Any cat owner can tell you that their cat’s mood changes frequently. Sometimes we know why they are down, and other times we are left guessing. Our feline friends can be sensitive to life’s changes and suffer changes in mood just like their human family members. Cats do not show their emotions as overtly as some other species and tend to withdraw and become quieter when they are sad. Naturally, we want our pets to be happy so let’s find out more about why cats get depressed and how to spot the subtle signs of sadness in cats to provide the best possible care and get them feeling fine.
Signs of a Depressed Cat
Cats are subtle and complicated in the way they communicate with other felines and with their human family. Taking time to learn their body language can help to strengthen the bond with your cat. You can learn the signs that they are happy, fearful, or when they want to be left alone. Stressed or sad cats may adopt a posture low to the ground to try and hide away. Their ears might be flat against their head, and they may have wide, dilated pupils.
Sleeping more than usual
Cats sleep a lot normally, so it can be difficult to judge if your cat is sleeping excessively. If they change their sleeping habits, particularly if this is not in line with normal seasonal variations, or change the location of their favourite nap spot then this can be a sign of stress or sadness.
You can learn the signs that they are happy, fearful, or when they want to be left alone. Stressed or sad cats may adopt a posture low to the ground to try and hide away.
Grooming is a natural behaviour in cats and essential for coat maintenance and scent distribution. Some cats will overgroom during stressful situations to make themselves feel better, whereas others may withdraw and groom less if they are depressed. Pain can also be a cause for changes to their grooming pattern, so if this persists then a trip to the vet may be indicated.
Aggression or fear
Changes in your cat’s behaviour that are out of the ordinary may be a sign of low mood in your feline friend. Being more reactive, hissing, or swiping at human or other feline family members could be indications they are feeling less tolerant or sad.
No interest in activities
Depressed cats are more likely to hide away and interact less with their social structure – either other animals or people. A sad cat may lose interest in activities such as toys or games, and become quiet or clingier.
Most cat owners will have witnessed their cats squeezing themselves into the tiniest of spaces or making a bed out of the least comfortable-looking objects! Cats love to hide and often have several favourite nap spots around the house (often the ones we haven’t encouraged!). However, changes to their normal routine, or hiding away and not interacting with owners when they are home could be a sign of sadness in cats.
Changes in appetite
Sad or stressed cats may eat less or change their feeding habits, such as only eating at night. This may relate to changes in the environment, such as a noisy or busy household, new pets in the house, or changes to their social hierarchy meaning eating in view of other cats is stressful. As a general rule, cats do not like sharing food and water bowls with other animals and like a quiet, secluded space to dine in.
Reasons why a cat gets depressed
There are several reasons why a cat can get depressed. Cats live as solitary animals but within part of a group and can form close human and feline bonds. They can grieve when the dynamics of a relationship are lost.
Cats are unable to tell us when they are sick or injured. When cats are unwell, they generally present with subtle signs that include changes to their appetite, hiding away, interacting less with family members, and lethargy. These are not dissimilar to signs of depression or sadness in cats. If signs of sadness persist in your cat, or you are concerned they are unwell then schedule a visit to your vet as soon as possible.
Cats grieve at the loss of loved ones, whether that is a human or furry member of the family.
Your cat’s interactions with people and the environment can be a significant source of stress for cats, particularly if this environment suddenly changes. Cats have complex social structures and form part of a hierarchy with other cats – either those they live with or other cats in the neighbourhood. Territory wars both indoors and outdoors are common and changes to the hierarchy may cause significant stress for some cats, particularly if this means losing some of their territory. For some cats being confined indoors, being bored, or having restricted access to hiding places or litter trays can be very stressful. New cats in the neighbourhood or new furry friends joining your house can be a significant source of stress for cats of any age. Sudden changes to their environment, such as changing furniture, building work, or moving house can be very stressful for cats as this alters their social hierarchy, may block entry or exit points from the house, or disrupt their territory.
Cats grieve at the loss of loved ones, whether that is a human or furry member of the family. Cats can form close bonds with other animals, including dogs, and changes to their family structure can trigger grief and sadness. For most cats, this is temporary, and they recover over time.
How to Help Your Depressed Cat
All cats are different and getting to know your feline friend will help you learn what they need and when. Cats love routine so they will appreciate meals and playtime on a schedule. Try to keep separate areas for feeding, toileting, sleep, and play and allow for different hiding areas for cats to escape other animals and people in the house when they need some quiet time. If other cats are causing your feline friend’s woes, then consider ways to divide up the territory so they each have access to their own feeding station and litter area. Feline-specific pheromone spray can be a great way to reduce stress, particularly if there are new animals in the house or changes to your cat’s environment.
Cats want your attention and love, so often just spending quality time with your furry friend can help them out of their cat depression. Take time to sit with them, but don’t force affection upon them, play with them and groom them.
Cats are emotional and can get stressed or depressed. Signs of an unhappy cat are subtle, so it is essential to know some of the common causes of sadness in cats. It is also important to remember that illness in cats can present in similar, subtle ways. If your cat has persistent signs of sadness, or you are concerned about changes to their appetite, routine, or activity then it is important to seek veterinary attention to ensure they are not in pain or have a physical illness.