After the loss of our dear friend Simon, one of our most beloved founders here at MadCatDiaries.com, we Cats noticed something happening. Oh sure, we lay around a lot. Oh sure, we sleep 20 hours a day. Oh sure, we lick and groom a lot. Oh sure, we walk away from our food only to beg our Humans for it later. But hey, we enjoy all that stuff.
So, what’s happening? There seems to be a general malaise settling in around our little community. The Cats and Humans all are, well, just not right. Could it be that we are depressed? Could it be that the sadness has lingered and not working its way through?
The Humans have talked it out and, yes, they are depressed. And, yes, the Humans are able to figure out what they need to do. Because they know what happened!
But we Cats don’t have a voice, to speak of (sorry.) We are trying to communicate in the only ways we know how – with our behavior. Have the Human’s noticed? We are not sure. One thing we know for sure…
Cats can suffer depression, too.
Some Humans who should know (like Katherine Houpt, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y.) recognized depression in Cats way back in the 1990s.
She said; “Cat depression is an abnormal behavior in which the cat shows a change in activity, change in vocalization and usually a decrease in appetite. Depression in cats is not very common, or at least it isn’t recognized, as a quiet less active cat doesn’t bother the owner.”
Just like Humans, when Cats suffer a major disruption in our life (things as simple as moving out of a beloved home to things as complicated as losing a best friend) we suffer. As a matter of fact, according to experts like Katherine Houpt, the biggest and most common cause of depression in cats is the loss of a friend – Human or Cat.
We Cats have relatively short lives. We spend most of our lives with only one, two, or three Humans and Cats. Is it any wonder that when one of those leaves us we get confused, sad, and depressed? We can’t rationalize WHY our friend is no longer with us. Unlike Humans, there is no manual for healing; no 5 stages of grief laid out for us. One day we have our friend, our companion, our playmate. The next day… gone.
How can our Human know what we are feeling? How can our Human know something is wrong? How can our Human know if we are truly depressed?
There are signs to help the Humans recognize depression in us Cats. These may be subtle, but with a little understanding, these signs may help our Humans get us the help we need. Let’s take a look at some of the things Humans would do well to watch for, shall we?
Litter Box – If ever there was a place to present a problem, the litter box is IT! Cats are fastidious about their litter box and their potty habits. So, when there is a change in a Cat’s psyche, you can expect the potty routine to be a pretty good bellwether to every nuance of emotion and health. In other words, take a look at your Cat’s litter box and potty habits and you’ll learn a lot. This includes going outside the box, going too often, going less often, as well as smells and textures. It’s gross, I know, but cut us some slack; we don’t speak your language.
Aggression – Biting, scratching, or hissing are all behaviors that Cats may do if they are stressed. And what’s more stressful than losing a friend they have spent almost their entire life with? Confusion, grief, and depression can make Cats unpleasant, unpredictable, and downright unmanageable.
Unsocial – If a normally friendly Cat starts to retreat from Human and other Cat companionship, it’s time to think about how to help. Hiding under the covers or crouching low can be a bad sign, unless this is typical behavior. You just have to be aware. If Fluffy always greets you at the door and then suddenly stops doing this, Fluffy may not be feeling well.
Feeding – Food is a big depression indicator. Cats are funny eaters, but most Humans know how their Cats are different. Some Cats dig right in, while other Cats circle, circle, throw their food out of the bowl, then come back and nibble. You see what I mean? If a Cat changes their routine, it’s time to take notice.
Grooming – This is a big deal. You’ve got two things going on here; not grooming and over grooming. Cats may become obsessed and lick, lick, lick, lick, until they actually make themselves sick with hairballs or create hot spots on their skin. Then there are the Cats who stop grooming entirely. Either way, you have to watch for the change in grooming to see if something is happening.
Vocalization – We Cats say ‘meow’ all the time. But when the occasional meow becomes a howl or a cry or screech, you Humans must know that we are trying to say something. A Cat who changes their vocalization may be expressing angst over not being able to find their friend. We Cats can and do suffer loss, too, but we are not able to express it in words. These ‘meows’ are our way to tell you that we need your understanding and attention.
Sleep – This is normally where the Human reading this starts to laugh. I know. Cats sleep a lot. How can you tell if a Cat is sleeping too much! It’s more about the sleep patterns changing. For instance, if morning comes and your Cat doesn’t wake up when the food dish rattles, that may be something unusual. If your Cat normally sleeps all night, but now is awake walking over your head all night instead, that may be a sign your Cat may need some attention.
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, of any species, in your house, your Cat may be feeling the loss and may even become depressed. Any one of these symptoms could indicate depression in a Cat, but they could also indicate a medical condition or illness. Only a trip to your trusted Veterinarian will help pinpoint the cause. It’s always a good idea to get to the root of the problem rather than frustrate the situation further by getting annoyed with bad behavior in your Cat. If medical conditions are ruled out, then talk to your Veterinarian about treatment for depression. There are many ways to deal with this problem.
Most importantly, you want to give your Feline Friend time to deal with their depression. When we lose someone close to us, everyone in the house suffers the loss. We Cats don’t have a way to express our sorrow other than with our behavior.
Just like Humans need love and understanding during times of grief, Cats need attention, too. By simple acts like petting, brushing, combing, and playing, the Cats will understand that they are loved and cared for. They will know they can count on you for their physical, as well as emotional needs.
We lost our friend, too. We feel sad, confused, and lonely, but we can’t articulate our feelings to you in words. I hope you understand now how Cats express their grief and how you can help alleviate the stress, fear, and anxiety so everyone can heal and be happy once again.
p.s. For more insight into helping Cats heal from stress, trauma, or just day-to-day life, you may want to order Emotional Healing For Cats by Stefan Ball and Judy Howard. This book explores holistic healing methods as well as behavioral healing. Click on and take a look. It might just help you get through this time with your Cat and make everyone’s life a little better.