Can cats be bipolar?

Can domestic cats suffer from bipolar disorder? A lot of websites answer the question. They seem to be saying, anecdotally, that domestic cats can suffer from this condition. But I seriously doubt that they are correct. What is bipolar disorder? It’s a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings. The episodes of extreme highs and lows can last for several weeks. It’s treated with talking therapies and medicines.

Feline Mental Health
Feline Mental Health. Image: MikeB
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

It is a human condition. I have to confess, right away, that I do have a certain amount of scepticism about labelling human behaviour as a medical condition. Sometimes what I would argue could be normal human behaviour within a wide range of behaviours is then labelled by doctors and physicians as a “condition” such as ADHD and autism. I’m not saying they are wrong but I do question it.

And we don’t know enough about cat mental health to be able to say with any confidence that domestic cats can suffer from bipolar disorder. It is entirely misplaced to say we can with confidence.

There is simply no reference whatsoever in the veterinary textbooks that I have on domestic cats to bipolar disorder. There are no studies on domestic cats suffering from bipolar disorder. If it was apparent in symptoms there’d be studies and references.

There is one study on the effect that domestic dogs and cats have on a person suffering from bipolar disorder. But that, obviously, is not the same thing. Incidentally, they found that exposure to a household pet dog is linked with a significant decrease in a subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia. But I digress.

We know that domestic cats can be down and depressed. We know that they can be content and happy. We know that they feel emotions but were unsure about the extent of these emotions and how complex they can be.

So, it’s possible a domestic cat can be depressed for several weeks because of the environment in which they live. And their mood might lift because the environment improves. They might show signs of contentment.

Under the circumstances an “expert” might conclude that the cat is bipolar. I would conclude that the cat is reacting to the environment in which they live. Bipolar disorder is internally driven. The highs and lows are not created through environmental changes but through brain chemistry.

We don’t know enough about feline brain chemistry and feline mental health disorders to answer the question with any degree of certainty.

Therefore, I would have to say that people should ignore all these bold statements on the Internet with one author following another blindly.

A rather sensible article written by Dr. Debra, a veterinarian on the Pet Place website includes the following sentence: “I’ve never heard of this being diagnosed in cats. One problem may be that we don’t easily recognise clinical depression in pets.”

She was responding to a question from the public: “Can cats have bipolar disorder?” And her answer is that she doesn’t know, which is the correct answer.

I’d be very surprised if cats do suffer from this condition. But we won’t know until a lot more work has been conducted on the topic and I suspect that we will never get to the point where that work has been carried out because it is not really relevant to our lives.

I don’t think there’s ever been a domestic cat which shows clear signs of suffering from bipolar. I’m sure, by the way, that people are misdiagnosed with bipolar when they are simply depressed and happy in that sequence. Overdiagnosis is a problem among the medical profession. Let’s hope it doesn’t infiltrate the veterinary profession.

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