Is your Cat Depressed?

by Jessica Vogelsang, DVM and comments by Diane Weinmann


You’re probably familiar with Grumpy Cat, the little feline whose frown has made her famous across the internet. You may also be familiar with your own grumpy cat, if you happen to have a particularly temperamental one at home.


Cats are known for their diverse, often feisty, personalities; some are anxious, some reserved, others inquisitive. But what does it mean if your cat is acting depressed? Do cats even suffer from depression? Well, yes and no.


How is Depression in Cats Defined?


Certainly cats can exhibit depressed behavior, but the general consensus is that they do not experience the same emotional changes associated with clinical depression in humans.


“In general, depression in humans is considered a multifactorial disease,” says Dr. Lynn Hendrix, the owner of Beloved Pet Mobile Vet in Davis, California and a palliative care expert. Depression can be situational, caused by a stressful situation, or medical, due to chemical imbalances in the brain. The diagnosis is based on self-reported symptoms, says Hendrix, meaning that the symptoms can be expressed verbally to the doctor or psychologist.


Those diagnostic criteria are not available to veterinarians. Since  most people  can’t ask cats exactly what they are feeling, whether they’re sad or angry or anxious or joyous, they must rely on the clues that the cat gives us through their behavior and daily activities and make our assessments based on that.  If  you talk with an animal communicator you can find out for sure.


“The clinical signs we see tend to be loss of appetite, avoidance behavior, less active, and abnormal behavior, like hissing,” says Hendrix. Some cats may show changes in litterbox usage, while others have disturbed sleep patterns.


Other Causes for Symptoms of Depression in Cats


Unfortunately, those symptoms are caused by a wide variety of conditions in felines, so getting to the root of the problem usually involves a visit to the veterinarian to rule out other problems. Medical problems such as kidney disease or GI cancer can cause nausea and decreased appetite that mimic depression.


According to Hendrix, pain is one of the most underdiagnosed conditions in cats, seniors in particular, and is one of the leading causes of clinical signs of depression. “Most of the time, there is pain or physical disease causing a cat to act ‘depressed’,” she says.


In Hendrix’s experience, many pet owners who are dealing with terminally cats are concerned that their cat is experiencing depression, often mirroring their own sadness about a pet’s illness. Hendrix encourages those owners to consider medical causes instead. Often, “it is sick behavior,” she says. “Their terminal illness [is] making them feel sick, nauseous, painful.”


As a hospice and palliative care veterinarian, Hendrix is able to address those specific symptoms and help cats feel much more comfortable, even during the end of life process. In some cases, owners who were considering euthanasia actually postponed their decision due to the improvement in their pet’s temperament once proper treatment was instituted. For that reason, she recommends people seek veterinary care for pets exhibiting depressed behavior, as accurate diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve quality of life.


The Evaluation Process for Depression in Cats


Veterinarians will begin the evaluation by taking a full history of the symptoms and performing a complete physical examination.


“Bloodwork, chest x-rays, and abdominal ultrasound may be suggested by your veterinarian,” says Hendrix. Those baseline tests usually provide a good overall look at a pet’s health and organ function. Depending on the results, other tests may be recommended.  Infections, tumors, and inflammatory diseases of the nervous system can result in significant behavioral changes in cats. Changes due solely to stress and anxiety can be difficult to differentiate from medical conditions, so it is often a process of elimination to reach a diagnosis in cats.


Again, if the issue is physical in nature these tests will help; however, if the cause of the depression is emotional, you will learn nothing.  At that point you should consult an animal communicator, like Diane Weinmann, to determine how to proceed.


Although cats tend to be independent and resilient, they can suffer from anxiety due to changes in routine, feeling threatened, or the addition or loss of family members. Anxiety is, in fact, one of the major behavioral conditions seen by veterinarians. Chronic stress can have an impact on a pet’s emotional, and even physical, health. Self-inflicted hair loss, aggression, or changes in litterbox usage are often traced back to anxiety.


