Sad, depressed orange cat lying on the floor.
Sad, depressed orange cat lying on the floor. Photography ©Stegarau | Thinkstock.

Cat Depression — Signs, Causes and How to Treat It

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Humans aren’t the only ones who struggle with depression. Cats are highly perceptive and easily react to their environments. Cat depression might be triggered by something as seemingly small as a change in food and kitty litter to a situation as considerable as a move or a death.

Symptoms of cat depression include, but are not limited to:

A sad young brown tabby kitten.
Cats display depression symptoms in a number of different ways. Photography © 2002lubava1981 | Thinkstock.

Just because your cat exhibits any one or more of these symptoms doesn’t automatically mean he’s in the throes of depression. He could be presenting with physical or behavioral signals that point to other illnesses, so it’s important to visit your vet and rule those out before considering cat depression.

Cat consultant Ingrid King advises, “To treat feline depression, physical symptoms need to be addressed first, especially inappetence. A cat who doesn’t eat for 24 to 48 hours is at risk for developing hepatic lipidosis, a life-threatening condition.”

Here are common reasons for cat depression and some possible solutions for responding to them. 

Cat depression may stem from the death of a human or another animal

A sad ginger tabby cat.
Losing a pet or human might make a cat depressed. Photography ©kipuxa | Thinkstock.

“Despite a reputation for being aloof, [cats] are social animals who form strong bonds with humans or other cats,” Ingrid says. “As a result, feline depression often sets in after the loss of a companion.”

It’s important not to force attention upon your grieving cat, but do provide her with extra attention and cuddles if she’s open to receiving them. Offer kitty the same love and compassion you’d want after losing a loved one.

Cats get depressed because they’re not getting enough interaction

Some people think that cats are solitary beings who don’t need or want a lot of human interaction. This isn’t true at all. Although some cats enjoy more interaction than others, they all require attention — and lack of said attention can lead to cat depression.

If you’ve recently adopted a cat who’s been neglected, be gentle with her, but bring out interactive toys like wands with dangly feathers to encourage her to play and interact. A single cat may also enjoy the company of another cat to help with boredom and encourage exercise and companionship.

Change in food or litter might cause cat depression

Cats are creatures of habit, and that should be taken into consideration when making changes to their daily routines. This includes litter and food, and not only the brands or types but their locations in your home. With both food and litter, gradual changes are best and give kitty time to adjust.

As far as litter boxes go, it’s a good idea to keep the old one in the original location while your cat gets used to the new one. If you’re not willing or able to provide a temporary box, then move the box toward the new location a little bit every day until it reaches the new spot.

Cat depression happens because of other changes in the household

Cat depression may be caused by divorce, children leaving for college, a new spouse or any other change in what they’ve come to know as “home.” Being in tune with your cat’s behavior changes and offering welcome attention and play help him feel like he’s still in a safe place.

A final word on cat depression

“Depressed cats, especially cats who are grieving, will need extra compassion and care from their humans,” King explains. “Spending extra time with the cat, providing new toys or beds, interactive playtime, and special treats can all help. Holistic modalities such as Reiki, Tellington Touch and other forms of energy healing can be beneficial. Holistic remedies such as Jackson Galaxy Solutions can support depressed cats through the healing process. In extreme cases, your cat’s veterinarian may prescribe medication.”

Thumbnail: Photography ©Stegarau | Thinkstock. 

This piece was originally published in 2017.

Struggling with depression yourself? These tips can help cure depression >>

About the author

Angie Bailey, an award-winning writer, podcaster, and humorist, is the author of Texts from Mittens and Whiskerslist: The Kitty Classifieds. She’s written cat humor for over a decade, and lives in Minneapolis with her fiancé and two cats — Phoebe, a sassy senior and Janet, a teenage kitty with tons of tortitude.

