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feline health problems
Cat depression

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, change their food, or try new toys, supplements, or medications.

Symptoms of depression in cats

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.
  • 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 tend to be reactive and will sometimes act with aggression or fearfulness.

  • 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, 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 coats.
  • Changes in appetite. Depressed cats may turn their nose up at foods or treats they previously enjoyed.
  • Changes in bathroom habits. While there are many reasons for cats urinating outside of the litter box, stress, depression, and sadness often top this list.
  • Excessive scratching. If your cat is sad or depressed, they may start scratching objects like furniture more than usual to relieve stress.

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 or a loss of a limb 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.

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.

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.

Introduce new toys and games

Giving your cat new toys to play with can help excite them. Fishing pole toys they can chase are great to entice them 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.

Mix up their diet

If you’ve noticed your cat coming off their food due to their depression, trying a new flavor or texture may tempt them to start eating again. You can also try feeding them new yummy treats.

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

There are supplements for cats that contain l-theanine and l-tryptophan that increase serotonin in a cat’s brain to help with depression. 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.

Get professional help

If you haven’t had any luck in helping cheer your kitty up, you can talk to your veterinarian. They may recommend medication to give your cat some relief from anxiety or depression. They may also perform tests to rule out any illnesses that may be contributing to your cat’s depression.

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 the help of medication from a vet to fully fix their depression.