Treating the Cat’s Stress Instead of Depression


If a stressor can be identified and eliminated, often the symptoms will improve or resolve. A veterinarian, trainer or animal communicator experienced in cat behavior can help with recommendations to make a home environment less stressful to an anxious cat. A cat that feels exposed and doesn’t have a place to hide, for example, may respond to more covered furniture or additional vertical spaces in the house so he or she feels more in control of the environment.


Competition in multi-cat households can also cause stress. Depending on the situation, owners may need to add resources in the form of additional litterboxes and food bowls, or even separate cats that are not getting along.


As another environmental modification, some cats respond to pheromone diffusers such as Feliway, which can have a calming effect.  Diane has had success with essential oils and bach flower essences to alleviate emotional issues.


Using Medication to Treat Stress in Cats


For more severe cases, veterinarians can prescribe prescription medications which have been known to help with anxiety in some cats. Trazodone, gabapentin, alprazolam, and midazolam are just some of the options that a veterinarian may recommend, depending on the situation.


Regardless of the cause, a cat showing signs of depression can benefit greatly from a prompt evaluation by a veterinarian. If we resist applying the human definitions of mood disorders to our feline friends and instead evaluate them strictly from a cat-friendly perspective, there is often much we can do to make our beloved kitties happier and healthier!  If the issue doesn’t seem to be physical—call an animal communicator (like Diane Weinmann-



Dealing With Chronic Stress

CHRONIC STRESS is one of the foundations of disease in dogs. Adverse stress-related behaviors, such as destructiveness and self-injury, arise because their needs are not being met. Veterinarians and pet owners are often challenged in their efforts to help dogs with behavior issues that arise from anxiety, fears and phobias because these conditions have many causes. Treatment and support requires great patience, teamwork, and often multiple therapeutic strategies:

Folic Acid (Vitamin B9): Deficiency can induce irritability, behavior disorders, reduced appetite, weight loss, and weakness.

Cyanocobalamine (Vitamin B12): Maintains normal brain and CNS functioning. Deficiency can lead to severe and irreversible CNS damage.

Magnesium: Essential for basic cellular life. Deficiency can aggravate sleep disturbance, irritability and depression.

Selenium: Helps regulate the thyroid gland; deficiency is rare in pets, but can cause muscle weakness, increased susceptibility to infection, cancer, and heart disease.

DL-Phenylalanine: Comprised of a combination of the D and L isomers of the amino acid phenylalanine. Acts as a natural pain reliever by blocking the enzymes responsible for endorphin and enkephalin breakdown.

Eleuthero powder (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Also known as Siberian ginseng, it’s an adaptogen that helps the body adapt more effectively to stress. Enhances immune function, and reduces cortisol levels, inflammatory response, and the depletion of stress-reducing hormones.

Inositol: Plays an important role as a component of several cellular messengers, including some lipids such as phosphatidylinositol phosphate.

L-Tyrosine: Necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis, such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, each of which can regulate mood. Assists in the synthesis of enkephalins (pain-relieving effects). Research suggests tyrosine acts as an adaptogen, helping the body adapt and cope with the effects of stress. It is a building block for norepinephrine and epinephrine, two of the body’s primary stress hormones.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): Reduces anxiety and stress, and is used in dogs to help alleviate mild anxiety, fears, and phobias. It acts via a mechanism similar to opiates such as morphine.

Passion Flower (Passiflora) Extract: Its flavonoids have relaxing and anti-anxiety effects. Can help with sleep problems and restlessness. May also be effective in reducing neuralgia, including (theoretically) neuralgia in cats infected with FHV. The herb of choice for chronic insomnia.

L-5-hydroxytryptophan (Griffonia simplicifolia botanical): Has a documented sleep-inducing effect. It is a direct precursor to serotonin, which has a calming effect and regulates sleep. Griffonia seed has been shown to raise serotonin levels in the brain, relieving anxiety and improving sleep patterns.

All 11 of the natural and complementary ingredients above are contained in Serenin Vet™. This product down-regulates the triggers that over-stimulate a dog’s brain, and is formulated to help dogs suffering from separation anxiety, hyperactivity, noise phobias, sleep disturbances, etc. Any of these conditions can seriously affect the quality of your patients’ lives, and that of their owners.

Dr. Terri McCalla is a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and a member of Animal HealthQuest, LLC.