“Cats get depressed over many of the same things we do” These are the words of a well known cat behaviorist in America, Pam Johnson-Bennett. The words are from her equally well known book: Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well Adjusted Cat Not a Sour Puss.
I was a bit surprised when I read them. Pam goes on to make a short list of events that can depress mood: “death, divorce, illness, loneliness, you name it….”
The point that she is surely making is that a cat’s guardian is affected by the death of a loved one, or by a divorce, a house move, severe illness and loneliness etc.. In turn, the cat is affected by the altered behavior if his guardian. These sorts of events in our life can make us feel depressed. Our mood is picked up by our cat. In addition, a depressed person will be less active and less interested in their cat. It follows that there will be less petting, playing etc.. Furthermore, strangers may come into the home and disturb the place. These things can upset a cat.
It could be said that a cat’s mood can be changed “vicariously”1 through his caretaker/guardian. These sorts of experiences can also make a cat depressed directly. The loss of a cat or dog companion is an example. Of course the death of the caretaker herself may also cause the cat to become depressed. The impact depends on the nature of the relationship and the individual cat’s character.
You can picture the scenario. A middle-aged woman is divorced by her husband who has gone off with a younger woman. She is shocked and her life is overturned. She might shoo away her cat when he wants to do the usual things such as sleep next to her or go on her lap. If a cat caretaker does this many times it will confuse a cat and create anxiety and confusion, which may be compounded by other unusual happenings in the home which triggers depression.
For many people, the difficulty with cats is recognising with certainty the symptoms of cat depression. So what are they? Once again, they are similar the signs of depression in a person:
- A change in routine.
- Passivity, lethargy, being less sociable, being quiet, hiding, sleeping more and staying out of the way.
- A deterioration in the cat’s grooming habits.
- A loss or partial loss of appetite – more picky with food?
- A possible change in use of the litter box.
A cat that is in pain can also demonstrate these signs because pain causes a depressed mood. We all know that. My cat became depressed through terminal illness and being strongly medicated. The outstanding behavioral change was that she spent almost all her time in the garden, outside, day and night, sleeping. The picture above is of her at the beginning of her terminal illness.
How do you bring the spark back to a depressed cat? If the depression was indirectly caused by the reduced mood, irritability and lack of activity of his caretaker, the obvious remedy has to be a change in mood of the caretaker. Once she begins to get over the crisis her cat should pick up. That may take a long time or it may never happen sufficiently.
I would have thought that in the most extreme cases rehoming a cat may be an answer. Mood enhancing drugs must be the last resort because the cure is to remove the causes. As stated the cause is the environment created by the caretaker.
It would make sense to consult the cat’s veterinarian as well. Mood changes as mentioned can be caused by illness. This needs to be investigated.
As far as I am concerned there are two prime reasons for a depressed cat: the environment created by the caretaker and/or the cat’s health.
A little bit of play time for mood enhancement:
Picking up the mood of the environment should pay dividends: interactive play and environmental enrichment (making the home more stimulating for the cat) come to mind. An obvious choice of cat product would be a nice tree or climber of some sort next to the window. Cat tunnels are usually popular too. Above all, proper cat-friendly interaction with a cat will be a mood enhancer provided he is not ill.
Another obvious solution is to adopt another cat is he is the sole cat of the house. However, it is important that they get on from day one otherwise it would work in the opposite way to that which was intended: create additional stresses.
Finally, bearing in mind a cat might neglect his grooming a nice grooming session should please him and improve his coa. I comb Charlie with a flea-comb (very close prongs) as he has a single coat. It stimulates his sebaceous glands in the skin and massages him simultaneously. He likes the feel of it and it leaves his coat glossy. Cats like their coats to be in good condition.
- Definition of “vicariously”: Felt or undergone as if one were taking part in the experience or feelings of another