Paws and Effect
Shari moved from her house to an apartment and had to leave her cats with her children, and one of them has started acting strange. Can cats get depression?

Can cats get depression? They can certainly have very similar symptoms.

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

This is probably a weird question but can a cat get depression? I had two companion cats–both females, spayed, and 10 years old–for about six years. My son and his wife bought my house and I moved into an apartment.  The cats stayed with my son because I couldn’t have pets. Colby is doing fine but Chloe is just not herself. She started licking herself bald on her legs and her coat is not as soft and shiny as Colby’s. I took them both to the vet and told them what was going on.  They did a blood test and fecal test and gave both cats a clean bill of health. When I go over to my son’s to visit, Chloe is on my lap and doesn’t leave me. My daughter-in-law thinks Chloe misses me. Colby always seemed to love my boys (I have four grown sons) more, and Chloe was always “my” cat.  I’m concerned that Chloe is depressed, but the vet says there is nothing wrong. I just want to hear it from a cat expert and I’ll stop obsessing.

~Shari

Thomas: Well, in some senses the jury is still out on this one. Among veterinary professionals, the general feeling is that “certainly cats can experience depressed behavior, but the general consensus is that they do not experience the same emotional changes associated with clinical depression in humans,” as veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang writes at VetMD.

Bella: However, the point we’d like to make is that as Dr. Vogelsang said, cats can experience depressed behavior.

Tara: Things that typically cause cats to act depressed are illness and grief. Since Chloe got a clean bill of health, we can probably deduce that she is grieving. She misses you.

Thomas: I myself experienced severe grief-related depression, and I’ve shared my story in this post.

Bella: So, what do the signs of depression and/or grief look like in cats? First of all, there are usually behavior changes: a snuggly cat may become aloof, and a cat that pretty much enjoyed their own company can suddenly become needy.

Tara: Some other symptoms of depression include changes in appetite, changes in litter box behavior, and behavioral changes like compulsive grooming.

Thomas: Your daughter-in-law is most likely right that Chloe misses you. We’re not saying this to guilt-trip you because there are obviously good reasons why you sold your house to your son and daughter-in-law and moved to an apartment.

Bella: It’s wonderful that you visit your son and daughter-in-law–and Chloe, of course–frequently. She clearly needs your company.

Tara: This may sound kind of silly to you, but we really do recommend talking to Chloe and telling her what’s going on. Let her know you still love her and you haven’t abandoned her.

Thomas: And if there’s any chance you can get a new apartment where you can have a cat, we’re sure Chloe would be delighted to be a full-time part of your life again.

Although vets say that cats can experience behaviors that look like depression, they don't necessarily believe cats can GET depression. That's a little different from our experience, although we think that a lot of cats' depressive symptoms go along with grief. What can you do to help a cat who's experiencing grief or depression? Get a few tips in this post.

Bella: But Mama says it can be hard to find pet-friendly apartments–more so in some places than in others. We’re lucky that Seattle is a pretty pet-friendly place, and Mama’s never had a problem finding a place here.

Tara: We sure are glad about that! We’d hate to live without Mama!

Thomas: So, while you’re in an apartment where you can’t have a cat and Chloe has to stay with your son and daughter-in-law, there are a few things you and they can do to help her feel better.

Bella: First of all, you need to visit her regularly and let her know you still love her.

Tara: Your son and daughter-in-law can help Chloe regain her confidence by playing with her every day. We love “fishing pole” toys–the kind that have a wand and feathers or a toy mouse or a toy bug attached to a string. Most cats like them, too.

Thomas: You might consider a short course of anti-anxiety medication, too. Grief and depression are often accompanied by anxiety, which leads to symptoms like over-grooming.

Bella: Sometimes our little brains just need a “reboot,” as Mama says.

Tara: Some cats need it for a long time, though. I’ve been taking an anti-anxiety medication called alprazolam for the last couple of years, and it’s really helped me with my anxiety and fear.

Thomas: And grief, too, I imagine. I mean, you poor thing–you were found outdoors on a cold, rainy November night, and we have no idea where you came from or how you got to our neighbor’s house!

Tara: It was scary! But I’m glad Mama brought me home…even though it took me a long time to get used to living with you and Bella.

Bella: Aww, Tara, I love you! And I do love playing with you! Can we play Tail Tag?

Thomas: Why don’t you girls just wait until we’re done writing this post, and then you can Tail Tag to your hearts’ content.

Bella: Okay, I suppose.

Tara: So, Shari, we think it is certainly very possible for a cat to act depressed, and tools like play and frequent visits from beloved humans can really help. We saw that you had a Bible verse in your email signature, so maybe if your faith allows it, you could consider praying for her. It certainly couldn’t hurt!

Thomas: Maybe you can take her to the vet and show them how she’s over-grooming, and tell them you’re concerned about anxiety. Ask the vet if there’s anything they think can be done to help her feel better.

Bella: You might want to ask about a short course of medication, too.

Tara: But the best cure is you. She loves you so much, and the more she can see of you, the healthier she’ll be.

Thomas: What about you other readers? Do you have some tips to help Shari help her Chloe? If you do, or if you’ve had similar experiences, please share them in the comments!

 

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