They’re fascinating creatures, to say the least.
The unique mannerisms and quirkiness of cats have long been popular topics of conversation, both for feline owners and animal behaviorists. From hoarding tendencies to infatuation with catnip, felines demonstrate many behavioral traits that prove interesting to observe and analyze.
Often overlooked, however, is the topic of feline mental health. Similar to humans and many other animal species, cats are susceptible to disorders that affect mood, thinking, and behavior. In fact, cats have been diagnosed with mental illnesses ranging from depression to anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
While offering your cat enhanced environmental enrichment to maintain mental alertness represents a good starting point, there are many factors a cat owner should consider in regards to a feline’s mental well-being. Here’s what you need to know about cats and mental health.
Can Cats be Mentally Ill?
The word “crazy” often gets thrown around in regards to cat behavior, such as when felines are observed scampering around the house at night, or pawing incessantly at a door to be let in. While this terminology is no longer acceptable within the mental health community, it’s widely recognized today that cats can, in fact, suffer from mental illness.
Much like their human counterparts, cats endure mood swings and feeling out of sorts. If your cat exhibits signs of depression, including losing interest in food and constantly hiding out-of-sight, it’s worthwhile to notify your veterinarian. It’s possible there are underlying health issues resulting in your cat’s depressed behavior.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) represents a behavioral issue in which a cat engages in repeated, exaggerated behaviors that do not seem to have a real purpose. These include over-grooming to the point of irritation or exposure of bare skin, pacing, vocalizing, overeating, and chewing. Your veterinarian can assist with confirming a suspected OCD diagnosis.
Is Your Cat Suffering from Anxiety?
Felines are not immune to the perils associated with excess stress. Cats experience anxiety because of psychological, physical, and environmental struggles. Without intervention, the results of a cat’s stress may have detrimental effects on your home, your family, and your cat’s overall health.
The potential triggers of cat anxiety are vast and varied. These include:
- Separation from family
- Lack of exercise/play
- Inadequate living quarters
- Changes to daily routine
- Loss or addition of family member or cat
- Health problem/pain
If you notice a substantial change in your cat’s behavior, it’s worthwhile to evaluate the situation and attempt to determine if something is bothering your feline friend. Such behavioral changes can take the form of hiding, appetite changes, excessive vocalization, aggression, restlessness, and lethargy. Should your cat demonstrate any of these symptoms for an extended period, a veterinary visit is in order.
Cognitive Dysfunction in Cats
While most cats tend to suffer reduced mental alertness as part of normal aging, some felines fall victim to Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FCD), a pathological condition for which behavioral signs are exhibited that are abnormal, seem out of character, or are performed out of context.
There are various symptoms of cognitive dysfunction, and particular attention should be paid to a cat demonstrating more than one of these:
- Loss of control of bladder or bowels
- Decreased activity/playfulness
- Increased sleeping time
- Loss of coordination
- Increased irritability or aggression
Should you have reason to suspect your senior cat may be suffering from cognitive dysfunction, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Drug therapy treatments are available that can help to reduce the impact of FCD on your cat.
Orphaned Cats – Their Mental and Social Needs
Certain situations leave a cat particularly vulnerable to suffering from mental illness. Among these is the unfortunate circumstance whereby a kitten is orphaned and absent of traditional nurturing. In the worst-case scenario, an orphaned kitten is deprived of both parental care and the company of his siblings.
In addition to mental health ailments like depression and anxiety, several behavioral problems prove common for orphaned kittens. These include:
- Over-attachment to human caregivers
- Owner-directed bullying or dominance
- Demonstration of nursing behavior
The issues arising from orphaned kittens illustrate the incredible importance parental figures play in the nurturing and socialization of their young. People who devote extensive time and effort to fostering orphaned kittens deserve to be commended.
What Can a Veterinary Behaviorist Do For My Cat?
When your cat displays behavioral problems that you suspect are the result of an underlying mental illness, it may be worthwhile to consult a veterinary behaviorist. These experts are trained and licensed to diagnose and treat problems in animals, whether they are medical or behavioral.
Veterinary behaviorists typically have a background in learning theory and are able to counsel on psychological problems. In many cases, a veterinary behaviorist can quickly assess a problem and provide viable treatment options. Modern treatments recommended by veterinary behaviorist tend to be holistic in the sense that they embrace all aspects of a cat’s life and lifestyle:
- Changes to diet and exercise
- Enhanced environmental enrichment
- Medical or psychological treatment
Your cat’s mental health well-being is simply too important to be overlooked. By using your knowledge to know when to more actively monitor your cat and when to seek veterinary involvement, you can play a fundamental role in keeping your cat happy and healthy.
Resources for Cats and Mental Health
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