Is Cat Depression Real?

Published Sep. 22, 2021
brown tabby cat lying on a white sheet and looking sad


People with depression experience persistent feelings of sadness and a lack of interest in life. When it comes to cats, it’s impossible to know if they experience the mental state of sadness, but we can observe their behaviors to determine whether they experience a lack of interest in life and may be suffering from depression.

Here’s some helpful info and signs to watch for to help you understand your cat’s mental state.

Can a Cat Be Depressed?

Yes, your cat can get depressed. Some possible situations that lead to depressive signs in cats include:

  • Loss of a family member

  • Moving to a new house

  • A change in the family’s schedule

  • A change in physical health

Loss of a Family Member

Many people still think of cats as solitary in nature. However, cats can be more or less social, depending on their experiences and living situations, and they can experience loss and grief similar to people.

When a family member moves out of the house or passes away, the family cat will experience a loss if they had a social connection to that person. It is also not uncommon for cats to grieve when a feline or canine housemate leaves or dies.

Moving to a New House

A change from the current living environment to something new can be stressful to both pet and pet guardian.

Aside from the stress of the move itself, moving from a large house to a smaller house or apartment would cut down the amount of space a cat has to explore and may restrict their level of activity, leading to depression.

In addition, when a cat that is used to having access to the outdoors moves to an apartment where they can’t go outside, they can become depressed.

Changes in the Family’s Schedule

When your work schedule changes and you’re absent for longer periods of time, your cat’s mental state may be affected. Also, when you go away on vacation and your cat is either left with a pet sitter or sent to a boarding place, your cat has no way of knowing that you will come back for them, so they may experience depression.

Changes in Physical Health

If an active cat starts to develop arthritis and can no longer jump up to their comfy spot on the couch, bed, or window, it can be depressing and lead to a loss of enrichment. As a result, your cat can become depressed.

In situations when a cat experiences a sudden loss of a limb or an eye, or they start losing their sight, that would totally affect how they navigate in the world. Some cats may adjust really well, but an older cat may take longer to adjust and may become depressed.

How Can You Tell if a Cat Is Depressed?

Some depressed cats may exhibit very obvious changes in behavior, whereas other cats may only exhibit subtle signs that you need to carefully look for.

Cats experiencing depression may show:

  • Decreased appetite

  • Loss of interest in playing with their toys

  • Less interest in interacting with feline or canine housemates or family members

  • Increased vocalizations

  • Decreased interest in going outside (if allowed outdoor access)

  • An increase in the amount of time spent sleeping

  • A decreased in the amount of time spent grooming (they have an unkept coat or mats)

  • Increased frequency of urination in the litter box

  • House soiling or not consistently using their litter box. Whenever a cat does not consistently use the litter box, take your cat to your vet to be examined.

Some of these signs can also be exhibited by a cat if they have an underlying health problem. Cats are predators to small creatures but prey to larger predators. As prey animals, cats have learned to hide the signs of any physical illness really well. Therefore, it is always important to have your cat examined by your veterinarian and diagnostic tests performed to rule out any underlying medical problems.

Do Indoor Cats Get Depressed?

It is easier to determine if an indoor cat is depressed because you see them more often. But outdoor cats can also experience depression.

Remember that depression in cats is a state of mind that is reflected by an overall decrease in activity. Your cat is no longer engaging in activities they once enjoyed, and they are sleeping more and more. So instead of exploring the yard or neighborhood, your cat may stay in one area of the yard or may not even go out at all.

How Do You Cheer Up a Cat That’s Depressed?

Although cats can experience depression, there are many things you can do to help them improve their mental health.

Spend Quality Time With Your Cat

To help your depressed cat, you can spend more time with them. Just sitting with them and petting them can soothe to a depressed cat. Some cats may enjoy ear rubs, scratches on the side of their face or under the chin, or even being brushed.

Introduce New Toys and Games

You can also try to spark your cat’s interest in life again by engaging your cat in more activities or offering them new toys of different sizes, textures, and colors.

Actively participate in playing, using fishing pole-type toys to entice your cat. You can also offer puzzle toys to encourage your cat to work for tasty treats, or provide toys that move around the floor in unusual patterns or make interesting noises. Download games made for cats to your mobile devices to engage your cat or subscribe to cat TV.

Offer New Types of Food

Some cats may show interest in different flavors or brands of food, or even human food such as boiled or roasted chicken, yogurt, or cheese. Other cats may respond well to meat-based baby food. Before feeding your cat human food, have your vet okay the type and amount of food.

Play Calming Music

There is soothing music designed specifically for cats that you can find on YouTube, such as a channel called “Music for Cats” that some cats may enjoy. The music contains underlying tracks of cats purring and other frequencies of sound that cats can hear.

Try Supplements

There are natural supplements that contain l-theanine and l-tryptophan that can increase serotonin in a cat’s brain to help combat depression. Serotonin is sometimes known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, and higher levels are connected to feelings of calm and happiness.

Use Pheromones and Invigorating Scents

Feline pheromones may be calming to cats. You can also offer your cats different scents, such as mint, catnip, and rosemary to waken their senses.

Consider Adopting Another Cat

Some cats may enjoy the companionship of another cat. However, careful consideration is needed. Even if your cat was very social with a previous feline housemate who passed away, getting another cat may not be the right answer. Your resident cat may not want a replacement for their recently departed housemate. 

Get Professional Help

You can also speak to your regular veterinarian regarding psychoactive medication for your cat. Ask for a recommendation for a veterinary behaviorist for a customized treatment plan and pharmaceuticals to help your cat.

Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB


Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB


Dr. Wailani Sung has a passion for helping owners prevent or effectively manage behavior problems in companion animals, enabling them to...

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