Do Cats Get Depressed? Here’s What You Should Know

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/20/20242-4 minutes
black cat and girl

We never like to think of our animals as being unhappy, or feeling sad, but although they may not experience feelings in the same way that we do, sometimes they can suffer from the feline equivalent of depression.

Lots of things might cause a cat to feel a bit down in the dumps. For example, most cat owners tend to think of their cats as independent creatures, who prefer to be alone. But that is not always true. Some cats like to be cuddled and loved, and sometimes a lack of affection can lead them to feel blue. Knowing what signs to look out for will help you to determine whether your cat is depressed or not. Continue reading to find out all you need to know about depression in cats.

Can Cats Be Depressed?

Cats can suffer from a kitty form of depression for various reasons. There are a few feline behavioral changes such as your cat sleeping more often, loss of appetite and loss of interest in play, that may be a sign that your cat has become depressed. Always seek veterinary advice if you notice changes in your cat’s behavior.

What Causes Depression in Cats?

There are other changes which can lead to depression in cats. These include:

  • Moving to a new home

  • A drastic change in routine

  • A change in their physical health

  • Boredom

  • Loss of a family member 

Many cats are outgoing, so it may be difficult to spot such changes in their behavior. However, when you notice that your cat is a bit quieter than usual, or doesn’t seem as interested in everyday activities, keep in mind that this could be a sign of depression in cats. It might also be a sign that your cat is medically unwell, so it is important to book a check-up with a vet.

Can Indoor Cats Get Depressed?

Indoor cats can also experience depression, and it may be easier to notice their behavioral changes as you tend to see them more often.

If your cat is no longer engaging in daily activities they once enjoyed, and they are sleeping more often, then this may be a sign of depression.

Cat Depression After Getting a New Kitten

Cats can become depressed if a new kitten is introduced to their home or territory. They can show this by withdrawing from eating or becoming more absent from daily activities. Cats are territorial creatures and they use their pheromones to mark their territory. Introducing a new kitten to its territory may leave your cat feeling as though its space has been invaded. They may also miss your undivided attention!

Signs of Depression in Cats

Spotting behavioral changes early will give you the best possible chance of helping your cat get back to its normal self as soon as possible. Sometimes the behavioral changes will be very obvious, but on other occasions, the signs may be more subtle.

To help you spot the signs of depression in cats, keep a look out for these behavioral changes:

Excessive Scratching

Cats love to scratch as it keeps their claws sharp. This is also part of their territory marking behavior – when a cat scratches an object, pheromones are released from the paw pads which get distributed onto the object. This is one way in which cats mark their territory, and it helps to make them feel at ease.
   
If you notice your cat is scratching surfaces more than usual, then this could be a sign that your cat is stressed and may even be depressed.

Change in Appetite

In some cat depression cases, you may notice that your cat’s eating habits have changed. They may start eating more than usual, or their appetite may reduce. However, in some situations, your cat may cease eating altogether and will subsequently start to lose weight.

It is important to note that changes in appetite are more usually caused by medical issues, so if your cat changes their habits towards eating and drinking, you should book a check-up with your vet.

Vocal Clues

Some cats can be extremely vocal when it comes to expressing their emotions; in these cases, a change in this behavior will be easy to spot. If you notice that your cat is being more or less vocal than usual, then this may be a sign that there is something wrong. If your cat is making unhappy noises, these may sound low-pitched and mournful. Cats that are normally quite vocal, may become quieter and those that are normally quiet may become louder if suffering from depression.

It is important to note that a cat’s purr does not always indicate happiness – even cats that are unhappy or in pain may purr.

Body Language

Your cat’s body language will be a tell-tail sign when it comes to figuring out if they are suffering from depression or not. Body positions such as having their ears held back, tail tucked underneath them, hair standing on end, or eyes seeming wider than normal, are all signs of possible stress, anxiety or depression in cats.

Grooming Changes

Cats are notoriously clean animals, so if you spot your cat’s grooming routine being neglected, this may be a sign that they are suffering from depression. Cats that suffer from depression will neglect themselves when it comes to grooming, which will lead them to look untidy and messy. Depression in cats can be a cause of grooming changes. If you notice this behavior, contact your vet immediately.

Aggression

Depression in cats can spike a rise in aggression and reactiveness. Cats that are suffering from depression can become a lot more aggressive and can include aggressive behaviors such as hissing, biting, chasing and growling.

How to Make Your Depressed Cat Happy?

There are many ways to make your cat much happier, especially when you suspect that they may be feeling down.

Plenty of Playtimes

This is especially important if you have a house cat or a breed that shouldn’t be an outdoor cat. Cats need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, so playing with your cat will keep them busy and help reduce any behavioral problems.

Give Them Plenty of Safe Spaces

Depression in cats can make your cat become more withdrawn than normal, and often, they will seek out a safe place to hide. Offering your cat a hideaway when they want to remove themselves from a stressful situation will offer them the opportunity to calm down and feel safe.

Use Catnip

Catnip is a plant regularly used for its unique calming effect on cats. It is a plant that belongs to the mint family and contains an oil called nepetalactone. When cats rub against or chew cat nip, the oil produces a natural high that is harmless and temporary, but cats find pleasure in this. Catnip can be helpful for cats that suffer from anxiety, or depression, as it can have a calming effect.

Cats that are suffering from behavioral issues such as depression may show this in different ways or hardly show it at all. Keeping a close eye on your cat’s overall behavior will enable you to notice any slight changes. Remember that behavioral changes can also have a medical cause, and if you notice any changes in your cat, then you should always seek medical advice from your vet.
 
Cats can become depressed for many reasons, from illness to life changes, but making sure you keep an eye on their behavior and overall demeanor will help you make sure they are happy. For more tips from Purina experts on cat health, explore our other cat symptoms articles.

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