It’s true that Tigger is no longer a spry, playful kitten but she seems to be sleeping even more than usual lately. She no longer comes to greet you when you get home. And worse – she hasn’t even peeped inside the boxes leftover from Christmas.
If you didn’t know better, you’d say she was depressed. But with her nap-all-day schedule and unending lineup of kitty treats, what could she be sad about? And wait, is it even possible for cats to get depressed?
Can Cats Get Depressed?
Believe it or not, kitty depression is real.
From the human perspective, it seems like a cat’s life is the stuff of dreams. I remember one specific instance a few months ago when I was running around the house frantic because the alarm hadn’t gone off, all my clothes were either dirty or in the laundry, I couldn’t find my keys and I was so very late for work. I skidded into the living room and came across my cat in the middle of a long, leisurely stretch while luxuriously relaxing in a spot of sunlight on the couch.
As I stared in envy, she lazily opened her eyes and gave me a look as to say, “You poor, poor human” and I decided that if reincarnation existed, I wished to come back as a house cat.
But looks can be deceiving and as it turns out, the life of a house cat is not as carefree as it seems.
As all cat owners know all too well, felines are a sensitive bunch (understatement of the year) and both major and minor elements in a cat’s environment can cause stress as well as depression.
Sometimes cats can have a meltdown after they’ve moved to a new house or apartment or after a new pet has been introduced to the household. They may be lonely or bored, especially if you have a job that requires you to spend most of the day away from them. They may miss a fellow pet that died or a human who left on vacation. Perhaps your cat isn’t feeling well and the misery may lead to depressed behavior.
The cause of cat depression can even be something as simple as a change in schedule.
Whatever the reason, you’re probably most interested in how to treat cat depression. Well, before we get to that, you’ll want to ascertain whether your cat is, in fact, depressed. Here are the symptoms to look for…
Common Signs of Cat Depression
Changes in sleeping habits
Cats can sleep 16 hours a day, so this can be a tough one to spot. If she normally greets you at the door but now she’s just zonked out in the bedroom when you come home, though, this could be a sign of depression.
Your cat seems to lack energy
Cats can be pretty playful, which is why most experts recommend playing with your kitten for at least half an hour a day. If your cat just doesn’t want to play anymore or walks away from favorite toys to sullenly be by herself, she may be depressed.
She vocalizes more than normal
Excessive vocalization can be a sign of unhappiness when she isn’t combining meows with her usual signals that she wants attention. She may be missing a friend, like another cat or a person who isn’t there anymore and now she’s looking for a companion she can’t find.
Her appetite has changed
Some cats may not want to eat as much when they’re depressed and can actually lose weight. Others may overeat or demand to be fed more often.
Her grooming habits have changed
Grooming too much is often a sign of distress or depression and may need to be checked by a vet. Your cat may also stop grooming altogether if she’s depressed and this can lead to a more matted, dull appearance in the coat.
Your cat hides more than normal
Very often, cats will hide if they become distressed for any reason. It’s normal for them to play “hide and seek” in boxes or paper sacks, but a depressed cat may burrow into a place that’s hard to get to or makes her hard to find.
Her litter box habits have changed
Changes in your cat’s environment like a new pet in the household may lead to territorial issues and stress that leads to problems with urination. If your cat was previously pretty good about using the litter box, take stock of any changes or health issues that might be causing the problem. These problems can include depression.
How to Treat Depression in Cats
If your cat is showing signs of depression, the first thing you want to do is take her to the vet. This will help eliminate the possibility of any other health issues before you do anything else.
Been to the vet and cleared any potential health issues? The good news is that your cat is healthy. The bad news? She’s depressed. Here’s how you can start combatting cat depression…
Take stock of anything that might be causing stress
Cats aren’t fond of change. They’re also territorial and intent on checking up on everything in their environment so they can get a little off-balance when something unfamiliar is introduced.
Maybe you just moved, which tends to disrupt your cat’s life and can cause temporary depression. You may have also gotten a new pet or redecorated your home and it can take a while for your cat to get used to the changes.
To help your cat adjust, you might want to get Feliway. It’s a product that contains synthetic feline facial pheromones, aka scent chemicals, that are associated with security and comfort for a cat. Try it in spray form to spritz on new furniture that’s been introduced or get Feliway in diffuser form to gently get your cat comfortable in an entirely new environment.
Provide ways to keep her entertained while you’re gone
Cats are social animals and your cat may miss you when you must be out of the house. Favorite toys like treat puzzles or a window through which she can watch birds can keep her entertained. Find out the best ways to entertain a bored cat!
Also, try to schedule in time to play with her. Interacting with your cat with her favorite toys for just half an hour daily is enough to reassure her you’re around, you’re attentive and you still love her. Just try not to wrestle with her or do anything that could be interpreted as aggression because this can encourage shyness or aggression in your cat.
And when she rubs against and nuzzles you, give her a pat to acknowledge her even when you can’t play with her right that minute.
Get a happy light
Light seems like such a simple thing, but fact of the matter is – lighting plays a huge role in determining our mood. Just think how you feel lazing on the patio on a warm, sunny summer’s day and compare that to the funk you’re in on those dark, dreary February mornings.
Naturally, a lack of light can trigger depression since our “happy” brain chemical serotonin plummets on dark days, causing negative changes in mood and emotions whereas bright daylight has been shown to cause an increase in serotonin levels, boosting feelings of happiness.
Like people, cats can get these “winter blues” too. And it can be especially bad if you live in a region that is gloomy and grey for most of the year or all the windows in your house face north.
The easiest way to remedy this – apart from driving around with your cat in the car for a glimpse of the sun – is to get a “happy” light of the sort that’s used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. The bright light will help replace what cats can’t get during those short winter days.
The best news? You can sun underneath it too during the cheerless winter months 🙂
What About Antidepressants for Cats?
The thought for Prozac for cats might sound a bit far-fetched, but in some cases, antidepressants for cats might be necessary.
They should be considered a last resort, but can help your cat in cases of severe depression or if nothing else is working. If your vet prescribes an antidepressant, make sure you follow the directions and make sure your cat never ingests foods like cheese that might interact badly with the antidepressant.
Tip: When giving my cat pills, I’ve had great luck with Greenies Pill Pockets to make the pill go down more smoothly.