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Depressed cat

The essentials

  • Cats can develop depression, just like humans — Changes in their routine or environment, the loss of a loved one, illness, or injury can lead to stress and depression.
  • Watch for changes in behavior or personality — Excessive meowing, hiding from family members, changes in eating habits, aggression, or fear are all signs that your cat might be depressed.
  • There are several ways to help your cat with depression — Spend more time with them, try new toys, supplements, or medications.

Just like us, our feline friends can feel down or blue, and it’s important we recognize when they need our help. Changes at home, losing a buddy, feeling unwell, or getting hurt, lots of things can make a cat feel sad. Let’s explore what causes cat depression, how to spot it, and ways to bring back the purr in your cat’s life.

Causes of depression in cats

There are several reasons why a cat can get depressed, with most of them stemming from change. If you suspect depression in your cat, it may be due to one of several reasons.

  • Illness or injury. If a cat develops an illness or medical condition that interferes with their day-to-day life, it can seriously affect their mental health. Conditions such as arthritis that cause pain can prevent them from jumping or playing like usual, which can lead to depression.
  • Loss of a loved one. While cats may seem solitary, they can be more social than we think. If a family member or pet companion moves out or passes away, kitties can grieve just like people do.
  • Moving homes. Changes in living conditions, like moving to a new house, can uproot cats from their routine and cause them stress and depression.
  • Changes in routine. Like moving to a new home, other changes can lead to stress or sadness in your kitty. This could be a new work schedule where you aren’t around as much, going away on vacation, or adding a new pet to the family.
  • Other pets in the household. Just like when you change environments, adding a new feline friend to the household can disrupt the status quo. Not all cats appreciate having a buddy that could be viewed as competition for resources.
  • Boredom or lack of enrichment. Indoor cats are especially prone to boredom which can lead to depression. Make sure you take time to provide physical and mental enrichment and an opportunity for their cats to utilize their basic instincts. Ohio State University’s indoor pet initiative has plenty of ideas to keep you and your cat busy.
Orange tabby cat playing in a cardboard box

Symptoms of cat depression

Like humans, cats can become sad or depressed for several reasons. It’s not always easy to notice if your kitty is feeling down, so learn to watch for common signs of depression.

  • Changes in vocalization. If your cat is typically quiet and starts meowing more often, they may be telling you they’re upset. These usually sound like low-pitched yowls. On the other hand, if your cat is usually more vocal, they may get quieter than normal.
  • Purring. Purring is usually viewed as a sign that your cat is happy. But when combined with other changes in behavior on this list, purring may actually indicate that your cat is upset or feeling sad.
  • Body language. If your cat’s ears are back, their tail is tucked, or their hair is standing on end, these are all signs that they may be distressed or depressed.
  • Aggression or fear. Cats who are depressed or anxious tend to be reactive and will sometimes act with aggression or fearfulness (fight or flight).
  • Clinginess or hiding. Your kitty may become less interested in spending time with you and begin to hide. Or, they may become overly clingy or demanding.
  • Excessive sleep. It’s normal for cats to sleep a lot (between 12 and 16 hours a day), but depressed cats sleep even more. Also, watch for changes in their usual napping spots.
  • Poor grooming. Cats that don’t feel well or are sad often stop grooming themselves, leaving unruly or matted coats.
  • Changes in appetite. Depressed cats may turn their nose up at foods or treats they previously enjoyed. Pay close attention if your cat is avoiding food for an extensive period. Three or more days without food can have severe consequences, like fatty liver.
  • Changes in bathroom habits. While there are many reasons for cats urinating outside of the litter box, stress, depression, and sadness are on this list.
  • Excessive scratching. If your cat is sad or depressed, they may start scratching objects like furniture more than usual to relieve stress.
White and brown cat with mouth open

Indoor cats and depression

Since indoor cats are around us more often, it might be easier to notice changes in their behavior that could indicate depression. If your once curious and playful cat is now spending most of their time sleeping or has lost interest in chasing toys, climbing their favorite perch, or engaging with family members, these could be signs that they’re experiencing a dip in their mood.

