to hide away under beds, cower in corners or avoid interaction with the family may be suffering from depression. In addition, those cats that suddenly become aggressive and are exhibiting uncharacteristic biting, hissing or scratching may also be indicating signs of depression.
Another personality change to look for is excessive vocalizations. This can occur when a cat has lost a close companion (either human or furry). The vocalizations are usually accompanied by the cat wandering around the home in attempt to locate its lost buddy.
Has your cat stopped using the litter box properly? Urinating or defecating outside the box, whether in another area of the home or just outside the litter box, and/or spraying the furniture could all be signs of depression in cats.
Cats are very routine-oriented. A good sign that your cat may be depressed is a disinterest in these daily routines. This can include eating its meals, treats, grooming itself, playtime or any other daily activity your cat once found pleasure in doing.
If your cat is exhibiting any of the above symptoms for longer than a few days, then it's better to err on the side of caution and take your cat in for a complete check up. If your vet determines there is no physical problems, then you will want to consider the possibility that your cat is suffering from depression.
It's important not to let depression go on for too long as it can weaken the immune system which in turn can lead to more serious health issues down the road.
Some of the ways to help your kitty get past this emotional state is to spend more time with her. Gentle grooming, soothing words and extra love can all work wonders on the feline psyche. If your cat has lost a beloved furry companion, then you may want to consider the idea of bringing another pet into the home. Of course, there most likely won't be an instant bond (see our article on introducing cats) but over time, your cat may just appreciate having another furry buddy around. An easier option is to try to entertain you cat by getting him more interesting stuff to do.
Knowing your cat's normal behavior and realizing quickly when he goes off those everyday activities is the best way to combat depression. We as pet parents are the only source our cats have to help them through these difficult emotions, so let's be proactive and give them the time, love and attention they deserve.