Cat depression and anxiety

Is my cat depressed? 

It’s a question many cat owners will have asked themselves at some point. Cat depression and anxiety can express itself in many ways, just as it does in humans. But the obvious problem is that cats cannot vocally express themselves in the same way we can, so as an owner you’ll have to pay close attention to telltale behavioural cues that your cat may be displaying. 

Can cats get depressed?

Depression is traditionally thought of as a complex emotional and psychological condition that can only be found in humans. Crucially, depression in humans is diagnosed on the basis of self-reported symptoms. So, since we cannot ask cats how they feel, what does it mean to say a cat has depression? 

The truth is that we cannot know for sure. All we can do is speculate that a cat has depression or anxiety based on their behavioural symptoms. That is, once other causes have been ruled out by a vet, depression and anxiety is sometimes the only explanation available for certain types of cat behaviour. 

What symptoms are associated with cat depression and anxiety?

Cats are creatures of habit, and the first sign that you might have a depressed cat is if they start acting in unusual or unpredictable ways. These may include: 

  • loss of appetite
  • lack of grooming, or excessive grooming
  • avoidance behaviours (like hiding in isolated areas for long periods of time and rejecting affection)
  • increased lethargy, with more sleep than usual
  • making more noise than usual, especially hissing
  • abnormal litter tray behaviour (including urinating/defecating outside of tray and constipation or diarrhoea)
  • increased aggression 

Of course, these symptoms are all consistent with underlying physical problems – they don’t necessarily point to cat depression. This is why it’s essential to bring your cat to the vet for a professional assessment if there seems to be a problem. 

Why might a cat get depressed or anxious?

Cats are independent animals that like to do things their own way. That’s why when they’re forced into situations that they aren’t used to dealing with ­– like being taken out of their regular environment, or undergoing dramatic changes to their routine ­– they may begin to display symptoms of depression or anxiety. 

Typical events that can trigger such symptoms include: 

  • loss of an owner
  • changes to litter box or food routine (including time and location)
  • introduction of other animals (including stray cats in the neighbourhood and new pets)
  • changes in the family (including divorce, children leaving home, a new spouse or baby)
  • owner going on holiday
  • disruption to the household (like building works)
     

When analysing a cat’s behaviour, it’s good to bear in mind that cats are experts at masking pain, and that often an unexpected change in your cat’s behaviour could be the result of a physical injury rather than any kind of mental trauma. 

Once again, if you notice a dramatic change in your cat’s habits, we always recommended you get them checked out by a vet before leaping to the conclusion that they’re depressed.

Please note: Any illness, injury or condition that occurred before you take out a policy is known as a pre-existing condition. Any pre-existing condition will not be covered under the policy. Pet Insurance policies have an initial 14 days exclusion for illness claims so any claim starting before the policy or in the first 14 days will not be covered.  For more details please view our key documents.

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