Is Your Cat Sad?

Visible Clues That Point to Cat Depression

White and orange cat looking at camera up close
Cats show their emotions, you just need to learn how to identify them. Chrisseee / Getty Images

Every cat has their own personality, with some being more outgoing than others, but when a typically social cat is suddenly reserved and quiet it can be concerning.

In most cases, cat owners have no idea why their cat is sat or depressed. But, by looking out for some signs, you can rest easy in knowing that it may be temporary. Also, learn more about some frequent causes of depression in cats and your best course of action.

Signs of a Depressed Cat

A picture is worth a thousand words. So, is the look of your cat. Pay attention to some signs of possible depression in your cat.

  • Vocal clues: These are very audible indications that your cat may be unhappy. These unhappy noises are usually low-pitched, mournful yowls. Purrs do not always indicate happiness and an unhappy kitty might also purr more as a way to comfort themselves as well. Other cats which are normally vocal may become quiet, while quiet cats can turn up the volume.
  • Body language: Sometimes your cat’s body language can clue you in on their unhappiness and there are many eye, ear, fur, and body positions that can indicate this. Ears held back, tail tucked, hair standing on end, and other body signs are all forms of silent communication that your cat may be sad.
  • Aggression or fear: Sad cats tend to be more reactive and act out with aggression or fearfulness. If you notice behavior changes that result in your cat being scared or abnormally aggressive then they may be sad.
  • Clingy or hiding: A sad cat may lose interest in the activities that used to engage him, become reclusive, and hide. More quiet cats can become clingy or demanding and the fear of strangers that all cats seem to share can become heightened when a cat is sad.
  • Excessive sleep: Cats normally sleep a lot but sad or depressed cats sleep even more. If there have been changes in the location of a favorite nap spot this can also indicate sadness.
  • Poor grooming: This can be a sign of unhappiness and ill health. Cats that do not feel well or are depressed often stop grooming themselves leaving very unkempt looking coats.
  • Not eating: If your cat has stopped eating suddenly, it may be unhappy about something. Sad cats may snub foods they previously enjoyed and may even lose interest in their favorite treats.
  • Spraying: A sad cat may use their own scent to feel better by urinating in inappropriate places. There are many reasons for urinating outside of the litter box but stress, depression, and sadness are high on this list. Your cat may urinate in high-value areas such as lookouts, your bedroom, or places where the scent of a deceased pet or missing human lingers in order to spread their own scent.
  • Excessive scratching: If your cat is sad or depressed, it may start scratching objects more so than usual to relieve stress and mark its territory.
    illustration of signs your cat is sad
    Illustration: Kelly Leigh Miller. © The Spruce, 2018

    Reasons Why a Cat Gets Depressed

    There can be several reasons why a cat gets depressed. No matter the reason why, be sure to give it extra time and attention until its happiness level improves. If pain is the culprit, then take your cat to the veterinarian.

    Illness

    Illnesses can cause your cat to not feel well and even possibly be in pain. The cat may not be its playful self if it hurts to move around. The cat might feel nauseated, not want to eat, have a hormonal imbalance, or have no energy due to the illness. Conditions such as fatty liver disease, FIV, FeLV, upper respiratory diseases, diabetes, hypothyroidism, dental disease, and others are all serious health problems that can affect your cat’s happiness level. If you suspect your cat is depressed because it is sick, then you should schedule a visit with your vet as soon as possible.

    Injury

    Injuries may limit your cat’s ability to do things it once enjoyed. Pain after an injury can also keep your cat from feeling as happy as it usually is. Make sure you are following your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding pain relief or if your cat seems to be in pain, schedule an appointment to have it checked out. Even old surgeries and injuries can cause lingering pain or discomfort in your cat and may require chronic pain relief.

    Loss of a Loved One

    Losing a family member is always tough for everyone involved and your cat is no exception. When a family member (human or animal) passes away or moves out, your cat may grieve and become depressed. This is usually only a temporary behavior and with some time your cat will return to normal. If your cat is depressed because another cat in the household has passed away, they may benefit from a new cat friend (or they may not). Be cautious in adding another housemate too soon to the family. Time is usually the best remedy for major family member changes, but there are also natural remedies such as pheromones and nutritional supplements that can help your cat be happier in the meantime.