Sad Cat Is Sad

Spot the signs of a depressed cat with this checklist of common cat depression symptoms.

By Helen Jablonski

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Sad Cat
A dip in your cat's activity level could signal depression.
Cat Hiss
Hissing cats who have never hissed before might suffer from depression. Also, those that vocalize after the death of another cat might be mourning the loss.
Depressed Cat Food
A cat who has lost interest in food might be blue.

It’s human to feel down, blue or even depressed sometimes. Believe it or not, your cat can feel this way, too. Behaviorists first recognized depression in cats in the 1990s.

"Cat depression is an abnormal behavior in which the cat shows a change in activity, change in vocalization and usually a decrease in appetite,” says veterinary behaviorist Katherine Houpt, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y. "Depression in cats is not very common, or at least it isn’t recognized as a quiet, less active cat doesn’t bother the owner.”

Cats can become depressed after a major disruption in their lives, such as moving, adding or losing a family member, or having their owner’s schedule change. The most common cause of depression in cats is the loss of a friend.

If you think your cat may be depressed, go through our Cat Depression Checklist:

1) Cats normally sleep a lot, but you will notice if your cat’s activity level decreases, he lacks energy or seems to be asleep all the time. Does your cat sleep more than usual?
Yes No

2) Has your normally friendly and outgoing cat started to hide under beds, cower in corners and generally avoid interacting with her family and companions?
Yes No

3) Does your cat seem less interested in his daily meals and fail to empty his food dish as he used to?
Yes No

4) Has your cat stopped grooming herself?
Yes No

5) Has your cat started spraying or stopped using his litter box properly?
Yes No

6) Is your cat more aggressive, exhibiting uncharacteristic biting, scratching or hissing behaviors?
Yes No

7) Excessive vocalization often occurs when a cat loses a close companion, whether it’s another cat, dog or person. The cat will roam around the house meowing, as if trying to find her missing buddy. Does your cat cry or meow more than normal?
Yes No

All of these symptoms could indicate that your cat is depressed or has a medical condition, so it’s important to take your cat to your veterinarian for a thorough checkup. If the vet gives your cat a clean bill of health, then discuss the possibility of depression and what you can do about it.

"Generally, we think that depression is associated with a poor immune system,” says Houpt. Because a distressed immune system can leave your cat susceptible to other illnesses, try to alleviate his depression as soon as possible.

If your cat displays any of the behaviors on our checklist, don’t worry. Talk it over with your veterinarian and make an effort to give your feline friend some extra love and attention. Petting, grooming, playing with and talking to your cat will help her feel loved.

Remember, your cat depends on you for both her physical and emotional care.

Helen Jablonski is a feline behavior consultant and freelance writer in Malvern, Ohio.  She shares her life with her fiancé and their eight cats.

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Reader Comments

Pamela    Watertown, WI

7/27/2014 8:39:31 AM

came back from a few days of being gone away from home, we usually leave our cat for 2 to 3 days with no problem this time we left for about 5 days. When we came home he had vomited and then vomited several more times. He has not vomited anymore, he is still drinking water and voiding, he just lays around the house will not eat or play, and when we try to pick him up we get a faint meow, he will let us pet him but just very lazy and not eating, even after trying several different types and flavors.

Loretta    International

7/20/2014 2:20:52 PM

We went away on holiday and put our 4 year old Siamese at a cat only boarding kennel.She had been there before. We were gone for 10 nights. Our cat is now what I would call depressed...real change in personality, not interested in her toys and mostly just sleeps on the couch. I am worried about her.

Met    Albuquerque, NM

7/16/2014 11:30:21 AM

@International Caroline, It does sound like your girl is depressed. I suspect she has a more atypical presentation of depression; in humans, sleeping more, overeating, and being seriously lethargic are symptoms of atypical depression, which is another manifestation. So, I suspect that animals can have the same deal. I'd call the vet and see if they do any treatments for it, but you may have to get a cat behaviorist involved. I've heard that some cats are given Prozac (fluoxetine) for anxiety or stress, and that may help her to cope and recover from her sister's death.

I really hope this helps. I'm so sorry for your and your cat's loss.

Jax    International

7/8/2014 6:17:57 AM

My cats depressed shud i get another kitten or will it make him worse

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