Recognizing these signs early and consulting with a veterinarian can make a significant difference in your cat’s life.

How to help a depressed cat

If your cat seems depressed, don’t fret. There are many things you can do to help them improve their mental health and turn things around.

Consult with your veterinarian — First and foremost, get to the vet when you notice changes in your cat’s behavior to rule out medical causes. Stress and illness can trigger flare-ups of certain chronic conditions.

Spend quality time together — Try spending more time with your kitty to help alleviate their stress or sadness. Pets and scratches can be soothing to some cats, while others may just want you to sit and cuddle.

Consider a toy rotation — Giving your cat new toys to play with can help excite them. Fishing pole toys they can chase are great, along with puzzle toys filled with tasty treats. You can also offer them a cat tunnel or a cat tree to play in.

Use pheromones — Pheromone diffusers and sprays, such as Feliway, contain synthetic chemicals that mimic a variety of naturally occurring pheromones known to soothe cats.

Make mealtime more fun — If you’ve noticed your cat is showing less interest in their food, try making mealtime more of a game by introducing a feeding toy. Tap into their curiosity with a puzzle feeder, or engage their inner hunter with an interactive snack toy.

Play calming music — Some kitties enjoy the sound of soft, calming music while their owners are away. There are playlists on Spotify and YouTube specifically for calming cats with frequencies only cats can hear.

Give them supplements — Some supplements, such as Composure Chews for cats, contain l-theanine and l-tryptophan, among other ingredients, that may increase serotonin in a cat’s brain to help ease anxiety. Cat owners can also try a natural supplement like Bach Rescue Remedy, which helps relieve stress in pets.

Adopt another cat — Some cats may enjoy the companionship of another cat, so consider adding another kitty to help with their loneliness. You know your cat best, however, so only consider this if you think your cat would benefit from a friend. Some cats can become more stressed with the change.

Create an entertaining distraction — Hang a bird feeder by your cat’s favorite window perch, give them a “secret” hiding place from which they can look down on everything, or build them a catio where they can enjoy the spontaneity of nature safely.

Consider medications — If you haven’t had any luck in cheering your kitty up and all medical causes have been ruled out, your veterinarian may recommend prescription medication to give your cat some relief from anxiety or depression.

Ensure adequate access to resources — Whether you have one cat or many, you need to make sure there are enough resources to go around. Clean, fresh water, tasty food, engaging toys, and plentiful snuggles should be in abundance so no feline feels left behind.

Person petting a tired cat

Frequently asked questions

Can cats fall into depression?

Absolutely. Just like people, cats can become sad or depressed due to things like changes in their routine, moving to a new house, or grieving the death of a family member.

What are the signs of depression in cats?

Common signs of depression in cats include a loss of appetite, changes in their body language (tucked tail, ears back, hair standing up), behavioral changes like being more vocal than normal or hiding from family members, a lack of energy, spraying or urinating outside of the litter box, excessive scratching on furniture and other objects, poor grooming habits, or aggression.

How do you cheer up a sad cat?

There are many ways to help cheer up your kitty, such as spending more quality time with them, introducing new toys or games, trying new foods or treats, trying calming music or supplements, or even adopting another kitty for a friend. Some cats may need medication from a vet to fully fix their depression.

Why is my cat staying in one spot all day?

Cats often find a cozy corner to rest during the day, conserving energy for nighttime activities. However, if this behavior is a sudden change, it could indicate underlying health problems (such as infections, kidney disease, diabetes, anemia, etc.) or depression. Keep an eye out for other symptoms like changes in appetite, water consumption and urination, vocalization, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and altered grooming habits, as these could indicate that a visit to the vet is necessary.

How can I help my cat feel better?

Helping your feline friend feel better starts with understanding the root of their discomfort or change in behavior. Some steps you can take include scheduling an appointment with your vet to look for any medical causes, providing a comfortable environment, stimulating their mind through playtime, maintaining their routine, and offering extra affection. If your kitty seems especially lonesome, you might consider bringing home a new companion.