By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
Like people, cats can suffer from depression due to loss, stress, illness, or boredom. Signs of depression may include:
- Failure to groom/dull coat
- Increased or decreased vocalization
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of interest in activities the cat used to enjoy
- Not interacting with others in the household
- Pulling out fur or over-grooming the coat, leading to bald spots or even sores
- Sleeping more
- Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
Some cats are less active or sleep more than others by nature, so it’s changes in the usual routines that indicate a problem.
Behavioural changes may indicate illness rather than depression. If your cat manifests any of the symptoms listed above, take him in for a veterinary checkup before assuming that the problem is psychological.
Causes of Depression in Cats
Common psychological causes of feline depression include:
- Loss of a loved one: A beloved animal or person moving away or dying is the most common cause of depression in cats.
- Change: Moving house, a new person or pet in the house, a change in an owner’s work schedule, and other issues can trigger anxiety and depression in cats.
- Boredom and frustration: This is a common problem with indoor cats that can be remedied by providing an enriched environment.
Treatments for Feline Depression
Loving attention, distraction, and time will usually heal a cat’s depression, but there are additional things you can do to speed the process along, or at least reduce the cat’s sadness while he recovers.
If a cat is miserable due to loss or changes in his environment, spending more quality time with him (petting, grooming, etc.) can be beneficial. In the case of depression due to change, keeping other routines and aspects of the cat’s surroundings as consistent as possible is particularly helpful.
Exercise has a positive effect on mood, so playing with your cat and also hiding solo toys (such as catnip mice) around the house for the cat to find and play with on his own can help speed the recovery process.
Natural light and a distracting view through a window may also help a cat recover from depression more swiftly, or at least take his mind off whatever is making him sad. Placing a bird feeder just outside a closed window with a wide, comfortable sill creates an appealing distraction and encourages the cat to get more sunlight.
If the cat has lost a feline friend, getting another cat after a few weeks can help in some cases, but only if the resident cat is willing to accept a new companion (otherwise, adopting a new pet can make the situation worse). If you’re unsure how your cat is likely to react, you could try fostering a kitten through a local animal rescue organization; if the two cats bond, you can adopt the kitten yourself. If it doesn’t work out, you can adopt the kitten out to a good home.
Feline depression is physiologically similar to human depression, and it responds to many of the same medications. However, it’s always better to cure depression with natural methods if possible, because medications can have side effects. If all else fails and you choose to go the medication route, consult a veterinarian to ensure appropriate, safe, and effective medication choice and dosing. Never give cats medications designed for humans – some medications are toxic to cats at any quantity, and even helpful medications can be deadly if the wrong dose is given.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.