Many people mistakenly believe that cats are aloof, unemotional creatures that have no particular attachment to their owners. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, felines have a wide range of emotions, including fear, sadness, contentment and affection. It can at times be difficult to distinguish a cat's emotional state, due to their subtle facial expressions and body language, but that doesn't mean your kitty doesn't have feelings. And while ideally your cat is happy and content most of the time, you should also be able to recognize when your cat is feeling blue.
Cats can become sad or depressed due to various reasons. Some common causes of cat discontentment include illness, boredom, grieving of a lost family member or pet that they were bonded with, or injury. Oftentimes, cat owners don't notice if their cat is feeling down, shrugging off a loss of interest in play or a cat sleeping longer than usual as normal or just "part of getting older." However, these are common symptoms of feline depression.
It's important to keep an eye on your cat if it's become unusually reserved or quiet. Learn more about the frequent causes of depression in cats, the signs to look for, 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 or changes in vocalization: Your cat may meow more or less than usual. 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 purr more as a way to comfort themselves, as well. Other cats that 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 unhappy.
- 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 or changes in personality: A sad cat may lose interest in the activities that used to engage it, become reclusive, and hide. Naturally quiet cats can become clingy or demanding, and the fear of strangers that many 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, especially if the new spot is hidden or out-of-the-way.
- Poor grooming or changes in 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 or change in appetite: If your cat has stopped eating or you've noted a sudden change in appetite, it may be unhappy about something. Sad cats may snub foods they previously enjoyed and may even lose interest in their favorite treats.
- Spraying or changes in bathroom habits: 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. Also, if your cat soils outside of the litter box, this should raise a red flag.
- Excessive scratching: If your cat is sad or depressed, it may start scratching furniture or other objects more than usual to relieve stress and mark its territory.
Reasons Why a Cat Gets Depressed
There can be several reasons why a cat gets depressed. However, if your cat is not behaving normally, is less active than before, is refusing to eat, appears to be in pain, or has stopped grooming itself, it's a good idea to take your pet to the veterinarian for a full checkup to rule out potential health conditions that could be causing these behavioral changes. If your vet gives the cat a clean bill of health, then it's reasonable to assume that sadness or depression could be the underlying cause of the issues.
Just as you might feel blue when you are sick, especially if your condition is painful, illnesses, especially chronic or painful ones, can cause your cat to become depressed. The cat may not be its playful self if it hurts to move around. The cat might feel nauseated, refuse 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.
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 after an injury or medical procedure. If your cat seems to be in pain, but you aren't sure why, schedule an appointment to have it checked out as soon as possible. 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 likely return to its normal temperment. If your cat is depressed because another cat in the household has passed away, it may benefit from a new cat friend (or it may not). Be cautious in adding another animal companion too soon to the family after the loss of a pet, however. Time is usually the best remedy for major changes in household dynamics, but there are also natural remedies such as pheromones sprays and nutritional supplements that can help your cat be happier in the meantime.
While it's safer and healthier for your feline to remain indoors, an indoor-only cat that is not provided with sufficient stimulation can become bored, which easily can turn into depression. Think of how you'd feel if you were cooped up inside forever with nothing to do. Your cat is no different. Make sure your cat has a variety of activities to stimulate its mind and provide exercise. A variety of toys, cat furniture and climbing opportunities, treats, and perhaps a window to gaze out of are all easy ways to help ward off feline depression, boredom, or sadness.
How to Help a Sad Cat
If your kitty is feeling blue, and you've already taken care of any possible health conditions or injuries, then you might wonder what else you can do to cheer your cat up. Luckily, there are quite a few way to help a sad cat feel happier.
- Spend time every day bonding and interacting with your cat. Petting your cat, allowing it to cuddle on your lap, talking to it, and just paying attention to your kitty's antics all help it to feel loved and content.
- Provide your cat with an assortment of toys, and rotate the selection frequently so the cat doesn't tire of any one particular toy. Many cats especially enjoy leaping and chasing a "cat dancer" with ribbons or feathers attached to a stick that you maneuver about for your cat to attack.
- Along with a healthy diet and fresh water, you can offer your cat a small treat each day. This gives your cat something to look forward to and enjoy. Most cats will quickly learn when it's treat time and will come running if you offer the goody at the same time each day.
- Carefully consider getting your cat another animal companion. Some cats are happier being the only pet in a household, while others love to cuddle and interact with another cat or even with a dog. Take your cat's temperament, age, health, and activity level into account before deciding to bring home another pet.
- Create entertainment for your cat by hanging a bird feeder near a window that the cat can easily look out of. Both you and your feline will enjoy watching backyard birds visit the feeder, and their movements will provide your cat a great deal of excitement and stimulation.