How to Treat Depression in Cats
If you’ve spent a lot of time around animals, you know that they experience a wide spectrum of emotions and struggles relative to what people are experiencing all the time.
They know what fear, excitement, anxiety, sadness and most other emotions feel like that we perceive to be restricted to humans.
Sometimes our pets might show symptoms of depression. Depression diagnosis in humans is usually assessed through detailed questioning. Since we can’t verbally communicate with cats, it’s important that we are attentive pet owners and observe their behaviors and what they’re trying to tell us.
The most common symptoms of depression in cats include loss of appetite, avoidance, laziness and any other abnormal behavior like constant meowing, trouble sleeping, hiding away for long periods of time or changes in litter box usage.
When your cat starts to show these symptoms, the first step is to take them to the vet for a check up. Sometimes these symptoms can indicate and more serious and life-threatening problem that requires medical attention. In fact, one of the leading causes of depression in cats is pain itself. Your vet should be the first person you ask for advice every time you notice a change in behavior.
When you visit the vet they will help you identify the cause of the abnormal behavior. If it is, in fact, depression without a physical cause your vet will likely have some great suggestions for you to try at home. These suggestions will be based on potential causes of depression in cats such as moving homes, a new pet, a new roommate or loss of a pet or family member they were used to.
Regardless of the cause or severity, you’re here because you want to make your pet feel better as soon as possible. This is important because you love your pet and you want them to feel better but you may also be worried about the physical effects that can be caused by depression such as pulling out hair, weight-gain or susceptibility to other illnesses.
So after you’ve identified abnormal behaviors, visited the vet and received a diagnosis…what’s next? Well, now it’s time to see what’s causing the behavior and make some changes.
If a new addition to the family is causing a disturbance, namely a new feline friend, you may have to take extra steps to achieve a happy family.
Simple improvements like adding an extra litter box and food/water area to the house can help with your cat’s sense of territory. Your pet wants to know that what’s always been theirs is still theirs.
This will also help keep your home fresh and clean. Cats are clean animals and they take comfort in being able to eat, drink and use the bathroom in a comfortable environment. Giving your cat their own space to take care of business and doing your part in keeping everything fresh will make every day of the transition a bit easier.
Loss of a Pet
Cats grieve just as we do. If you’ve recently lost a pet in your home, even if the bond between them and your cat wasn’t as strong as you may have thought, your cat will probably feel sadness about it.
Part of that is due to the fact that our pets pick up what we put down. Cats are particularly attentive to the way we feel and how we look when we are experiencing different emotions. In one study at Oakland University, cats behaved differently based on whether or not their owner was smiling.
In this case, spending time with your pet and talking to them in a positive tone is one of the best things you can do for them. Grief fades with time and, as with humans, it is an important part of life.
When you leave for work, leave a music playing that has a happy and upbeat tone playing lightly in the background. When you arrive home at the end of your day, try to stop yourself before you get caught up in your long to do list. Take a moment to greet your pet by sitting down and talking to them. After all, the best part of your pets day is when you come through the door.
Imagine being in your house, going about your daily routine, loving it and, one day, having it all ripped away from you without notice. From a pet’s perspective, that’s exactly what we’re doing to them when we move from one home to the next.
Once you’ve made this big life decision for yourself, it would be pretty difficult to take it back…if not impossible. Luckily, the stress of a move will probably go away with time and there are a few things you can do to speed up the process:
- Keep them indoors. Your cat needs to have the opportunity to explore your home and feel comfortable before they go outside and get to know their new neighborhood. The chances of them getting lost or scared are much higher in a new place, and fear will only add to the stress they’re already experiencing.
- Maintain your routine. This will give your pet a sense of familiarity that they may have lost in the move.
- Spread their scent. Gently rub your cat around their face with a cloth. Take the cloth and rub it on the walls of your new home, doorways and new furniture. Do this daily to make your pet comfortable with exploring the home and rubbing against objects themselves.
All cats have predatory instincts. Although this may not directly relate to one of the common causes of depression in cats, special care and attention to this characteristic can greatly benefit your cat’s well-being.
If you’re the owner of an indoor cat, they might not have as many opportunities to feel like a true predator. We usually don’t have a lot of birds and mice entering our homes…although we may have the occasional insect.
Stimulating your cat’s predatory instincts will give them confidence, help them feel more like themselves and get them to exercise.
In fact, cats are happier and better off if their owners make them work a little for their food. This is a great way to awaken the tiger within.
Another way to get your cat focused on the prey is to set up a bird feeder outside one of your windows. Your cat will love watching birds from a distance. In fact, wild cats are often caged near prey this way at zoos to keep them stimulated, happy and healthy.
Seeing someone or something you love suffer is one of the hardest parts of life. But by doing research, talking to your vet and continuing to be attentive to your pet’s needs, you will be guiding your pet on the track to feeling better in no time.
Guest Post by Jayson Goetz
Jayson is a writer from Phoenix, Arizona who loves pets! He is a proud owner of a beautiful kitty and wants to share the joy of pet ownership with others. He hopes to encourage people to keep their pets happy and healthy year-round.
I have never thought about depression in cats. Most of the time, I thought it was because of they were sick or they were lazy as hell. Thanks for your article. I will pay more attention to my kittens.