Just like humans, cats can exhibit symptoms of depression. These include changes in appetite, behavior, and activity level. Some depressed cats might act out by urinating or defecating outside their cat litter box, while others may exhibit physical symptoms including nausea and lethargy.
“Our pets experience the same gamut of emotions that we as people do,” says Dr. Rachel Barrack of New York City’s Animal Acupuncture. “And just like people, our cats are individuals.” Each pet experiences and exhibits signs of depression differently, she said.
If you suspect your cat is depressed, here are six simple steps you can take to help her get back to her old self.
Go To The Vet
The symptoms of depression can mirror those of many serious medical conditions, including diabetes, kidney failure and pancreatitis.
“Most major medical diseases cause some kind of discomfort,” says Barrack. “The cat could be in pain and it’s manifesting as signs of depression.” Bring your pet to the vet immediately to rule out anything serious, she says.
Try To Pinpoint The Cause
“Once we rule out a medical condition, the most common cause of depression in cats is a change in their environment,” says Barrack.
A move, a new work schedule, or the addition of a new family member (be it furry or human) to the household can all be stressful events for pets. Cats may also experience depression when they’re first adopted and brought into a new home, or after the death of an owner or companion animal.
Reflect on recent changes in the cat’s environment and see if you can find potential causes of the depression.
“It’s important to address the root of the problem and not just the symptoms that your cat is showing,” says Barrack.
Spend Time Together
“Cats are not pack animals like dogs, but they do require interaction,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian and author of several books including “From Needles to Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing”.
Often just spending quality time with your cat can help him get out of his funk, she explains.
Stop and give your cat at least a moment of attention every time you’re in the same room. Take time to sit with him, hold him, and play with him every day. Let him know you’re there for him.
“Don’t forget the power that a warm spoken word, stroking of the fur, or cuddling can offer,” said Dr. Shelby Neely, a cat veterinarian and behaviorist based in the Philadelphia area. “Cats are not the aloof, independent creatures they’ve been made out to be. They very much want your attention and love.”
Encourage Them to Play
Sometimes the signs of depression can be a manifestation of boredom, says Neely. If you engage cats in enriching play they’ll be healthier and happier.
“Imagine how cats hunt in the wild for their prey. They stalk, pounce, climb, leap into the air, all the while using their keen senses of vision, smell, and hearing,” she says. “Allowing them to imitate these behaviors indoors will help keep them entertained and happy.”
Give your cat toys he can play with by himself as well as toys you can use together. Cat toys that move on their own and/or mirror the appearance of prey are all great tools for engaging your cat.
Laser lights are also fun, says Morgan, but be sure to give your pet something to catch. Chasing a light constantly with no reward can make a sad cat even more frustrated.
Give Them A Place To Climb And Hide
Cats are climbers. In the wild, they seek out high vantage points to survey the terrain and hide from predators.
You might be able to cheer up your cat by giving him vertical places to play and act out his natural instincts, says Morgan. Tall cat trees, window ledge perches, and climbing posts are all excellent solutions, she adds.
If you’ve brought new people or pets into the home, it’s also important cats have a place to go when they need some privacy.
“Cats like to have their own space,” says Barrack. “Give them an enclosed space they can retreat to comfortably for some personal time.”
Call In The Experts
If the above suggestions don’t help your cat get out of her funk, it may be time to call in the experts.
A board-certified animal behaviorist or veterinarian may be able to help with behavior modification exercises or other treatments—such as acupuncture, nutritional supplements, homeopathic treatments—that will help your pet.
No matter the cause of your cat’s depression, it’s important to get the advice of a professional. All cats are different and treatment will be based on an individual cat’s symptoms.
“With depression and any other medical condition, one size doesn’t fit all,” says Barrack. “It’s important to speak to your doctor to determine what’s best for this specific animal in this specific situation.”
Helen Anne Travis is a freelance writer based in Tampa, FL. She also writes for CNN, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail.