Cats are well known for their varied, and often feisty, personalities. Some are shy, some anxious, others playful. But what does it mean if it seems like your cat is acting depressed? Can cats even suffer from depression? The answer is a bit more complicated than yes or no.
While cats can exhibit depressed behavior, it is generally accepted that they do not share the same emotional changes with depression found in humans. In humans, depression is diagnosed by self-reporting, but as vets cannot ask cats how they feel, it becomes more difficult to determine. Instead, we must rely on the clues they provide us through their behavior and activities and make assessments based on those criteria.
Clinically, the way depression in cats manifests is loss of appetite, avoidance behavior, decrease in activity, and abnormal behavior, such as hissing. Some cats may exhibit changes in litter box usage, while others may have a disturbance in their sleeping patterns.
However, most of these symptoms can also be caused by other underlying medical conditions. Many diseases can mimic depression in cats, so it is important to take your cat to the vet to rule out other options. According to experts, pain is one of the most underdiagnosed conditions in cats, in particular senior cats, and is one of the premier causes of signs of depression. An accurate diagnosis and treatment can greatly increase your cat’s quality of life.
Vets begin the evaluation by taking a full history of symptoms and completing a robust physical exam. Tests will likely be suggested by your vet in order to determine a good overall picture at your pet’s health and organ function. Changes in behavior due solely to stress and anxiety can be difficult to differentiate from medical conditions, so vets often have to rely on process of elimination to come to a diagnosis.
If your cat gets the all-clear, your vet can help you determine potential external stressors. Cats can suffer from anxiety dues to changes in routine, feeling threatened, or the addition or loss of a family member. Anxiety is one of the leading behavioral issues seen by vets. Hair loss, aggression, or changes in litterbox usage are often symptoms of anxiety. If the stressors can be eliminated, it is likely that your cat will return to normal over time.
In more severe cases, vets can prescribe anti-anxiety medication, which is useful for some cats. Another option is to visit a veterinary behaviorist, who deals primarily in behavior issues and can help manage the problem through behavior modification as well as medication.
Any cat showing signs of depression can benefit immensely from an evaluation by your vet. By evaluating them from a cat-friendly perspective, there is often a lot that you can do to make your cats happier and healthier.
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