In case you didn't already know this, pet ownership is one way to deal with depression and mental illness. Many studies have shown time and time again that there are health benefits to having furry family members around.

A companion animal increases zest for life, motivation, and generally lessens the symptoms associated with mental health disorders in their humans. But what do you do if your cat is the one who needs the emotional support? Is cat depression real?

If you think you're dealing with a grumpy, unmotivated, and withdrawn cat, then keep reading. Follow us as we share the reasons why your cat may be depressed and discuss a few ways to help your furry family member.

Can Cats Get Depressed?

Unlike people who can share their depressive feelings and triggers, cats rely on us to pick up their body language and symptoms. Changes in cat behavior can be caused by numerous things, from a stressful home environment to diseases.

In cats, depression is less of a chemical change in the brain's neural circuits and more a symptom of a deeper issue. Finding a cause for depression in cats requires a little investigation by your veterinarian.

Nine Signs of Depression in Cats

Most cats don't live very active lives and easily sleep for twelve to sixteen hours a day. Their personalities are temperamental, disinterested, and aloof for a majority of their waking hours. But sooner or later, you'll take notice of changes in their cat behavior that could signal depression. Here are signs of depression that you can look out for:

  1. Lethargy and inactivity

  2. Aggressive behavior, such as hissing, biting, or signs of fear and sadness

  3. Vocal cues, yowling or purring excessively even when it seems a usual time to be doing so 

  4. Bedraggled appearance from lack of grooming

  5. Body language, such as crouching positions, tail tucked, ears held back

  6. Litter box misuse or spraying in unusual areas around the home

  7. Withdrawn behavior, no more head bumping or kneading your lap

  8. Weight loss or gain

  9. Loss of appetite or disinterest in cat treats

Reasons Why Cats Get Depressed

Wondering why your precious cat is no longer showing interest in their cat toys? Many different things can cause depression in your pet. Here are some typical causes:

Environmental Stress

Cats can hit a depressive slump as a result of stressful conditions. They can grieve a loss of a loved one (animals or humans) or because of changes in the home environment. Feral cats in the area may be causing strife for your kitty and adding unnecessary anxiety to their lives.

Another example of environmental stress is moving houses. Anything beyond your cat's control and suddenly altered could unknowingly put your kitty's emotions into a spin. Cats with separation anxiety have a few similar symptoms that can be misunderstood for depression.

Pain

Your depressed cat may be in pain. Discomfort is often signaled by excessive licking, reduced mobility, and more. Chronic or acute pain is the number one reason for a change in cat behaviors. 

Old Age

No, your cat is not depressed about its age, but when life moves on, aches and pains seem to set in. They resist grooming because of sore joints, they sleep more, and generally, their wellness takes a dip. You may see their old age as a sign of their depression when an underlying condition is a cause. 

Chronic Illness

Chronic illness and pain often go hand in hand. Osteoarthritis, joint disease, vision problems, kidney disease, periodontal disease, and much more can inflict your pet and require attention. 

Poor Nutrition

Like the others in your home, cats need adequate nutrition to keep their minds and bodies healthy. Fats, proteins, and carbohydrates need to form a part of their diet for their energy.

The kind of food that your pet eats will make an impact. Obese cats that overeat, or underweight cats fed poor diets, are more susceptible to illness, and therefore pain, which can lead to depression in cats. 

When you invest in a good diet for your cat, then you reap the rewards of a healthy and happy cat. A poor diet can lead to pancreatitis, obesity, urinary tract infections, heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. 

When to See a Vet

Many of the symptoms we have mentioned can signal serious health issues in your cat. Take your kitty for a visit to an animal professional to rule out any threatening and even chronic illnesses. If no household changes have occurred and your cat's depression isn't from the environment, then something else is causing the symptoms of depression.

What You Can Expect

Your veterinarian will likely run a full physical exam, note their medical history and the symptoms of depression that you've noticed. Depending on their illness signs, the vet may want to run some bloodwork, x-rays, or ultrasounds. It may take a while to reach a diagnosis, as the family vet will have to rule out wellness concerns through a process of elimination. 

Emergency Situations

Anything that causes your cat pain or obvious distress is a sign that a trip to your veterinarian is needed. You need to rush your pet to the veterinarian if they have not eaten for more than 24 hours.

Unlike your dog, cats may hide many of their problems as an inherent desire for self-preservation. One of a pet parent's essential roles is to pay attention to any little red flag that your cat's body is experiencing. 

