by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Depression is defined as feelings of severe despondency and dejection; an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and that affects the way a person eats, sleeps, feels about himself or herself, and thinks about things.
While we may anthropomorphise the feelings of cats as humans or think that cats do not have the emotional capacity for depression, from the 1990’s behaviourists have classified some cats as depressed. Not all vets would agree with this. Since cats are really good at hiding illness and injury many cases where an owner has thought a cat was depressed have been found to be as a result of pain.
Some symptoms of depression include loss of appetite, lethargy, sleeping too much, avoiding company, vocalisation, aggression, over- or under- grooming and other abnormal behaviour. Not all cats will display all the symptoms. Since all of these can also be symptoms of other illnesses it is always advisable to start with a thorough health check by your vet.
Cats that are very fearful, highly stressed, bored or living in over-crowded homes can isolate themselves from the world as a form of coping. They will do the minimum to keep themselves alive and avoid interacting with anyone or anything, spending most of the day hiding or keeping still. This is usually more common in multi-cat households. Although this may not be seen as true depression it shares many of the symptoms.
The main reasons for feline depression are loss or bereavement, high levels of stress, pain, major changes in life situation, and a poor immune system. Cats are very perceptive of our emotions so an emotional trauma in our lives will affect the health and coping skills of our cats too and has been cited as a cause of depression in cats.
Helping a cat out of depression requires patience, attention, and interaction. Cats that tend to suffer from depression need more attention and interaction and may even need physical therapy. Spend time with them, cuddle, groom, play games and give rewards. Rewards can be treats, praise, games or attention. There needs to be stimulation even when you are not home, so puzzle feeders filled with treats, cat towers with a view, solo games they can play or other activities that they enjoy are needed to keep them motivated.
For some cats a companion cat makes all the difference.