Mental health is at the forefront of more conversations than ever before! More people than ever are realizing that mental health is health, and that taking care of our mental health needs is just as important as looking after our physical health.
But did you know the same goes for cats? Our feline friends can struggle with depression or anxiety just like us. Even though they don’t communicate using our language, cats feel many of the same emotions that humans do. They can feel love, loss, grief, joy, fear, jealousy and anger. So it makes sense that sudden life changes like the loss of a family member, moving to a new home, addition of a new pet or baby, construction at home or other changes in your cat’s day-to-day life can trigger an intense emotional response. And just like us, depression or anxiety for cats can set in as a result of life events and are not uncommon.
Read on for more information on how cats may struggle with their mental health, how you can help your feline friend and what we do at MEOW Foundation to keep our cats healthy in mind and body.
Signs of Depression and Anxiety in Cats
Our cats are more similar to us than we think, including struggling with mental health challenges. The symptoms of depression and anxiety are also quite similar.
Note that many of these symptoms could indicate something other than depression or anxiety. If your cat displays any of these symptoms, book an appointment with your veterinarian.
Depression in Cats
You may notice your cat losing interest in everyday activities or things he or she used to love doing. Changes in personality like going from energetic and playful to quiet and reserved may also be a sign of depression. More specific symptoms of depression to watch for are:
- Sleeping during hours when they’re typically active
- Sudden lack of appetite and correlated weight loss
- Fewer instances of self-grooming
- Less interest in giving or showing affection (brushing against your legs, jumping on your lap for cuddles, head bonks)
If any of these symptoms occur suddenly or after a major change in their lives like the loss of another pet or the addition of a new pet or child, it’s possible that your cat is experiencing depression.
Anxiety in Cats
Cats can also experience anxiety, which may manifest as:
- Pacing or restlessness
- Eliminating outside of the litter box
- Overgrooming, which can possibly result in painful spots of baldness or skin issues
- A sudden change in attitude or personality, like going from independent to clingy
How to Help Your Cat
If you’ve noticed emotioanl changes in your cat or if your veterinarian has said that depression or anxiety may be affecting your cat, here are some simple and effective ways to help them.
- Show them their preferred type of affection. Some love and reassurance from their human can go a long way in a depressed or anxious cat. As always, be mindful of your cat’s preferences: if they’re not a cuddler, don’t force it! If your cat is more independent or seems to want more space than usual, consider just hanging out in a room with them and maybe reading out loud to them.
- Keep a consistent and reliable schedule. Contrary to popular belief, cats actually do know what time it is! Their circadian rhythm lets them know when to expect certain daily events like their human coming home, playtime or eating a meal. A dependable routine each day will help your cat feel comfortable and secure.
- Play some cat music! Music can help calm and relax your cat, but they enjoy their own type of music! There is music specifically composed for cats that uses feline-centric sounds. The benefits have been independently verified by the Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
- Make mealtime more fun. If your cat’s eating habits have changed, consider giving them some extra tasty food such as chicken broth or tuna water. You can also use a puzzle feeder to let your cat “hunt” for his or her food, which many cats find stimulating and fun.
- Listen to your veterinarian. Your vet may suggest medication if your cat is really having a hard time. Don’t be afraid to try it! Many cats have great success with fluoxetine, gabapentin and other medications. Especially for cats who are displaying undesirable behaviours like eliminating outside the litterbox or showing aggression, it can help restore harmony and keep cats with their families rather than being rehomed.
How MEOW Foundation Helps Our Cats
As Calgary’s rescue for stray and abandoned cats, we deal with a lot of temperaments and behavioural challenges here at MEOW Foundation! Our years of experience with cats led us to a unique model of care in our Adoption Centre that helps our cats feel safe, happy and comfortable while they wait for an adoptive home.
All of our adoption suites have an abundance of natural light, whether through a window or a skylight, which helps regulate circadian rhythms and increase comfort for our cats. We also follow a kennel-free, open-concept model whereby cats are free to move around their adoption room rather than stay confined in a kennel.
Our kind and loving volunteers and staff play a huge role in keeping the cats at the Adoption Centre happy and healthy. Our cleaning and feeding volunteer shifts are at the same time seven days a week. Adoption Centre volunteers commit to the same shift each week, which helps our cats know what to expect and also provides some familiar faces to cats who are still getting used to living among humans. In addition to our cleaning and feeding volunteers, we have volunteer socializers who spend time with our shy or fearful cats. These volunteers respect the cat’s boundaries, sometimes just spending an hour sitting across the room from them or reading out loud to them, allowing the cat to warm up and maybe eventually say hello on their own terms. Our staff also give our more reserved cats some attention as their time permits, giving them lots of opportunities to get used to human company.
While our Adoption Centre provides an environment where most cats will thrive, it’s not the ideal spot for every cat. We monitor how every cat is doing and if they’re still stressed or unhappy after having time to settle in, or if they have medical needs that can’t be met with the Adoption Centre schedule, we place them in one of our amazing foster homes to get the extra TLC they require.
Mental Health Matters to Cats Too!
Cats are complex creatures with rich emotional lives. Being in tune with our feline friends will help us identify what they might be feeling and help them if they’re down. As always, consult your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s behaviour.