Is my cat depressed? Symptoms and treatments of cat depression

Cats are strange fellows and prone to pretty severe mood swings that can be difficult to follow. But what if a kitty's sense of sadness turned into something deeper and darker? Can cats get depressed?

Cats can get depressed too, but what can you do about it?
Cats can get depressed too, but what can you do about it?  © Unsplash/George Bonev

Diving deep into the heart of a cat can be a worrying enterprise, seeking an understanding of a creature so intent on being aloof and estranged that it must surely hide some demons deep inside.

With that in mind, could it possibly be that cats get depressed just like we do? They're certainly not balls of joy, so it wouldn't be that much of a surprise.

So, is my cat depressed? It's time to guide you through the symptoms of cat depression and everything you should do if your kitty turns out to not only be a little sad but truly down and out?

Do cats get depressed?

Yes, cats get depressed, too, but it's a bit different. Of course, mental health is a very complicated and difficult thing to diagnose in a human, so that makes it even harder in an animal whose brain works differently and who can't communicate with us.

Cat depression is often mistaken for cat anxiety, for example, as many of the signs and symptoms are the same. On top of that, it would be a mistake to assume that the sense of despair and existential dread we humans suffer through while depressed are shared by our feline friends - again, they're not as deep thinkers as we are.

Instead, cat depression can more or less be defined as a consistent state of lacking energy, having foul moods, and a loss of interest in things that previously would have made it happy or excited. This can be brought on by both physical environmental factors and medical ones.

A sad cat isn't necessarily a depressed cat; there's a difference.
A sad cat isn't necessarily a depressed cat; there's a difference.  © Unsplash/Ivan Borinschi

How to tell if my cat is depressed: Signs of cat depression

Understanding a cat's mood and behavior is all about body language and habits. After all, cats can hardly tell you how they're feeling, so you need to determine their mood and emotions from their behavior. Don't worry too much, though, because as much as they wouldn't want us admitting it, cats are not very good at hiding their emotions.

Here are some signs and symptoms of a depressed cat:

  • Excessive scratching: Cats will scratch things more commonly when depressed, as it makes them feel safer in their territory and releases pheromones that make them feel better.
  • Vocalizing: Your cat may become less vocal than usual, reducing its tendency to ask for things or approach you with a little chirping meow. It might also make unhappy noises or even howl.
  • Positions: If your kitty regularly has its tail tucked between its legs, is often in a state of fright, or has hair sticking up on end, it may be depressed.
  • Grooming: Depressed cats may neglect their grooming duties, gradually getting more and more scruffy until they look like a bit of a mess.
  • Appetite: When a cat is depressed, it may lose its appetite and suddenly start eating far less than it used to — in extreme cases, a cat may stop eating altogether.
  • Other signs: Ears held back against the head, wide eyes and dilated pupils, increased aggression, increased submission.

Depression in cats is a very serious issue and one that can lead to extended periods of unhappiness and even long-term health impacts upon your kitty. Be aware of the signs and watch out for them.

Why is my cat depressed?

Cat depression is either caused by a long-term medical issue or by a physical/environmental influence. Our feline friends are not particularly happy about major changes occurring in the world around them. They are comfortable in their space and want it to stay the same to give them a sense of control, safety, territory, and ownership.

As a result, anything that changes these factors in the long term may cause your cat to develop depression as opposed to anxiety. Of course, at times, your cat will be afraid of things, and it may even be particularly skittish on account of its personality, but it will get depressed if negative feelings persist for longer periods of time.

Major causes of depression in cats:

  • Moving homes
  • Changes in the physical environment around them
    • New furniture
    • New pot plants
    • Construction/renovations
  • Boredom
  • Long-term separation anxiety
  • Death or loss of a family member
  • New pets in the house
  • Physical health problems that interrupt a cat's routine
  • Health problems that interrupt a cat's mental state on account of discomfort

Depression in cats can be caused by many different things and is often mistaken for anxiety. A vet may be able to help determine the cause.

What to do if my cat is depressed

If your cat is feeling a little blue, it's time to jump into action.
If your cat is feeling a little blue, it's time to jump into action.  © Unsplash/J Cruikshank

The best thing that you can do if your cat is showing signs of depression is to simply take it to the vet and describe everything to a medical professional. We are not in the business of giving medical advice for obvious reasons, and as such, we don't want to tell you what to do in this situation.

Instead, your veterinarian will be able to take samples and make analyses to determine whether the depression is coming from an environmental factor or a physiological one. If your kitty ends up being depressed due to something going on with its body, the vet needs to know about it so that a medical intervention can take place.

On the flip side, if there is nothing wrong with your cat from a health perspective, and you have accurately answered the vet's questions, it may be determined that your cat's depression is caused by an environmental factor. In such a case, the veterinarian will recommend changes that you should make, perhaps behaviorally, to improve your cat's mental health.

Remember that you are not a vet, and you cannot know for certain what has caused these changes in your cat's behavior. Go to the vet and seek proper advice, you won't regret it.

Cat depression is a serious issue

While cats are surely not going to experience mental health issues in quite the same way as we are, they most certainly will experience them nonetheless. Kitty depression is a serious thing and not worth a cackle, even in the brightest of times. You need to be careful, loving, and understanding in response.

If your cat has been behaving particularly strangely of late and is displaying some of the telltale signs of cat depression, chuck 'em in a carrier and jump into your wagon, it's off to the vet you go.

Cover photo: Unsplash/George Bonev

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