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Ask the SPCA: Cat depression

August 14, 2016

Question: After our dog passed away our cat has been grooming to the point his fur is coming off. Why?

The first thing to do is to visit the vet to rule out any medical conditions. There are many health reasons as to why cats over-groom, including food or flea allergies. However, your cat could be grieving. Cats are very sensitive to changes in their environment; it is quite possible your cat is not coping well with the loss of your dog and the change of pattern in the household. To cope emotionally, he may be over-grooming.

Cats have a reputation as being independent and aloof, yet they are social animals and do form strong attachments to others – other cats, their guardians and other family members such as the family dog.

The ASPCA conducted research in the mid-1990s on behavioural changes in cats who had experienced the loss of a close cat companion. The study found that 46 per cent of cats ate less than usual following the loss. A significant number – close to 70 per cent – showed a change in vocalization patterns, either meowing more or less than previously, and half became clingier to their guardians. Many also slept more, or changed their sleeping locations. Nearly two-thirds demonstrated four or more behaviour changes after the passing of their close friend.

How a cat handles this emotional stress is different for each animal. It would not be surprising to have a cat groom more than normal, however, if the grooming becomes excessive you need an intervention. You can try to provide extra attention and introduce more stimulation into his environment – new toys, more playtime, a complex scratching tree or perhaps an outdoor enclosure to help change the cat’s routine.

If the cat shows signs of depression – a poor appetite, prolonged sleep, general apathy and persistent overgrooming – he may require anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication. At this point you should consult a veterinarian.

For more tips on cat care and behaviour, check out our cat pet care section.