Depression in Cats

Written By Mel Lee-Smith
Published: 07/13/2021Updated: 07/14/2021
Depression in Cats

Symptoms of Depression in Cats

Depending on what's causing your cat's depression, you may notice other symptoms in addition to the signs listed below. (Vomiting and diarrhea are common side effects of medications that also cause depression in cats.)

Can cats get depressed? Yes — but not quite in the same way humans can. Whereas depression in humans is often chronic, depression in cats is typically fleeting. However, depression can also indicate a more serious condition. You shouldn't ignore any unusual behaviors that appear suddenly or for seemingly no reason. 

It's not like we can simply ask our cats if they're depressed. As attentive pet parents, it's up to us to observe our cats' behavior and make the right call for their health. What are the signs of depression in cats? Why do cats get depressed? Read on to find answers to these questions and a few more.

Causes of Depression in Cats

The primary causes of depression in cats include environmental factors, underlying medical conditions, and side effects of medications.

Environmental stress is a common cause of depression, particularly for indoor cats. Even something as harmless as moving your cat's litter box could cause depression. Other environmental causes of depression in cats include:

  • Boredom

  • Inconsistent daily routine

  • Lack of mental and physical stimulation

  • Major lifestyle changes, like moving into a new house or welcoming a new baby or pet into the family

Conditions and medications that may cause depression in cats include:

Diagnosis of Depression in Cats

Diagnosing depression is trickier in cats than humans. Consult your vet as soon as you notice any persistent or unusual changes in behavior.

Your veterinarian will ask about any recent changes in your life that may be affecting your cat. Before your visit, prepare a list of all the symptoms and behavioral changes you've noticed, as well as any major lifestyle changes, to make this process easier.

To rule out an underlying condition, your vet will perform a thorough exam, which may include blood and urine samples, X-rays, or other tests.

Treatment of Depression in Cats

Treating depression in cats can be a trial-and-error process. If another condition is causing your cat's depression, your vet will prescribe treatments and medications for that condition.

If the root cause of the depression is environmental, the first step is meeting the cat's needs. According to Merck Vet Manual, a cat's basic behavioral needs include feeding, drinking, hunting, playing, exploring, perching, climbing, scratching, and feeling secure. 

Even if those basic needs are met with a quality diet and scratching posts, there may be room for improvement. For example, if you only feed your cat once a day, your vet may recommend feeding them smaller portions at regular intervals. Other recommendations may include:

  • Changing the cat's food

  • Purchasing a new scratching post or perch

  • Offering new areas or boxes for your cat to explore

  • Increasing the frequency and variety of activity and exercise

  • Playing with small toys your cat can chase or bite to satisfy their need to hunt

In severe cases, antidepressants or serotonin antagonist reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed. These medications are used alongside (and not in lieu of) behavioral modification and environmental improvements.

Diagnosing and treating your cat’s depression as early as possible is imperative for their recovery. Failure to treat the causes and symptoms of depression can lead to more serious issues, like dehydration and anorexia.

Recovery of Depression in Cats

The recovery process will vary depending on the cause of your cat's depression. For most cats without underlying health conditions, depression is short-lived. Cats usually bounce back quickly once their humans change their environment or routine to better suit their needs. In cases where the environment itself — like a new house — is the issue, you'll simply need to wait it out while your cat adjusts.

For cats whose depression is caused by a health condition, the prognosis will vary based on the severity of the condition. Cats can recover from some conditions, like obesity, with relatively simple treatment methods like diet and exercise. Other conditions, like cancer, may require more intensive or palliative care.

If your cat is showing signs of depression, consult your vet right away. Behavioral changes are often the first indicator of a more serious condition.

Got questions about depression in cats? Chat with a vet now or submit your question below.
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