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Cat Depression: Spot the Signs and Know How to Help

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Sad Cat

How do you tell if your cat is feeling blue?

When we feel down we might take a duvet day and hide away from the world and stay under the covers. But when a contented cat spends at least two-thirds of her day snoozing, is excessive sleeping a sign you can rely on? Indeed, spotting the signs that your cat is depressed can be challenging…which is why we’re here to help.

Do Cats Get Depressed?

Yes!

As a species felines are easily stressed, and especially when things are out of their control, this can slip into feline depression. Obvious changes such as the loss of a companion or Mom going back to work can trigger the blues, but so can other more subtle things such as a stray cat in the garden, an altered routine, or even boredom.

Here are some other common triggers that might cause depression, so take a look and see if they tick any boxes for your kitty.

  • Moving house
  • The arrival of a new pet
  • An unhappy owner
  • Lack of attention
  • Sharing litter boxes
  • Sharing resources (food bowls, sleeping places) in general
  • Boredom

The good news is there are lots of different ways you can lift your fur-friend’s low mood, once you spot she has a problem.

Signs of a Depressed Cat

First, it’s important that if your cat’s behavior or habits have changed in any way, get her checked by a vet. It’s crucial to rule out health problems first, before jumping to the conclusion the problem is psychological. This is especially true since many of the symptoms of depression are general, and can have multiple explanations other than low mood.

Appetite

A loss of interest in food should be taken seriously. It might be the cat is sick, but if the cat gets the all clear on a health check then disinterest in food can be a clue to depression.

Aggression

A depressed cat often just wants to be left alone. If a normally sociable kitty rebuffs your attention, she may either be in pain or depressed.

Poor Coat

In the same way depressed people lose interest in their appearance, the same happens with cats. Our feline friends are usually fastidious about personal hygiene and grooming, so if her coat become dull and matted, then something isn’t right. Before assuming this is down to mood, be sure to have a vet check her teeth and for signs of arthritis.

Lethargy

Although cats love to snooze, once awake they are often sprightly and playful. A cat that can’t be bothered to greet you as normal or is disinterested in play may well be nursing depression.

Hiding

Cats like to be on their own to be miserable, which often means hiding away. If the cat goes missing for hours or you find her in strange places, then take note. But remember, a sick cat may also hide in order to conceal her vulnerability, so if in doubt…yep…vet check time.

Sleeping Excessively

Just like people, a depressed cat may disappear under the covers and not come out. This reflects a lack of interest in what’s going on around her.

Sad Cat in black and white

Banishing the Blues

Perhaps the cat has recently lost a close companion and she’s depressed. How can you help her?

Fortunately there are lots of way to help your cat get back on track.

The Importance of Routine

Cats like predictability, so where possible keep things on schedule such as mealtimes, play time, and bedtime. When the cat knows what to expect when, and then things happen as they should, she’ll find this immensely reassuring which helps reduce her anxiety.

Reduce Stress

Cats are sensitive to stress, so much so that some cats develop physical problems (such as idiopathic cystitis) in response.

Help her to relax by providing a calm, quiet environment within the home. Avoid loud music and a blaring TV, and try not to shout in her presence. Improve the ambience by using scent messages, such as Feliway, which give off synthetic cat pheromones that help reassure and comfort the cat.

In addition, make sure the cat has plenty of bolt holes or high platforms where she can feel safe. Although we don’t want her to be isolated if she has the option this in itself helps as hiding is a coping mechanism.

Take a step back and consider life from her point of view. Is there a new pet that is making her life a misery? Does she have her own litter box? Are there stray cats in the yard? Try to identify any factors that are causing her misery and take steps to correct them. This may mean moving her (or the new pet) into their own room, while introductions are made slow time. Simple things such as giving each pet has their own toilet, food and water bowls, and sleeping places, goes a long way to help.

And as for the strays…Make sure they can’t get into the house. If you can’t discourage the cats from visiting the garden, then block the view from the window so at least your cat can’t see the interlopers.

Extra Attention

Give the depressed cat extra attention. This doesn’t have to be an intrusive way, but subtle things such as talking to her softly while she sleeps, stroking her when she approaches, or gently grooming her.

You could also attract her attention with toys, a wing-on-a-string works particularly well as it mimics the enticing erratic movements of prey. When she reaches out a paw to swipe at the toy, praise her. Don’t expect a full on hunting session the first few times, it’s going to take a while for her to relearn how to play if she’s been depressed.

Try to dedicate at least 30 minutes each day (broken up into smaller chunks if it helps) giving her undivided attention.

And Finally…

If you don’t seem to be winning, speak to your vet about medication to help the cat. Just as people takes antidepressants, there are drugs that can help lift a cat’s mood.

There are drug options that are non-addictive but will boost the cat’s natural serotonin levels and help her feel better. She may need to take them for a few months, after which you can slowly reduce the dose and tale them off.

So if your cat seems down in the dumps, do something about it because you can make a real difference, and nobody (two or four-legged) likes being depressed