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Why is my cat sad?

Cats become sad when their owners forget about their basic requirements for being content. A cat requires stimulation, company, and health to be happy. There are other factors involved and some simple ways you can improve your cat’s happiness.

Sometimes we cat-owners can find problems that aren’t really there. We make assumptions that when a cat acts in a particular way that replicates human behavior, it is doing so for the same reasons. This is only natural as we see our little kitties as part of the family and their inability to communicate their emotions vocally leads us sometimes to wrong conclusions.

However, occasionally our instincts are correct. No one understands a cat like its owner and a typically bright, bubbly, and playful cat that no longer exhibits the same traits may be a sign that something isn’t quite right. Hopefully, this article will help you identify whether there’s a problem and importantly, what you can do about it.

Important Signs to Look For in Identifying a Depressed Cat

There are things that you can look out for that may be indicative of a cat that no longer has the same eagerness for fun as it once did. Does your cat show any of these? It’s important to note that just because your cat may show signs of one (or more) of the below it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are depressed. However, if several are combined then it is a sign that something is most likely not quite right!

Routine Changes

Anyone who has owned cats over a period of time knows that they can be creatures of habit. We have four cats (Maine Coons) and each of them has their own unique things that they do that differentiates them from the others. For instance, one of them (Oscar) is much more timid than the others but every night when I go to bed he jumps onto it shortly after I get in.

For a brief 10 or 15 minutes, he becomes the most affectionate cat I’ve known. Then, he leaves and he’s back to his normal self, at least for another day.

One day he didn’t jump up onto the bed and I didn’t think much of it at the time. However, it turned out he was locked in a room accidentally – we didn’t notice until the morning! The point is, the little things that your cats do day-in, day-out can provide us with clues into whether something isn’t quite right.

If you have a cat that welcomes you when you come down the stairs or perhaps one that everyday will follow you into the kitchen – and one day they don’t – investigate why, don’t just ignore it. Go and find them, make sure they’re okay.

Noticeable Vocal Changes

It’s difficult for a cat to communicate with us poor humans. Most of the time they will ‘talk’ to us in other ways, rubbing themselves up against us, blinking slowly in our direction or raising their tail when they see us. All positive signs that we’re still in their ‘good books!

This was actually a yawn but it looks like a big roar!

However, after spending a reasonable amount of time with our cats, we get used to their meows and other little vocal noises they make. Every cat has a different type of meow that would easily allow them to be identified with our eyes closed. Our four have different squeaks and noises that they make which allow us to identify them in a fraction of a second.

If these vocals noticeably change it could be indicative of something that isn’t quite right. This could manifest in them not meowing as much as normal or meowing at random times for no apparent reason.

Any change of vocal habits could provide you with a clue that something isn’t quite right in their world.

Eating Habits

Perhaps an obvious one this but not one I could leave out. When we become sad it can affect our eating habits, either eating more than usual or putting us off our food altogether. Remember, what we’re trying to do here is ascertain whether something is wrong.

A change in the eating habits of your cat could point to many things, including both physical and mental problems. I’m not going to dwell on this particular point as changes in this area could be so many different things. However, if your cat isn’t eating properly (or more importantly drinking) do seek further help.

Changes in Toilet Behavior

Depending on whether your cat(s) use a litter tray or go outside will dictate how easy it is for you to identify whether something is not quite right here. A sad or depressed cat may exhibit noticeable changes in their toilet routines.

They may feel unwell or uncomfortable which may cause them to either not being able to go to the toilet or having to go more often than not. You may also notice your cat making unusual vocal sounds as they are going which could be indicative of them being in pain during the process.

Of course, any problems in this area could have a knock-on affect. Your cat may be feeling sad and depressed as they feel they need to go to the toilet but can’t. Hardly surprising if they don’t want to play or if they aren’t acting like their usual self. Obviously, any issues in this area then professional help should be sought.

Sleeping Routine

Just because your cat is sleeping for long periods of the day doesn’t necessarily mean that they are sad! Cats typically sleep for long periods of the day (check out our post and YouTube video here if you’d like to see how much sleep Mona gets each day).

