Koni (A499883) is a little shy kitten at first. But with time and patience, this fearful cat will begin to relax and trust a person. With treats, toys and patience, Koni begins to relax and approach people. This shows that she can fit into a quiet home, probably best just with adults, and she has a cute personality waiting to come out! (Courtesy photo of Pasadena Humane)
A friend of mine recently broke up with her 9 year old partner. Fortunately, it’s a friendly breakup. Together they have a dog and a cat. They decided to share custody of their dog, but since cats generally don’t travel well, my friend Bruce (the cat) will keep them all day.
Bruce wasn’t happy about moving to a new apartment four months ago. During the first few days in his new home, he shared his displeasure in various ways. He had spent most of his time under the bed and had hardly eaten for the first week.
Gradually, however, he ventured out from under the bed, but his otherwise sociable and playful manner was suddenly subdued. He was also much louder than usual, his appetite decreased, and he wasn’t interested in being affectionate or particularly active.
“I suppose it’s to be expected to be pretty wrong about the move, but I just didn’t expect it to go on for months now,” she told me.
“Is it possible that he’s just depressed?” I wondered.
“Can a cat get depressed?” she asked confused: “Is that so?”
As it turns out, yes it’s a thing.
People with depression experience persistent feelings of sadness and a lack of interest in life. When it comes to cats, we can’t exactly know if they have a mental state of sadness, but we can monitor their behavior to see if they feel disinterested in life and possibly have depression.
As I read about it, I learned that the most common situations that lead to depressive symptoms in cats are:
–Loss of a family member
–Moving to a new house
–Change in the family’s schedule
–A change in physical health
In Bruce’s case, he was hit by a triple blow. He was used to two people taking care of him and now there was only one. He also no longer saw his canine companion regularly. And besides living in a new apartment, my boyfriend recently started going back to the office three days a week instead of working 100% from home.
That’s a lot of change in a very short period of time, and it obviously rocked Bruce.
Many people still think cats are loners. However, depending on their experience and life situation, cats can be more or less social and, similar to humans, experience loss and grief.
If a family member moves out of the home or dies, the family cat suffers loss if it has had some social connection with that person. It is also not uncommon for cats to mourn when a roommate of a cat or dog walks or dies.
Aside from the stress of moving itself, moving from a large house to a smaller house or apartment would reduce the space a cat needs to explore and limit its activity, which can lead to depression.
How can you tell if your cat is depressed?
Some depressed cats may show very obvious changes in behavior while other cats show only subtle signs that you need to watch out for carefully.
Cats suffering from depression can show:
–Loss of interest in playing with their toys
–Less interest in interacting with cat / dog roommates or family members
– Decreased interest in going outside (if outdoor access is allowed)
–Increase the duration of sleep
–A less time for grooming (they have unkempt fur or mats)
–Increased frequency of urination in the litter box
– Soiling of the house or inconsistent use of the litter box. If your cat doesn’t use the litter box constantly, take it to your veterinarian for an exam.
Some of these signs can also occur in a cat if it has an underlying health problem.
Cats are predators to small creatures but prey to larger predators. As prey animals, cats have learned to hide the signs of physical illness very well. Therefore, it is always important to have your cat examined and diagnostic tests performed by your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical problems.
While cats can suffer from depression, there are many things you can do to improve their mental health. Here are a few suggestions:
More quality time. To help your depressed cat, you can spend more time with her. Just sitting with them and petting them can calm a depressed cat. Some cats like to rub their ears, scratch the side of the face or under the chin, or even get brushed.
Introduce some new toys. You can also try to rekindle your cat’s interest in life by keeping your cat engaged in more activities or by offering their new toys in different sizes, textures, and colors.
Take an active part in the play and use fishing rod-like toys to attract your cat. You can also offer puzzle toys that encourage your cat to work for tasty treats, or offer toys that move around the floor in unusual patterns or make interesting noises. Download games for cats to your mobile devices to keep your cat excited or subscribe to cat TV (yes, that’s a real thing!).
Try some new types of food. Some cats may show interest in different flavors or foods, or even in human foods such as cooked or fried chicken, yogurt, or cheese. Other cats can respond well to meat-based baby foods. Before feeding your cat human food, have your veterinarian determine the type and amount of food.
Play soothing music. There is soothing music especially for cats that you can find on YouTube such as: For example, a channel called Music for Cats, which some cats like. The music contains underlying traces of cat purrs and other frequencies of sounds that cats can hear. (Yes, that’s the way it is!)
Better life through chemistry. There are natural supplements available that contain L-theanine and L-tryptophan, which can increase serotonin in a cat’s brain to help fight depression. Serotonin is sometimes referred to as a “feel good neurotransmitter,” and higher levels are associated with feelings of calm and happiness.
Use pheromones and invigorating fragrances. Cat pheromones can calm cats. You can also offer your cats different scents such as mint, catnip, and rosemary to awaken their senses.
Consider adopting another cat. Some cats may enjoy the company of another cat. But be careful here. Even if your cat has been very social with a previous cat that has passed away, getting another cat may not be the answer. Your house cat may not want a replacement for its recently deceased roommate. One way to test this would be by caring for kittens.
Get professional help. You can also speak to your veterinarian about psychoactive medications for your cat. Ask a veterinary behaviorist for a recommendation on a tailored treatment plan and medicines to help your cat.
Change is part of life. And sometimes big changes happen all at once that throw us completely out of the game. The same goes for your pets. However, pretending it isn’t a problem won’t help. If your pet is showing signs of depression, be generous with your time and take the steps necessary to help them through their troubled times. Trust me, it’s worth it for all the purr you get in return!
Jack Hagerman is Vice President of Community Engagement at Pasadena Humane.