For example, people might search for “cat depressed won’t eat” or “depressed cat sleeping all the time” or “cat depressed hiding in litter box lethargic”.
The answers about cat depression are hinted at in these search terms – the last one clearly indicates a cat who is stressed due the presence of another cat and has retreated to her litter box smells for comfort. The Cat Channel website has a checklist. It is partly correct but I don’t agree with all of it. For example they say that excessive vocalization can indicate depression because it is the behavior of a cat who has lost a close companion. In this instance, I don’t think excessive vocalization is an expression of depression but of anxiety and loss. Depression follows. The same can be said about aggression. Aggression is not a sign of depression but the cause of a cat aggression may also cause depression (poor and hostile environment).
I also believe that we have to be careful in assessing cat depression from the feline perspective rather than the human perspective. We believe that cats are more able to live in the moment. This tends to shut out the sort of baggage that people carry around which can cause depression in humans. Cats don’t over-analyze the meaning of life which in humans is another source of depression.
This leads to the question about what causes cat depression. I think it’s important to check out the causes rather than simply listing the behaviour traits of a depressed cat.
In the index of books about cats, in my experience, you don’t see reference to depression in cats. You have to dig deeper than that. Many references to cat depression are as a symptom of feline illness. When a cat is ill she is likely to be depressed which means she will eat less and become lethargic. These are the symptoms of depressed people as well. There is a lack of motivation to do things including eating. A depressed cat may also groom less. When cats are ill they might find a quiet place where they can hide so another behavioral trait of a depressed cat is finding such a place.
In finding a place to hide there is an overlap with another reason why a cat might become at least unhappy (because depression might be too strong a word). If the environment in which she lives, for any reason, is unsatisfactory and causes constant, chronic stress then a cat might find a place to hide (a cat might also scratch more). Anxiety and stress can lead to depression if the cat is unable do anything about improving her environment. This is a lack of control and once again we can refer to human behaviour because a lack of control for humans is also another powerful reason for depression.
A typical reason why a cat might become depressed for environmental reasons is because she is bullied by a more dominant cat and has no place to hide. Another reason is that the environment is wholly unsatisfactory, for example, the home of a cat hoarder where the cats are forced together in unhealthy conditions and neglected.
There are then two major influences which can depress the mood of a cat: the environment and her health. The major signs of depression in a cat are lethargy and a loss of appetite. Lethargy affects all aspects of behavior; even an unwillingness to be disturbed which may result in unfriendly behavior towards the cat’s caretaker.
The signs of cat depression are observable provided the cat caretaker is observant and is familiar with her cat’s normal behavior. This is part of good cat caretaking. Changes in cat behavior tending to lethargy should be treated as a sign that there may be health issues that require checking out. A veterinary visit is usually demanded. If cat health is assessed as good, the cat owner should ask some tough questions about the environment she has created for her cat(s).