Read more on cat health on Catster.com:

30 thoughts on “Cat Depression — Signs, Causes and How to Treat It”

  1. Pingback: What Can Kill Your Cats? Be Careful — You Probably Have These 8 Things at Home – soutman

  2. Pingback: 8 Tips That May Help Depression Symptoms – University Health News

  3. I would go out of town occasionally and I wanted a companion for my senior female cat someone recommended a male cat would be best. I brought Bandit a 5-month-old male kitty home for Stasha hoping for the best but the nightmare began for two years till I finally with great sadness had to re-home Bandit. Stasha became so depressed did not eat more than a nibble every few days, slept around the clock wanted nothing to do with Bandit.
    Almost five months later Stasha is healthier and happier. I believe she was starving herself to death it was so sad even though Stasha didn’t like Bandit I fell in love with the kitty and it broke my heart to re-home him but I did leave him with an open door policy to visit and a possibility to reclaim him if it didn’t work out. Stasha is doing very well with just her and me, I just stopped going out of town for now. Stasha is a special cat. ????????

  4. Pingback: Depression in Cats: Is Your Cat Sad? | Animal Authority

  5. My cat is a himalayan mix of some sort and she’s about 11 years old. Recently, she’s been scratching and grooming herself so much that chunks of skin would fall off. She has scabs all over her body but she doesn’t have fleas. She’s been acting like her usual self (purring, eating at a certain time everyday, wanting treats) but this has been going on for a few months now and I’m not sure how to help her.

    1. Hi there,
      So sorry to hear this! Please contact your vet. These articles might provide some insight, too:
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/what-causes-scabs-on-cats
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/cat-skin-problems

  6. We adopted two cats 11 years ago from the cat protection league. A v young mother and her son. The mother cat was a confident and friendly, however the son was frightened and spent most of his day flattened under the sofa. She would gently coax him out and over the years he has grown in confidence and affection towards us. Yesterday we had to put the mother cat to sleep as she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and her health greatly deteriorated over the weekend. We are devastated and now our furry boy keeps looking for her which is so distressing. Any tips on how to help him deal with this please?

  7. I came home tonight to a cat that while always very vocal and affectionate, was anything but. I tried tempting him with wet food but he didn’t eat it. He hasn’t purred or really moved. He was his usual energetic self when I went to work, and now…I dont know what to do

    1. Hi Marie,
      So sorry to hear this. Perhaps your cat is sick and would benefit from veterinary attention. These articles might help provide insight, too:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/sick-cat-symptoms-health-care-tips-pain
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/lethargic-cat-or-cat-who-loves-to-sleep

  8. Pingback: Why Is My Cat Always Hungry? | UK Pets

  9. Pingback: CATS; Why they are hungry most of the time | Paranormal Zone |The Haunting Dimensions- PZHD

  10. Pingback: Cat Has Diarrhea, But Seems Fine: Do You Need to Worry? – Purring Pal

  11. Hey! Well i have a Persian cat who’s 3 yrs old. 5 days back, he got lost and then after a lot of search we found him at an animal welfare society which was 30 Kms from our house!! We got to know that he hadn’t eaten anything since then and was quite traumatized. Now that he’s home, he is just hiding under the bed and sleeping a lot. However, he started eating. I want to know if my cat could be depressed. And if yes, then what should be done about it?

    1. Michaela Conlon

      Hi Maryam,

      We are happy you found your cat! We suggest contacting a behaviorist about your cat’s recent behavior. Here is an article that talks about why cats sleep:

      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-five-facts-sleep

      Here is an article that talks about how to socialize a cat that likes to hide:

      How to Socialize a Cat Who Frequently Hides

    2. I obviously is still a bit traumiyised by what happed show a lot of effection to it and give it a lot of treats when it comes out from under the bed so it starts to feel nice when it is not under the bed anf if none of that works probably best to see a vet

  12. Danette Squires

    Hi. I need advice. Please. My cat Tibs went blind. He started out with s rough life. Till I got him. He became blind. After he was a year old. Now he’s losing weight. He’s been to the vet now seven times. I see that he’s depressed. Its braking my heart, I want to help him so much. Now he’s about two years old. He’s still s baby to me. Help.????

