How to Recognize and Treat Depression in Cats

Depressed and sad cat

We can’t be sure that cats experience the same depression as humans. But, it is possible to observe when a cat’s behavior suggests they’ve developed a lack of interest in life. In that sense, they may be suffering from some kind of depression.

Read on for the signs to watch for in a sad cat and find out how you can help your furry friend to be happy and content. 

Reasons a Cat Might Become Depressed

Situations that cause depressive-like symptoms in cats include:

  • Loss of a member of the household
  • Moving to a new home
  • A sudden change in the household’s usual schedule
  • A physical health issue

Although cats have developed a reputation for being solitary and independent creatures, they can also be social. That means they may experience loss and grief similarly to us.

Should a member of the family move out or pass away, a cat will experience loss. It is also quite normal for cats to behave in a way that appears sad when a pet they live with dies.

A change in where a cat lives is a stress trigger for cats to develop depression too. A new environment can be jarring for a cat and takes time to get used to. This is particularly true if the move involves downsizing with restrictions to outdoor areas.

The work schedules of pet owners sometimes change, which means they start being away from home more often. This kind of change can have a negative impact on cats. The same can happen if you leave for a vacation and get a friend to catsit. Cats might become depressed because they are lonely because of this.

A cat that’s been active all their life may develop arthritis or suffer an injury. The condition may prevent them from jumping to their usual spot. Again, this has the potential to induce behavior associated with depression. 

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Signs That Your Cat Has Become Depressed

Cats can show subtle signs of depression that can make it tough to pick up on changes in their behavior. The following are potential signs of depression, especially if your cat displays several of them at once:

  • Lower energy levels
  • Sleeping a lot more than usual
  • Stopping or reducing the amount of time spent grooming
  • Looking unkempt and uncared for
  • Suffering from pain, especially in senior cats
  • A change in appetite and loss of interest in food
  • Lack of interest in toys
  • Aggression: hissing, biting, or growling
  • Making changes to routine behaviors such as using the litter box

Ways to Keep Depression Away From Your Cat

Making time to play with your cat is an essential part of being a cat owner. It is also important to make sure your cat doesn’t develop depression. Playtime can relieve aggression and creates a bond between you and your cat. Cats enjoy human interaction, so you should pet your cat regularly.  

You could also try using catnip. The plant is a member of the mint family and contains a natural oil called nepetalactone. When cats chew or rub on catnip, they experience a mild natural high. It’s a temporary feeling that’s harmless but pleasurable to cats.

In extreme cases of sadness, you may want to consult an animal behaviorist. They have the expertise and experience to help you find out why a cat may be feeling low and how to improve their mood. 

Here are a few more tips to keep your feline friend happy:

  • Ensure your cat gets plenty of exercise by using toys 
  • Keep cats in pairs for companionship 
  • Train and encourage your cat to “hunt” to keep their mind active
  • Walk your cat-  an animal trainer can help you teach your cat to walk on a leash
  • Spay or neuter your cat: it eliminates stress caused by the need to find a mate
  • Offer your cat new kinds of food and treats
  • Play calming music

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

This kind of depression can lead to people experiencing a range of symptoms that include:

  • Low energy levels
  • Loss of appetite
  • General feelings of sadness in the colder months

There’s a concern that our pets may have the same experiences as us because they share much of the same kinds of brain chemistry. That includes the hormones melatonin and serotonin. 

When there’s less daylight around, the brain makes greater amounts of melatonin and less serotonin. This can have a negative impact on our mood. Although it’s quite possible cats can suffer from SAD, there may also be other explanations. 

One alternative possibility might be that your cat’s low mood could be a response to the sadness or lack of energy their owner is experiencing. We know that pets’ moods can mirror our own moods. Cats can and do pick up on how we are feeling.

It’s also possible that your cat may have become bored. Cats tend to spend more time outside in the warmer months and as a result, may not be getting enough exercise and mental stimulation during the darker seasons.

Supplements and Dietary Changes for depression in cats

Although some of us may take a variety of vitamin D supplements during winter, it doesn’t follow that you should be giving them to your cat. However, we can’t be sure that SAD in cats exists. It’s also not sure if vitamin D can be toxic to cats in high doses. A cat should get sufficient vitamin D in their regular cat food. 

A high-quality pet probiotic supplement is an option you might want to discuss with your vet. Probiotics improve gut health in pets and that may contribute to improved behavior, mood, and overall sense of well-being.

A cat’s diet should also contain the right amount of essential fatty acids, especially omega-3 fatty acids, that can help with your cat’s cognitive functions.

Book a Timeslot with a Vet Today!

Your pet may be displaying signs of a lack of appetite and decreased energy levels. If so, you may suspect you have a depressed cat on your hands. We have a team of expert vets who can give you help and advice about depression in a cat. Book a time to speak to one of the team today.

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