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Is your cat depressed? Vet shares top 5 depression signs to look for and what to do

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Just like people, cats can suffer from depression too. However, it is important to identify and take the necessary steps to deal with it appropriately.

While usually short term, depression in cats can be mistaken for their inability to deal with changes.

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In many cases, cat owners will not know whether their cat is depressed, or why. Al Arabiya English spoke with Dr. Amer Grizic, Head Vet at Abu Dhabi-based veterinary clinic Animalia – Welfare & More, to identify the top five signs of depression in cats.

1. Lack of activity

A sleeping cat is pictured. (Unsplash, Kate Stone Matheson)
A sleeping cat is pictured. (Unsplash, Kate Stone Matheson)

When your cat stops playing or becomes more reluctant to move, then they might be grappling with depression.

2. Excessive or poor grooming

Cat licking its paw. (Unsplash, Eric Han)
Cat licking its paw. (Unsplash, Eric Han)

Changes in grooming can be a key indicator of depression in cats and can result in bald or sore patches, Grizic said.

3. Hiding

Cat hides behind a curtain. (Unsplash, Roman Skrypnyk)
Cat hides behind a curtain. (Unsplash, Roman Skrypnyk)

If cats hide most of the time, especially in the same spot, and shy away from eating and interacting, it can be a key sign of depression.

4. Easily startled

A stratled brown tabby cat. (Unsplash, Tran Mau Tri tam)
A stratled brown tabby cat. (Unsplash, Tran Mau Tri tam)

Cats tend to startle easily in general due to the way they evolved- it’s usually a survival mechanism. However, if a cat is more timid, or if they begin to startle easily, this could be a sign of depression.

Grizic identified this as a key sign of depression in cats and defined it as “[when] the cat is very jumpy and will startle at sudden movements or sounds.”

5. Wariness or fighting around resources

Angry cat. (Unsplash, Paul Hanaoka)
Angry cat. (Unsplash, Paul Hanaoka)

Cats are territorial creatures and can often get intimidated by other cats, especially if they share the same house or owner(s).

“[When] the cat seems hesitant to approach cat-doors, food and latrines. When they are in these locations, they may seem very nervous. Hissing and spitting may be seen when other cats approach,” he said.

What can cat owners do to help cats overcome depression?

Scottish fold cat. (Unsplash, Fu Yonghua)
Scottish fold cat. (Unsplash, Fu Yonghua)

Cats need to be taught how to live in human society and “to accept that all the signs of human activity are normal,” he said.

“In cats, the primary sensitive period of socialization is very early, running from approximately two to seven weeks of age. Before beginning specific behavioral therapy for the fear problem, it is important to make sure that the cat’s home environment closely satisfies the cat’s needs,” he said, adding that diagnosis is based on the observation of the feline’s behavior.

This means that their facial expressions, posture or initial attempts of avoidance in the presence of something that elicits fear within them, can be analyzed to better understand the cat’s mental and behavioral situation.

“Making alterations to the outdoor environment for your cat has the following benefits: increasing the space available to your cat(s), reducing competition for resources such as latrines and resting places within the home, enabling the cat to successfully maintain the garden as territory. Remember that cats are evolved from desert-living ancestors,” Grizic suggested.

“Outdoor toilets reduce your cat’s need to have an indoor litter tray or can help to reduce the number of indoor litter trays needed in a multi-cat household. The scratching places should be provided at the edge of the garden so that the cat can control access to its territory. Cats should be provided with lots of opportunities to climb and explore. Provide shelves at different heights, cat furniture and clear the tops of cupboards and wardrobes so that the cats can gain access to them.”

Cat breeds that are the most susceptible to depression are Scottish folds, Maine coons, Persian, Birman and Bombay, according to the Abu Dhabi-based vet.

A cat being playful. (Unsplash, Alvan Nee)
A cat being playful. (Unsplash, Alvan Nee)

“Feline society is matriarchal in nature, with related females living together in highly cooperative groups, sharing the rearing of each other’s offspring and defending each other from potential intruders,” he said, adding that potential causes of feline fears, phobias or anxiety-related problems include:

● A lack of appropriate socialization and habituation

● Genetic influence on timidity

● One-off traumatic incidents

● Anticipation of unpleasant experiences, e.g., anticipation of attack by neighboring cats can lead to cases of agoraphobia

● Old age – loss of competence and an increase in general fearfulness in geriatric cats is well-recognized

● Unintentional owner reinforcement of fearful responses.

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