    1. Hi Danette,
      Sorry to hear that your kitty isn’t doing well!
      These articles might help your kitty feel more confident and happy:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-health-blind-cats-tips
      https://www.catster.com/cats-101/adopting-and-living-with-special-needs-cats

  13. I was wondering how my Tiki was dealing with the death of his 2 yr companion Garfield. I am still grieving over the loss of him. Now I know. I did give Tiki lots of love and play, treats and his favorite CATNIP. I could sense something was wrong with him, and I believe I handled it correctly. He’s bouncing back, while I am still so devastated. Tiki is a very loving cat, and he actually makes me feel better.

  14. I’ve noticed that our Birman kitty would go under the bed and stay there until we got home. When we were home, she would socialize with us all of the time. We have had more than one cat previously and it seemed much easier on the cat family. They had each other during this time when we were gone.

  15. I managed inumerable colonies of feral cat’s/kitten’s while living in Florida. I love all animals and did not mind spending all my extra time feeding caring and looking out for these cats/kittens as well as TNR, I had other’s who helped out over time as well as it became an overwhelming project each day. Unfortunately neighbors did not take kindly to all the cat’s roaming the neighborhood, all the fights and howling at night. I did this for years, but lost out to neighbors, animal control and police… : ( I do not believe in euthanization unless an animal is hurt so badly it needs to be put down. I believe in TNR and that animals have the right to roam this earth and live their lives !

    1. You are a wonderful person. I also live in Florida and care for a feral colony. It’s frustrating that people get upset at the cats when it’s people that have abandoned the cats and allow unaltered cats to roam freely that cause this. It gives me hope to continue on every time I hear of another like minded person. Thank you!

  16. My cat is coming out of depression a little at a time. His brother was killed by a dog on the 20th. They were feral cats that I could never get to stay inside. Two died from illnesses and one from the unleashed dog. Now I have brought in the remaining kitty and he misses his little brother. I have had three of them seven or more years without serious incident. Now my heart is broken. My only kitty now is eating well, sleeping well and has learned to use a litter box. My house stays locked to keep him inside. He will never be outside again if I can help it.
    A couple of weeks ago I responded to a person who was in favor of cats being allowed outside. In my situation I had no choice but to agree with that person. I was so wrong. Please keep kitties inside or have ferals euthanized. Anything is better than having a huge dog break their little back. It was a quick death but so very needless. Our hearts are broken. Our only cat now is our comfort and strength.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss of your feral kitties and happy you were able to “convince” your last feral kitty that you were trustworthy of her care. However, I disagree that other feral cats should be euthanized. I have been feeding about 6 or so ferals & just finished a trap, spay, & neuter event that was very successful. They got their rabies shots as well. My ferals are extremely skittish as they hide when I even open the door to check the bowls. One can love them from afar as I do, but to euthanize them is too harsh.

      1. You are right. Ferals are doing a service to humans. Remember the black plague? Farmers love them too. After altering a feral and giving them the necessary shots, they are returned to their home, the great outdoors to live their lives in their familiar environment. The trap, neuter, and release people are wonderful.

  17. Energy healing? Really? Please stop peddling this unscientific snake oil. That’s just misinforming people about how they can help their pets. Catster, I love this site, please don’t let your standards slip.

    1. This Granny says: Cats are receptive to energy medicine because they are more sensitive to their environments than humans can imagine.

      1. We humans may think, these are just animals….what do they know?… Animals are God’s creatures. They too, have even more incredible senses unlike humans! You Go Girl! Granny J. I concur with….God Bless!

    2. You don’t need to run down work other people believe in. No one is suggesting energy work in lieu of veterinary attention, quite the opposite. At the very least, when someone is doing their “snake oil”, as you call it, they are giving focused, loving attention to the animal, which can’t be bad. Adding focused loving attention to medical advice and treatment can’t be a bad thing. Cheers.

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