A typically sleeping posture for our Fred

It often feels like one of our cats (Mona) is either sleeping or eating, she really doesn’t seem to do much else than that! Maybe a few minutes of play before yawning and taking herself back to bed. However, she’s always been like this and it’s not a change in her personality – she appears perfectly happy.

However, if a typically active feline who plays for a lot of the day starts to become less sociable and takes themselves off to some hidey-place where they spend most of the day hiding, it’s possible that this could be a sign that something isn’t quite right.

Doesn’t want to play

Cats like to play – it’s what they do. Usually, it doesn’t take much effort to convince any cat in any mood that the piece of string that you’re slowly pulling across the room needs to be ‘got’.

Different cats play for different amounts of time and of course, age plays a factor here also. If your cat, that typically has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for play-time is no longer interested and would rather hide under somewhere or sleep, further investigation is required.

However, just because your cat goes a few days without playing how they typically would, doesn’t mean there’s a problem. This is something that would probably be noticed gradually, over a longer period of time and would be combined with other issues listed here.

We’re talking more about the personality of your cat here. Understanding their personality and noticing differences could help point you towards a different problem.

Mourning the Loss of Another Cat

The sad loss of a cat in the family can be difficult not just for you but for other cats in your family. We’ve experienced this ourselves, our previous Maine Coons (Harry and Charlie) were brothers and lived 15 years together until we suddenly lost Charlie one morning due to liver problems.

One moment he was there and the next he wasn’t. It’s easier for us humans to understand, we know what’s happened and we can talk about it. For Harry though, all of a sudden his brother is no longer in the house.

We felt that Harry wasn’t quite the same after this. He seemed quieter and although it could have just been related to age or perhaps it was just us noticing something that wasn’t there. He didn’t seem the same until we unfortunately, lost him just over a year later to cancer.

Why Your Cat May Be Sad

After reading the above you may be a little overwhelmed as to what the underlying reason could be as the truth is there could be many reasons why your cat is sad. However, the most probably reasons would be:

  • Unwell – probably one of the most common reasons your cat is appearing sad is that they simply don’t feel well.
  • Lacking stimulation – cats, especially those that are kept permanently indoors need to be stimulated. It’s important that we interact with them frequently and dedicate part of our day just to them. A cat that is played with regularly is typically a happy cat.
  • Anxiety – there are several things that can cause an increase in your cat’s anxiety levels. Introducing other animals into your family is definitely high on the list. Being left alone for long periods (especially if they are an only-cat) is another.

10 Steps to a Happier Cat

Fortunately, most of the time there are some simple things that you can do to make your cat happier. I’ve listed the 10 best ways I know here that should work for you.

1) Keep them healthy

Do the basics well. Give them good food and provide them it at regular times. This last point can be easier said than done, as we’ve established when trying to manage the feeding schedule of four cats! We’ve discovered schedules work better when working with just one or two cats…

Keep their feeding area and dishes clean, don’t re-use dishes hours later. Try not to make their feeding area in an area where people are walking through constantly. Cats like to eat in a location where they feel safe.

Provide fresh flowing water daily. A water fountain with a filter (something like this) is ideal.

The point here is that there are some things that are out of your control, but ensuring they get good food and clean water in a stress-free location is something you can get right.

2) Play with them often

As I mentioned above, cats need stimulation. They should have a lot of varied, different toys (replacing them occasionally) including lots of little things they can potentially throw around and chase by themselves. However, you need to play a big part in this play.

Sometimes, we notice our cats appear to lead us to where we typically play with them. Also, after I’ve played with them for a bit and then have to go and do something, they will all stop and look at me as if ‘how dare he leave us!’ – it makes me feel really bad so I often have to stay a bit longer…

Playing with cats isn’t just good for your cat(s), it’s good for you also. It gives you a little time each day where you can just ‘switch-off’ and concentrate on other things for a bit.

Don’t downplay the importance of this one. Playtime is high on the list of things that keep cats from becoming stressed.

3) Provide a clean litter box for them

Cats are clean animals and do not want to do their business in a dirty environment. A litter tray should be emptied first thing in the morning (literally the first thing you do) and after every time they use it.

