Is Your Cat Sad?

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

No one wants their cat to be sad but sometimes owners don’t know why their pet is depressed or how to cheer them up. 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. By figuring out why your cat is sad you can help cheer them up or at least know that it may be temporary.

Signs and Symptoms of a Depressed Cat

  • Vocal clues are very audible indications that your cat may be unhappy. These unhappy noises are usually low-pitched, mournful yowls. Purrs don't 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 can be a sign of unhappiness and ill health. Cats that don’t feel well or are depressed often stop grooming themselves leaving very unkempt looking coats.
  • If your cat has stopped eating suddenly they may be unhappy about something. Sad cats may snub foods they previously enjoyed and may even lose interest in their favorite treats.
  • 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 "important" 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.
  • If your cat is sad or depressed they may start scratching objects more so than usual to relieve stress and mark their territory.

    Reasons Why a Cat Gets Depressed

    • Illnesses can cause your cat to not feel well and even possibly be in pain. They may not be their playful selves if it hurts them to move around, they 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 they are sick you should schedule a visit with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
    • Injuries may limit your cat’s ability to do things they once enjoyed, especially if they are major. Pain after an injury can also keep your cat from feeling as happy as they usually are. 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 them checked out. Even old surgeries and injuries can cause lingering pain or discomfort in your cat and may require chronic pain relief.
    • 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 emotion and with some time your cat will return back to normal. If your cat is depressed because another cat in the household has passed away they may benefit from a new cat or they may not so be cautious in adding to the family for this reason. 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.

    No matter the reasoning behind why your cat is sad or depressed, be sure to give them extra time and attention until you can improve their happiness level.

    Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT