Depression in Cats
The common stereotype for cats is that they are independent, unemotional creatures who don’t care who their owners are as long as they are fed. Yet, in reality, these creatures have just as much, or perhaps even more, emotion and attachment as any animal. Cats feel anything from love and happiness to fear and sadness, and it is because of this deep spectrum that they have been found to have deep empathy and, in turn, the ability to feel the deepest of emotions.
Depression in cats can have many different ways of manifesting and thus can be tricky to diagnose if you’re not paying enough attention. Today, we will be unpacking the possible reasons a cat may be experiencing these feelings and the most common signs of depression in cats, as well as sharing a story of one of our own cats who exhibited the signs of feline depression, and the atypical way it was able to be balanced back into a healthy mindset.
Before we get into the signs of depression in cats, it must be noted that while it is more common for cats in shelters to exhibit these signs, it is not limited to them at all. Any cat can experience long periods of sadness and depression, even in loving stable homes. Usually, this shift in their personalities is a result of a big disturbance in their lives that, with enough care and patience, can be settled.
The most common situations that may lead to depressive signs in cats include:
A change in physical health. In some cases, this may lead to them being unable to live and play like they usually do, and therefore create distress as they try to comprehend the loss of an ability.
Moving to a new house. This already is stressful enough for people, but when the primary environment is changed drastically, this can be very overwhelming for cats. For example, moving from a large place to a smaller one can drastically change their levels of activity and reduce the amount of stimulation they get, leading to depression.
The loss of a loved one. Depending on their experiences, cats can experience loss and grief similar to people. Whether it is someone moving out of home or a human or animal family member passing away, many cats have prolonged periods of grief which can manifest into depression.
At our shelter, on the occasion that a cat is exhibiting signs of depression, it is usually due to this last reason. Whether their caregiver has passed away or had to surrender them, the impact is the same, and it usually takes these individuals a while of adjusting to their new circumstances to regain their personality and care again.
Now that we’ve unpacked the most common times a cat may be prone to signs of depression, let’s go into what the most common signs actually are, so you know what to look out for with your own furry friend.
No interest in activities. Especially those they usually love. Try providing more toy and play options just in case it is boredom, but if they show continued apathy, it is safe to start considering this a sign of depression.
Not eating or a change in appetite. Many cat owners can’t imagine a cat not wanting food, but it is a common sign of unhappiness that could manifest deeper. If your cat loses interest in their favourite treats, that’s another sign something is wrong.
Excessive sleep. This one is a harder sign to distinguish as it is common for cats to sleep a lot, but try to identify if this has increased at all. A change in location is also a key sign of feline depression, mainly if there has been a change in the overall environment (like moving homes) and it is hidden away somewhere.
Other signs include a decrease in grooming, altered bathroom habits and a change in vocalisations, whether that’s an increase in frequency or a shift to a deeper tone. Basically, depression can manifest as any serious shift in your cat's personality. If you do identify this, we suggest discussing the signs with your veterinarian to be able to confirm it’s not something else that needs addressing and to get the most appropriate methods to aid your cat’s individual situation.
Finally, a quick story to bring some light to this harder topic. A few years ago at our shelter, a cat was brought in after being with a loving family. He was displaying most of the signs of depression: not eating or being interested in doing anything but sleeping and gazing off distantly. After a while, when he hadn’t started to show any signs of getting better and adapting to this new situation, a kitten who had come in alone was placed with him. Soon, the volunteers noticed him playing with the kitten and becoming increasingly more energised and excitable. Over time, this cat was transformed by his kitten friend, finally expressing his true personality and showing no signs of depression. So, if your cat’s specific situation seems to not be getting better by other methods, perhaps consider the impact of what a friend may do.