Is Cat Depression Real?

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Cats can be an endless source of joy. They fill our homes with life and quickly integrate themselves into the fast-paced routines of human households. But, sometimes a cat's mood might change — becoming easily irritated or prone to hiding. This can leave many pet parents wondering if their cat is simply "feline blue" or actually depressed. But is cat depression real? If so, how can someone tell when their cat is depressed or just a little sad?

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Do cats get depressed?

Yes, cats will get depressed and anxious. While they may not experience the range of feelings that humans do, cats both feel and express emotions. Dutch researchers at Maastricht University identified several basic feline emotions including anger, happiness, fear, anxiety, envy, and sadness. According to the study, when cats feel sadness for prolonged periods of time, feline depression results. Science doesn't know exactly what our cats are feeling, but many biologists theorize that cat depression is often a symptom of an underlying issue, rather than a chemical change in the brain — which is often how humans experience depression. Learning how to read your cat's emotional state through body language and behavioral cues is an important part of pet stewardship. By understanding the signs of depression in cats, you can ensure your feline family member's mental health.

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Signs of cat depression

The lives of most indoor cats are typically characterized by inactivity and sleep. In fact, the average cat sleeps about 15-20 hours a day, depending on their age. So when they are active, it's important to observe a cat's behavior for signs of depression or sorrow.

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Watch for these common signs of cat depression:

  • Aggression
  • Fear
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of grooming behavior
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Hiding or other withdrawn behaviors
  • Mishandling the litter box or spraying in unusual areas
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluctuation in weight

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Felines generally hide signs of injury and distress, according to the veterinarians at Bytown Cat Hospital. So keep an eye on your moggie for subtle signs of cat depression.

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Reasons cats get depressed

If you've determined that your cat is truly exhibiting signs of depression, the next step is to figure out the cause.

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Common causes of cat depression are:

  • Pain or injury
  • Environmental stress
  • New pet in the household
  • Houseguests or visitors
  • New baby or family member
  • Moving to a new home
  • Construction or home improvement projects
  • Family disruption like divorce or death
  • Old age
  • Poor nutrition

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How to treat a depressed cat

When your kitty is depressed, visiting your veterinarian to ensure there are no underlying medical concerns can be prudent. A vet can also provide strategies to help your cat, including anti-anxiety medication. However, for the most part, cat depression can be treated with a commonsense approach. Here are a few tips.

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Keep to a routine

Cats are creatures of habit, and they do not respond well to uncertainty. The best course of action is to keep regular routines for daily activities like mealtimes, play, sleep and wake cycles, outdoor time, and so on.

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Enrichment

Indoor cats need engagement and interaction. Enriching their environment will help keep cats happy and mentally healthy. Create an engaging environment by opening window blinds to allow your cat a means to watch the outside world. You can also give your cat scratching posts, toys, puzzle feeders, and music from a cheap radio. This epic kitty castle is among our favorite DIY projects! Many households incorporate aquariums or additional pets like hamsters, gerbils or birds — which will give your cat hours of entertainment.

Enhance mealtime

Cats tend to be nibblers and will often eat several small meals a day. With depressed cats who are experiencing weight loss, leave out dry food for casual snacking, and then offer small amounts of wet food 1-2 times per day. If your depressed cat is gaining weight, make a game out of mealtime with a puzzle feeder or other mealtime enrichments.

Other tips to treat a depressed cat include:

  • Regular coat brushings
  • Increased exercise and stimulation
  • Regular visits to the vet
  • Add probiotics or supplements to meals
  • Up-to-date vaccinations, deworming, and other parasite prevention
  • Clean litter box
  • Calming sprays or CBD products
  • Keep other stray cats or neighborhood pets out of your premises
  • Lots of clean water

Although you might be able to temporarily cheer up your cat, when the cause of depression is medical or related to a deeper trauma, time (and possibly medication) may be required. Consult a vet whenever symptoms of cat depression persist for more than several consecutive weeks.

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In summary

If your cat is down in the dumps, it's your responsibility as their human friend to help them out. The good news is that you'll most likely be able to brighten your cat's mood by making a few intentional changes to their daily routine, household environment, diet, and playtime. However, when symptoms of cat depression persist, it's wise to take your kitty to the vet — just to ensure there are no lurking medical issues. Addressing cat depression can help your kitty become the affectionate, cheerful cat you've always known them to be.

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