Cats and Dogs
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Do indoor cats get sad?

The sad cat – do cats really get depressed?

Cats do experience emotions, but studying and measuring their emotion is challenging. It’s sometimes hard for us not to treat our cats as little humans, but while they feel emotion, it may not be in the same way as we do.

Our modern domestic cat (Felis catus) is thought to have arisen from wildcats living closely with humans thousands of years ago. Cats have not undergone major changes during domestication, unlike dogs, so behave similarly to their solitary wildcat ancestors and remain perfectly capable of surviving in the wild.

Does my cat feel sadness?

Sadness in human terms is a temporary emotion that passes, while depression is defined as:

“…causing people to experience depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.”

Basic emotions such as fear and anger in cats are probably linked to survival, and acted on quickly due to the evolutionary purpose behind it. Emotions such as sadness or jealousy are more complex and may be felt by cats differently.

A large body of evidence surrounds the existence, causes and signs of chronic stress in cats. There are similarities in the signs cats with chronic stress show to humans suffering depression, and in humans chronic stress leads to depression. Although the evidence is lacking, it’s reasonable to suggest that if cats can suffer stress they may also suffer a form of sadness, and even depression.

How does my cat show emotion?

Humans evolved to show emotion through facial expressions but cats’ flat faces are less dextrous. They show emotion through body language, ear position and behaviour. Fear may manifest in hiding, hissing or scratching. A happy cat may purr or knead your lap. All these emotions are hard to quantify, as is sadness.

What signs may my cat show with stress?

Sudden, temporary stress is easier to recognise. Open and alert eyes, wide pupils, flattened ears, and a crouched and motionless body may alert you. They may even hiss, growl or be aggressive if approached.

Signs of chronic stress are more subtle but can have a huge impact on welfare and affect patterns of behaviour, as depression does in humans. Cats may:

  • eat less, or more.
  • groom less, leading to an unkempt appearance. They may over-groom resulting in bald patches.
  • appear to sleep more, but actually just be resting, not fully relaxed.
  • become withdrawn, hiding away more.
  • show aggression towards people or other pets.
  • choose to urinate or defecate in inappropriate places.
  • suffer from a stress related urinary condition known as feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC, also known as FLUTD).
  • not display their normal hunting/play behaviour.
  • change routine, spending more time indoors or outdoors.

Why might my cat be stressed?

What stresses a cat many not stress a human, and vice versa. We must start thinking ‘cat’ not ‘human’, remembering that although tamed, the cat has never been truly domesticated. Cats are individuals and enduring an unpleasant situation may stress some more than others.

If environmental needs are not met, chronic stress often follows.

If there is more than one cat in a household, they need separate resources. Consider the following as resources: food bowl, water source, litter tray, bed, hiding place, high perch and toys. Cats may share resources, but often because they don’t have a choice. This situation may be stressful as it may risk conflict.

A good formula is to have one resource per cat plus one. Resources need to be separated, so two food bowls sat together is NOT two feeding stations. Litter trays, as well as being placed apart, should be in a low traffic area so they feel safe and secure. Many cats don’t like the taste of water from plastic bowls so ceramic, stainless steel or glass, is best. Many prefer running water, so consider a water fountain.

For outdoor cats, timings of excursions should be up to the cat not you. If your cat shares their territory then they can pick a time to avoid other cats and conflict. Cats prefer routine and predictability which makes them feel safe. Being predictable helps reduce stress. Indoor cats need an environment that allows them to be challenged, to climb and play.

Companionship is another area that can cause stress.

Cats are naturally quite solitary. Carefully consider having more than one cat, especially if the local area has a significant cat population. Many cats enjoy social interactions, but differ in the amount they want and when. Timid cats may find overzealous cuddling more stressful than bold cats. It’s best for most cats if they are the ones who initiate interaction, so they are in control.

Cats need to exhibit natural behaviours such as playing and hunting. If they don’t have the space, environment and opportunity to do this, it can cause stress.

It’s unrealistic to expect a stress-free life for your cat but appreciating triggers and limiting them reduces the likelihood of problems developing as a result of chronic stress.

Pheromone sprays and diffusers can have a calming effect on many cats and can be used alongside environmental changes. They work through spreading a ‘happy’ pheromone, providing reassurance to your cat.

Could chronic pain cause sadness or depression?

Chronic pain may be a source of sadness for any animal. Our domestic cats’ solitary ancestors had no pack protection. It makes evolutionary sense to hide pain well so cats became masters at it, showing only subtle signs that are easy to miss.

There are many causes for chronic pain. In older cats, arthritis may be one of the most commonly undiagnosed causes of chronic pain. One study showed that 90% of cats over the age of 12 had X-ray evidence of arthritis. Cats with chronic pain may show symptoms similar to those with stress.

If you think your cat might be experiencing chronic pain or stress, please arrange for them to be checked over by your local vet who can offer therapies, medications or advice to help keep your cat happy and comfortable.

Why Does My Cat Look Bored?

Do you have a cat who looks bored? Is there something you should do to help your cat relieve this boredom and feel better? Is your cat even really bored at all?

Many cat owners, both first timers and experienced alike, have trouble understanding the needs of their pets. It can be difficult to recognize what your cat needs if they are feeling bored, and it can sometimes even be hard to tell if they are bored in the first place. In the article below, we’ll help you learn more about feline boredom and what, if anything, you can do about it.

