Feline Depression: Is Your Cat Sad?

Depression isn’t just for humans. There are a lot of reasons why your cat might be exhibiting symptoms of being sad or forlorn.

By: kodomut
Yes, cats get depressed, too. By: kodomut

Back in high school, my friend Kathy did some cleaning for a family she knew. The people had a lovely Siamese cat, but they didn’t pay much attention to her.

Now, Siamese are the orchids of the cat world. They crave one-on-one time with their humans; without it, they wilt. Kathy couldn’t help seeing how forlorn this particular one was and made a point of playing with her.

Ms. Siamese was overjoyed. Finally, somebody was cuddling and playing with her. During those visits with Kathy, she bloomed.

“My Cat Is Sad”

We’ve all seen Tom Cox’s “My cat is sad because…” posts. They’re quirky, off-the-wall and most of us get a good chuckle out of them.

But the reality is a lot less amusing. Depression is not the sole property of humans, as animal behaviorists realized in the 1990s. Cats can and do get depressed, too.

Feline depression is “an abnormal behavior in which the cat shows a change in activity, change in vocalization and usually a decrease in appetite,” according to Katherine Houpt, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She believes that such depression “is not very common, or at least it isn’t recognized as such as a quiet, less active cat doesn’t bother the owner.”

Your cat’s funk can be triggered by anything from a change in food or kitty litter to a death in the household. It doesn’t matter whether the death in question is human or feline. Our old cat, Kilah, became despondent after her sister Cricket died; as did Woody, our black-and-white “cow-cat,” when my husband, his special person, died.

Physical Health or Mental Health Issue?

Depression can manifest itself in different ways with different cats.

  • One might lose interest in playing and sleep more.
  • Another might stop eating or grooming.
  • And a third might be so miserable that he starts hiding or acting out aggressively.

You need to eliminate any health problems first, of course.

“It is a well-known fact that cats are masters at hiding illness,” observes Veterinary Pet Insurance. “[Hidden] illness must be ruled out by a thorough veterinary examination and consultation prior to treatment for behavioral depression of cats.”

Sins of Omission

Sometimes, as with Kathy’s Siamese buddy, neglect is at the root of the problem. It may not be a conscious case of neglect — a lot of people think that cats, unlike dogs, can amuse themselves and don’t require much, if any, interaction with humans.

So, make a point to spend more time with your favorite feline, “especially if there’s been a change in routine or another person or pet has moved in,” advises the Mother Nature Network.

Break out the cat toys. Kitty fishing rods are always popular. I usually have to work 2 at a time so that everybody gets his or her claws in on the action. Some cats love retrieving, and my Abys have always been in love with the laser toys.

The Big Move

Changing residences is another sure-fire way to set the feline blues in motion.

Currently we have a lodger cat, Violet, living with us until her person gets re-settled. She was unhappy when she came here and refused to leave her carrier with its familiar blankets and scents.


She gradually started coming out more and more. Her depression didn’t really lift until her person came for a visit last week, however. Violet purred the entire time.

In the video below, behaviorist Warren Eckstein explains more about depression in both dogs and cats:

YouTube player

Making It Better

The general feeling is that antidepressants are a last resort; even then, they need to be coupled with behavior-modification techniques.

There are some other things you can do for your feline:

  • Provide a stimulating environment and lots of exercise.
  • Leave the blinds and curtains open so that your cat can watch the birds and other wildlife outside.
  • Cat trees and perches are also a must. Consider buying a window perch.
  • Catnip parties usually mellow my cats out. However, Veterinary Pet Insurance advises using it with caution, as “some cats will become overly aggressive and excited when exposed to this ‘kitty drug.’”

And sometimes a new friend really does help. It was the arrival of Keisha, a blue-tortoiseshell kitten, that helped put our Kilah’s world back together again.