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How can I tell if my cat is depressed (and what can I do about it)?

by Mark Nolan
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Sad cat

Although they are often happy in their own company, cats are vulnerable and can experience sadness and depression at certain times in their lives. However, given the solitary nature of cats, this situation can go unnoticed unless we are very aware of the animal’s routines. So, the question is how can you tell if my cat is depressed? And our experts have some tips, and advice on what to do to help them.

If we had to highlight any of the main personality characteristics of cats, it is very likely that we would name independence. According to a study carried out by behavioural veterinary experts from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln (United Kingdom), the cause of this autonomy is that kittens do not need humans to feel safe in their environment, just the opposite of what happens with dogs. This does not mean that cats are antisocial or insensitive: they are just more reserved when interacting with people and other animals.

Why do cats get depressed?

Cats are quite tenacious. They have a very marked personality and are governed by their own routines. In addition, they are very receptive animals to the moods of humans; They easily capture happiness or anger, for example.

Any alteration of customs, any change that happens in the family or any emotional situation that the person or people living with them is going through can cause deep sadness in the animal. If the situation is perpetuated over time or is complex, the cat may fall into depression.

Most common causes for which a cat becomes depressed

Change of address

Cats are usually very attached to their homes. They have their favourite spaces in the house and love to control all the spaces. A move with a cat, whether permanent or temporary (during a vacation), can upset them extremely.

A new family

Although solitary and independent, these animals feel deep family ties. Separation from its orignal human tribe can be costly for the feline to bear.

Expansion of the family

The arrival of a new partner or, especially, a baby is a complicated moment. It must be borne in mind that cats will not only have to share their space with another person, they will also have to get used to their character. With children it can be somewhat more complicated due to the attention they require in the first months. This imposed distance and the loneliness that comes with it can make the cat very unhappy.

Another four-legged “friend”

Sharing space, attention and affection with an unexpected guest may make the cat feel left out.

The death of a family member

Felines incorporate the people they live with into their daily routines. With each one they have their own relationship, customs and rituals. It is frequent, for example, that they only want to be combed by a specific member of the family. Therefore, when someone in the environment dies, cats suffer the loss.

Too much loneliness

Leaving a kitty at home for hours is apparently very simple. With water, some food and a clean litter tray, the cat will be (apparently) happy. However, these moments of solitude can take its toll on the animal.

Bad family environment

Punishment, yelling, mistreatment or lack of attention to basic needs have consequences on the physical and psychological state of the feline.


Disease can alter the character and affect the mood of the cat. Lack of strength, nausea, loss of appetite or pain will most likely cause apathy and decay in the kitty.

How to identify the symptoms of depression in cats?

Knowing what has triggered an emotional outpouring in the cat and has caused it to become depressed is not always easy. Unless they are very obvious symptoms, locating the origin of this sadness will require a good dose of observation. Here are some guidelines that can help you in this task:


The cat shows no interest in anything in its environment, including you. They are not active and remain totally outside of any possible external stimulus.

Does not eat

The situation does not change, even if you offer a favourite delicacy.

Does not wash

Cats groom themselves continually by licking their fur. Losing this habit is symptomatic that something is happening.


If your cat rejects caresses, is upset easily or reacts abruptly, or pulls its hair out by nibbling the skin, this can be a warning sign. Likewise, it is aggressive and irascible, and it cannot be ruled out that it scratches for no reason.

It hides and avoids you

If your cat spends too much time curled up in a corner away from your sight, or doesn’t want to play and avoids being petted.

Does not relieve itself in the litter tray

For no apparent reason, your cat stops using the sandbox and goes anywhere.

Sleeps more and is tense

The posture during sleep is not relaxed, nor does your cat lie on their back.

How can I help my cat overcome depression?

Company, attention, patience and much, much love. These four tools can help alleviate the depression suffered by the cat. In the end, the goal is for the animal to feel loved and valued. These are some of the tips to achieve it:

Don’t punish them.

Talk lovingly and without yelling.

Increase physical contact, but without overwhelming them.

Play with the cat daily.

Let the sun shine, open the windows so your cat can lie down in the warmth.

Recognise the effort and affection when your cat brings you an “inanimate” present, however unpleasant it may seem to you.

Find a safe place for them to hide: a box or the bottom of a wardrobe are good places.

If you see that the situation does not improve, ask your vet for help.


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