Like people, cats come in all sorts of temperaments and personality types, and with all sorts of psychological oddities and vagaries. As with people, these are probably caused by some combination of nature and nurture. And like most people who have difficult temperaments or odd ball personalities, most of these unusual cats can live perfectly normal, happy, and satisfied lives.
Cats are living, feeling creatures. They can be happy or sad. They can feel lonely and depressed as well as upset and stressed. Cats can experience the same–or very similar–range or emotions as we do. Problems crop up when we don’t believe that a cat can have mental health needs. We must learn to recognize a cat’s emotional range, what that range includes, what precisely to look for, and what to do if something causes an emotional upset to a cat.
Today’s lifestyles oftentimes leaves a cat left alone at home for hours on end. Family members are off to work, school, shopping, etc. They often return home tired and stressed out from the day’s activities and a cat senses that stress. It is easy for her to pick up on her owners’ body language and begin to react to the stress and tension they have.
Moving, illness, boarding stays, and even marital problems can also affect your cat. These are stress factors for a cat and should never be ignored, for if they are, behavioral problems may appear.
Mental stimulation is important for a cat’s good health–both mental as well as physical. Inactive minds and boredom can lead to a lot of unwanted behavioral problems and can create an unhealthy mental attitude that can detract from a cat’s well-being. Both physical and mental health have equal roles in making up the whole cat, the same as it does with us.
Concentrate on good mental health through the use of mental stimulation. Liven up your cat’s life. Play with her and cuddle her EVERY day, not just occasionally. When you enter a room where she happens to be, don’t ignore her. Simply acknowledge that she is there by saying her name. Show her that she is an important part of your family. Look at it this way–how would you feel if other family members never said anything to you each time they saw you? You would soon begin to feel unwanted and unimportant to them.
A cat can become lethargic and depressed. You can see this happen particularly when a cat loses a human or animal companion due to a death, a divorce, or an older child leaves for college. A cat will wander aimlessly all over the house looking for that missing person or animal companion.
Loud arguments and general upheaval (particularly if a nasty separation or divorce is eminent) are things a cat doesn’t understand. It frightens her. Then, when all of a sudden, family members and maybe even the kids disappear, she will become depressed and actually mourn those who are gone.
Depression brought about by mourning or a feeling of abandonment is very upsetting to a cat, and her eyes will express her pain. She is so terribly confused. Fortunately, extra tender loving care helps most cats out of this type of temporary depression. The pitfall here is that the owner is suffering through similar personal problems relating to a family member’s death, a divorce, or, after the kids move out, the empty nest syndrome. Busy coping with their own problems, they forget that their cat needs a different, caring type of attention during the same period of time. She needs to be soothed when there’s so much emotional upheaval and she desperately needs companionship.
A very serious type of depression in cats progresses a little bit at a time. This one is caused by leaving a cat alone for many hours on end, day in and day out, week after week. All of your time and energies are devoted to your work or some other all time-consuming activity. You have a million things to do and NO TIME FOR A CAT. Sure, you see that she is fed, has fresh water and even clean her pan, at least occasionally–but that’s all you do. You don’t play with her or cuddle her. Your cat begins to sleep more. You don’t think anything of this. The lively, once playful cat seems to be fading away. The sparkle in her eyes disappears. The more bored and depressed she becomes, the less exercise she gets, the less she eats and grooms herself, and sometimes behavior changes begin to show up. The friendly cat begins to hide when company comes or the normally sweet cat becomes aggressive. Her immune system begins to weaken, leaving her open to bacterial and viral infections. This could actually cause your cat to die!
Fortunately, by making yourself aware that your cat needs good, loving attention and interaction with you each and every day and seeing that you give it to her, will keep your cat alert, mentally healthy and eager to face each day. Add some changes to her life. Mix things up a bit. If she doesn’t know what to expect all of the time, she will begin to look forward to each day. Give her a good variety of food with something different every day. This is easy to do with the wide selection of foods available for cats. When you return home, bring her a treat or a new toy occasionally and take 5 to 10 minutes when you first come in to play with her. Leash train her (see our section on Leash Training) and take her for walks outside when the weather is nice or take her for a ride in the car. There are many things you can do to make her life more interesting and exciting. If your cat was your child, you would not leave her alone or ignore her when you got home because you were too tired. You would make the time. Your cat deserves no less. If you cannot find the time to spend some quality time with your cat, perhaps you are too busy to have a cat. It is a form of abuse to neglect a cat’s mental well-being. As stated earlier, cats are highly intelligent and should not be put in solitary confinement with only the walls of your home to keep her occupied for 16 to 20 hours out of every 24-hour day. Showering your cat with attention on weekends only is not a good solution. Your cat need some special time each and every day. Please don’t delegate your cat to the backseat of your life.
Make her an important member of your family. She will prosper if you do.