This, believe me, is a challenge when you have four cats. However, we’ve recently made a little sandpit in their safe-area outside which fortunately they’ve started to use. Given a choice, your cat will always go to the toilet outside and this has the added bonus of less work for you to do also.

Our outside cat-bathroom

4) Avoid change where possible!

Cats don’t tend to like change. Sometimes this is unavoidable but when it comes to an area of the house that they feel comfortable with and consider ‘theirs’ it’s a good idea to avoid changing that area whenever possible!

This includes things like couches, chairs, tables – anything your cats use! I know, this isn’t always possible and it is your home after all. But remember, it’s their home too and they don’t appreciate change!

5) Don’t leave them alone for long periods of time

This is something that can make me a little cross. I hear stories of people leaving their cat home alone for hours and hours every single day and I wonder to myself why they got them in the first place?

Cats do not like being left alone. If it was up to them, you would never leave the house. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we have to go out and work, get food and just do stuff outside sometimes and this is fine. However, just be aware that the longer you leave your cat alone for the greater the chances are that they’ll start to experience anxiety.

This is slightly less of a problem if you have more than one cat (and assuming they get on with each other) but long periods of them being left by themselves should be avoided where possible.

6) Give them as much space as possible to play

If possible, give them free-roam of your house. Cats need (and want) as much space as possible to explore, wander and to find places they can hide if they feel threatened. They should never be restricted to a small area within the house.

Whether they are allowed outside if a personal decision and much depends on where you are located and what breed the cats are (some are more ‘street-wise’ than others).

If possible, dedicated a whole room to their toys. Depending on the size of your house (and how many people you have living in it) will dictate whether this is feasible or not. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do this (partly) by assigning our former ‘dining room’ to an area where we keep most of their toys (see pic below).

Our dining room / cat-play area

This works really well for us and they now seem to know that this area is where they can play and have fun!

7) Give them something to scratch

All cats need something to scratch and please, please don’t ever consider getting their claws removed. This is a terribly cruel process and is a form of amputation which can leave your cat is permanent pain for the rest of their life.

Provide them with scratching posts and other such things. It’s not unusual for them to do this on your best furniture, they don’t know this is wrong. Just try and encourage them to use proper scratching posts where possible (position one where they usually scratch the furniture).

8) Give them something to climb

Another no-brainer but cats, as I’m sure you know, love to climb. Whether it’s on top of your cupboard on up a tree in your garden, it’s what they naturally do.

So, if you can provide as many things for them to climb in your house (that won’t result in broken crockery) all the better. There are many indoor and outdoor cat-trees that you can acquire which they will love. The below are the couple we own.

Our outdoor cat tree

9) Learn how to communicate on their level

You may not be able to talk to your cats (although that doesn’t stop us from trying, right?) but you can still communicate with them in other ways.

Never stare at a cat, they don’t like it! Instead, blink at them slowly occasionally averting your vision. By doing this you are telling them that you don’t perceive them as a threat which will subsequently relax them accordingly. Also, yawn. This may sound strange but again, it’s another way you can tell them that you are very relaxed around their presence.

Never shout at your cats and try and always remain as calm as you possibly can around them. It doesn’t take much to spook them.

Educate your children on how to treat your cats. They are not toys. They should not be treated as such. Children need to be taught that their pets need to be treated with respect.

10) Get them a friend?

Finally, consider getting another cat. Ideally, this would be done when your existing cat is still young. They will deal with new introductions better when they are younger. An older cat may be more territorial about their home.

Having another cat (that they get along with) can provide company and someone else they can chase around the hours and play with.

This is not something you should rush into as the worst possible scenario is that they don’t ever get along and actually, all you’ve done is made your existing cat more unhappy. Only you know your cat and whether this would work for you.

Conclusion – why might your cat be sad?

In summary, although there are many reasons why your cat may be sad the chances are that they either aren’t or it’s only temporary, due to one of the reasons I mentioned above.

If in doubt, spend more time with them, play with them and if you’re still worried their behavior is out of character, seek a professional.