Would you know how to recognize depression?
Yes, cats can suffer from depression. And just like in humans if it continues and goes untreated it can lead to a long list of more serious trouble.
The first defense you have in helping a cat suffering from depression is "knowledge". You need to know the "base line" of what is normal behavior for your cat, and the best way to establish that is observation and discussion with your vet about what is normal. Once you have this starting point the next thing is to know what to do in the event your pet crosses the line. We don't mean crossing the line once or twice, because we all know, by their very nature they are constantly challenging us. If you have a good understanding of what is "normal" then it is easier for you to recognize a pattern of change.
Some change can be very subtle and difficult to comprehend, while other may be easily recognized. The fact that cats are experts at hiding or masking symptoms of more serious trouble makes our job more difficult. Here is a partial list of "change" designed to increase your awareness:
- Increased sleeping
- Normally outgoing - becomes withdrawn
- hides under furniture
- avoids interaction with humans or other pets
- Becomes aggressive
- uncharacteristic biting
- Change in grooming habits
- Constant meowing
- Change in playing habits
- Change in litterbox habits - spraying
- Hair loss, or perhaps spots of different color in the fur
You become aware of change in your cats' behavior, so what do you do? The first thing is to take your cat to the vet to rule out any medical problem. Some signs of depression can be confusing because they also could be your first indicator of a medical problem; such as over-grooming may be an indicator of an allergic reaction.
When you have ruled out the possibility of a medical problem it would then be a good idea to check the environment. Cats are very predictable, habit forming creatures, that thrive in routine and even a slight change in their world can be stressful, and the cause of depression. Make sure you haven't gotten off schedule in cleaning the litterbox, or perhaps you are buying litter from a new source - its no different to you, but it sure is to your cat. Maybe you introduced a new pet in the home, or perhaps the teenagers are bringing their friends home more frequently. Environmental changes that have a negative effect on your cat can be very difficult to identify, but success depends on your willingness to keep looking for them.
What do you do for a depressed cat when the cause is not medical and you have not identified an environmental cause? Most experts advise you begin by paying more attention to the cat during periods of stress. Schedule quality play time, time for grooming, or even time for training - all these reinforce the one-on-one relationship and gives the cat a "warm and fuzzy" feeling. You may introduce a catnip toy that helps in the 'feel good' effort and rekindles the interest in interactive play. You might try introducing new toys the cat has not played with before. The introduction of a new cat tree or window perch can create new and exciting activity beneficial to the cat. Be creative - look for new and varied activities to engage and come in physical contact with your cat.
When your efforts don't seem to be enough to bring your cat out of the depths of its depression you may have to turn to a professional pet behavior counselor, and/or put your cat on antidepressant drugs. The best advise you can get in these areas will be from your veterinarian so trust their advise.
The worse thing you can do if your cat is suffering from depression is too ignore it, thinking the cat will get over it by itself with time. Not true. If your cat is showing any of the signs indicative of depression you should immediately start evaluating its health and environment and seek professional assistance as early as possible.
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