Treating a Depressed Cat

The right treatment for your depressed cat will depend on if they have health concerns, a chronic condition, or a clean bill of health. 

Remove Stressors and Create Routine

If there is no medical reason for concern, you may need to investigate the environmental factors causing anxiety in your cat. For a sudden household change, do what you can to ease their anxiety until they adjust. Maintain a routine with added toys, snuggles, and treats to make your cat feel like they can overcome their grief. 

Palliative Care

Cats with chronic conditions and persistent discomfort need help. Please speak to your cat's medical professional about how you can add some pleasures to their life. This may mean buying a comfy new bed for your kitty's sore joints, taking them for some pain-relieving therapy, like acupuncture or kitty massage. Find the thing that brings them relief and helps them to enjoy their final years. 

Stimulation

Cats are individuals, but they still like to be played with from time to time. A bored cat may show signs of depression just because they lack mental stimulation. Buying your cat a toy, a new climbing tree, or a puzzle feeder can do wonders for their mental care. Spend some time playing with your cat as part of their new routine. 

Medication

If your cat's behavior is still bleak, and there are no health concerns, your vet may refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. A behaviorist will approach your cat's mood issues with behavior modification suggestions or prescribed medications that can make depression a thing of the past.

Common cat anxiety medication includes Gabapentin, Paroxetine, Sertraline, Trazodone, Buspirone, Lorazepam, and more. Read more about each drug and its potential side effects on the PetMD website

If your cat's anxiety and depression are mild, you may prefer to offer them a holistic calming solution.

  • CBD oil is known to have a calming effect on nerves and can reduce the effects of everyday environmental stress. Make sure to choose a CBD tincture from a reputable manufacturer who makes 100% organic, lab-tested, full-spectrum hemp oil. 

  • Catnip can do wonders to calm your kitty and bring some relief to their depression. It may trigger some hyperactivity at first, but calm will follow. 

  • "Cat grass" is a mixture of wheat, barley, rye, or oats seeds. Cats can nibble it right from the pot. As well as adding some nutrients to their diet, it has some calming effects. 

  • Camomile will help your kitty get some good rest if their depression symptoms are causing them to lose some sleep. Add half a teaspoon to their water or food.

Cat Depression Prevention

Pets need regular wellness checkups to maintain their health and diagnose threatening diseases early on. By taking care of your feline family member, they're less likely to develop unwelcomed illnesses that have depressive symptoms. By doing the following things, you are reducing stress in your cat's life:

  • Spay or neuter your cat

  • Keep a feeding routine.

  • Offer a healthy, nutrient-rich diet.

  • Provide clean water

  • Brush their coat

  • Exercise and stimulation

  • De-worm and parasite prevention

  • Up-to-date vaccinations

  • Add probiotics or supplements to their diet.

  • Keep their litter box clean.

  • Give them a collar and microchip.

  • Pre-empt stressful situations and give them something to keep them calm, for example, moving house. 

  • Keep stray neighborhood cats off your premises.

Final Thoughts on Cat Depression

Do you love to hear your cat purr? It's in your ability to help your cat out of a depressive slump. You may be able to do this with some changes in the home or find a treatment for an underlying cause.

Dealing with their problem can help them become the affectionate and purrfect kitty you know them to be. When your furry friend is in tiptop shape, then they're able to support your mental wellness too.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if my cat is depressed?

A cat's symptoms of depression are all that you can expect – lethargy, unkempt appearance, loss of appetite, sad eyes, withdrawn behavior, and even litter box misuse. Get your cat to the vet to make sure that there are no underlying health concerns as many of these behavioral changes can also be symptoms of disease. 

How do you cheer up a cat?

Cats are individuals, but they still like to be played with from time to time. A bored cat may show signs of depression just because they lack mental stimulation. Buying your cat a toy, a new climbing tree, or a puzzle feeder can do wonders for their mental care.

Spend some time playing with your cat as part of their new routine. Maintain a routine with added toys, snuggles, and treats to make your cat feel like they can overcome their grief.

Can a cat have a mental disorder?

In cats, depression is less of a chemical change in the brain's neural circuits and more a symptom of a deeper issue. Finding a cause for depression in cats requires a little investigation by your veterinarian. If your cat gets a bill of good health, their depression could be related to environmental stressors. 

How do you know your cat is suffering?

Depression in cats has many signs. Chronic or acute pain is the number one reason for a change in cat behaviors. Discomfort is often signaled by excessive licking, reduced mobility, and more. If your cat is suffering from pain, take them to the vet immediately.