Cat Boredom

Lack of Physical Stimulation

One of the most common causes of boredom in cats is a lack of physical stimulation. If your cat is an indoor-only pet, they likely don’t get much of a chance to run, jump, and play like outdoor cats might. They may also not get to hunt or chase prey, which can be detrimental to the physical stimulation needed, too. Although indoor life is always recommended for pet cats and is the much safer choice, it’s important to find ways to bring a little bit of physical stimulation into your indoor cat’s life, too.

If you have an indoor cat, stock up on toys and pet furniture that can help them stay active. Give your cat several different types of toys to choose from every day, including kick toys, balls, wands, and more. Supply them with a cat tower or other climbing surfaces to enjoy, and make sure there are plenty of surfaces that are safe to scratch on, too. With plenty of physical play options throughout the home, your cat will be much less likely to get bored and will instead find ways to occupy time with a routine they can enjoy.

Lack of Mental Stimulation

Along with a lack of physical stimulation, some cats may experience a lack of mental stimulation as well. It is possible that your cat could be feeling bored because they don’t have enough to think about during the day. If this is the case, you’ll need to provide a variety of mental experiences throughout the home and allow them to choose how to spend the time. There are many potential toys and other items you can purchase to help your cat keep their mind occupied at the same time as getting physical stimulation, too.

Treat balls and treat puzzle toys are some of the best ways to provide mental stimulation for your cat. These toys can be filled with treats and used to encourage your cat to play. At the same time, your cat will work on figuring out the puzzle to receive the treats inside, so they will need to use their mind as well. Another good method of encouraging mental stimulation for your cat is with interactive play, which involves you and your cat both playing together. Wand toys and other similar items can be used for this purpose.

Not Really Bored

Some cats may just look bored or have a grumpy expression without actually being bored at all. Remember that a cat’s facial expressions are different from those of a human, so it’s important not to project or anthropomorphize too much when considering your pet’s needs.

Just because your cat has a bored facial expression, this does not mean they are bored. Look instead for other signs, such as excessive grooming, crying for attention, or aggression, which can all indicate your cat isn’t getting enough physical or mental stimulation throughout the day.

Lethargy or Depression

Keep in mind, too, that lethargy and depression may sometimes look like boredom in cats. If you suspect your cat may be depressed or have anxiety problems, you may need to talk to your vet about putting them on an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication.

And if your cat is lethargic or weak, this can indicate that there’s something going wrong with their physical health instead. Lethargic cats need to be examined by a vet to determine the underlying cause of their lethargy and to find the right treatment or management for the issue as well.

Talk with Your Heart + Paw Vet About Cat Boredom

If you think your cat is bored, follow the tips on this list to give them something interesting to occupy the time. And if your cat simply has a bored expression but seems fine otherwise, remember that they may not be bored at all!

For any further questions or concerns about your cat’s health, wellness, and emotional state, be sure to talk to your Heart + Paw veterinarian by booking an appointment online at any of our locations. Your vet can examine your cat in person and tell you more about their specific needs and individual health as well. The vet can also help you choose the best remedy for your pet’s boredom, if needed.

Is Your Cat SAD?

4 ways cats can combat seasonal depression, according to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Leanne Lilly.

November 21, 2022

Woman in a white sweater hugging her cat next to a window

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Your Instagram feed went from #summervibes to #downwithwinter with the switch of the clock. Now that the sun sets before your work day ends, all you want to do when you get home is crawl under the covers, consume too many carbs, and binge British crime dramas — and your cat is right there with you. You’ve probably asked the question “Why do cats sleep so much?” and they may be asking the same of you in the winter.

For humans, the arrival of winter can trigger a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD causes symptoms like low mood, lack of energy, trouble sleeping, irritability, and changes in appetite that are linked to colder temperatures and lack of sunlight. There is a lot of documented data about SAD in humans, but veterinary behaviorist Dr. Leanne Lilly believes cats can experience seasonal depression, too.

“Is there a recognition of seasonal affective disorder in cats? No. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t cats experiencing it,” Dr. Lilly says. “There are [cats] who seem to have significant changes in their overall mental health, well-being, and behavior with seasonal changes.”

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Not sure if your cat suffers from seasonal depression? Watch for these telltale signs: Dr. Lilly notes that depressed cats might sleep longer, lose their appetites, feel less interested in affection or interaction, or show signs of agitation like more “zoomies,” or general restlessness. If you recognize any of these changes, resist the temptation to play feline psychologist.

“Cats are notorious for hiding their illnesses [so] we want to rule out other possible causes of behavior changes,” Dr. Lilly says. “If we rule out illness and the behaviors go away when the season changes and then come back again next fall or winter, then we can feel more confident saying it’s seasonal affective disorder.” Since there are no approved medications to treat seasonal depression, Dr. Lilly has four pro tips to help your cat overcome the winter blahs.

1. Let the Sun Shine In

Shorter days (and less sunlight) are believed to trigger chemical changes in the brain, including declines in melatonin and serotonin, the hormones that regulate sleep and mood. Provide your cat with some light therapy by hanging a cat hammock in the window or setting up a bed near a glass door, especially if there is a bird feeder outside so your cat gets some mental stimulation.

Setting up a “catio” or putting your cat in a harness and taking them out for a little vitamin D could also help boost their mood.

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