Many people worry about parasites, fleas, ticks, collars, bed choices, illness, diet, and other concerns when bringing a new feline home. Few cat parents give thought to their new pet’s mental health needs, however like humans, cats can experience mood swings, feeling stress due to routine changes, people in the home, or other stressors.
Sure, many cats in literature or maybe that you know personally may just be labeled crazy or high maintenance personality types due to their actions. A long-standing debate by scientists on if a cat’s brain is complex enough for dysfunctions to cause mental illness is ongoing, but deficiencies evidenced in behavior changes can occur for various reasons in felines.
Some will say it is the breed, or maybe just who the cat is, yet there is evidence that doing certain things can enhance your feline’s mental well-being and ward off such behaviors.
Orphaned or Abandoned
Consider for a moment an abandoned child that was not held, nurtured, or provided for with the most basic of food, shelter, and clothing as an infant. We all recognize that these circumstances can lend themselves to a host of behavioral issues later in life, even if adopted into a good environment and a family that cares for them. Now put a feline in a similar situation.
They were born in an unsafe or harmful place and struggling for their very survival. Maybe they were placed with a family that was not kind and may have even abandoned them at some point. The loss of siblings, family, known environment, and caretakers can impact how a cat reacts to situations.
They may not trust people, be overly protective of food when found, and have other health concerns that come from these situations.
As you know, when physical ailments cause you to feel bad, irritable, and out of sorts, you can lash out at others around you and do things you normally would not. The same can be said for Fluffy.
Felines will be grumpy, seem “off,” and maybe not the warm cuddly feline you or your family know when something is making them feel not quite right. Adopting a cat with more persnickety personality quirks may present a unique set of challenges, and to be honest, rewards when you finally have improvements in behavior and mental health due to a good diet, nutrition, and companionship.
Dysfunction – Normal or Abnormal?
Now it might be hard at first unless you have had several cats to determine if the behavior you are experiencing with your feline is normal or abnormal. Differences in breeds, ages of cats, and even background will warrant different behaviors. While not typical to what you are used to, maybe with other felines you have had as members of your family, these behaviors are not necessarily abnormal.
Sure, some behaviors such as aggression, hiding from you, and excessive meowing will not let up, which are definitely immediate concerns. Keep good records of concerns, frequency of behaviors, and other observations for your veterinarian. Having an open conversation about behavior as much as physical health can be critical to your feline’s longevity and happiness.
A few things to keep in mind when accessing the mental acuity or deficiencies can be exercise and play, separation from caretakers, boredom, or underlying health issues. Felines are social creatures typically, so extended separation from caretakers without other cats or enrichment options can breed boredom and other concerns.
The amount of exercise both inside, with toys, and even with their humans can also promote or detract from a feline’s overall health. That includes the death or extended separations of a primary caretaker. If a family experiences a member’s loss, your cat will experience some concerns if that family member was part of their normal routine. This can cause loss of appetite, confusion, and behavior changes.
Finally, as always, underlying health issues can impact a feline’s normal behaviors. Pain, discomfort can drastically change how a cat will interact with its environment and caretakers, so preventing health concerns with diet, exercise, and regular veterinarian visits is critical for good feline mental health.
Enrichment Is Critical
Some people may consider the lethargic outward appearance of cats a sign of laziness and not needing the same interactions as other pets. This falsehood could not be further from the truth. Felines need enrichment in the form of interaction with caretakers, toys that keep them engaged and active, and other felines when possible.
Cat’s are curious creatures, so creative options such as feeding bowls that are puzzles, scratching posts with toys and cubbies, along with simple options like paper bags, can provide the stimulus that your cat craves. Put all that tiny brainpower to good use and not only will they entertain themselves incessantly, but keep you engaged for hours watching the antics they will perform.
When left to their own devices and not stimulated and interacting on a healthy level, cats can exhibit odd, if not alarming, behaviors. Overgrooming themselves, hiding from caretakers, and even aggression toward other pets or humans can ensure. These can escalate to spraying urine in places, excessive meowing, and other eating and litter box concerns that can make an owner sure the cat is going a bit off their rocker.
Of course, this is boredom and a lack of another stimulus to direct their attention spans toward properly. If a feline is being left cooped up in a home or apartment by themselves without some toys or playthings can warrant a bad evening of discovering things done to your home that you might not approve of. Simply putting out toilet paper rings or other toys can help keep Fluffy happy home alone and make for a relaxing homecoming for you later.
Veterinarians & Behaviorists for Felines
Even with all the information contained in this article and others, you may not have a solid grasp on the issue your feline is experiencing. Information overload is a real thing where so much good information can actually feel overwhelming and not consumable. There are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when you believe a feline might have mental health concerns.
First, it is critical to document, maybe keeping a journal, all concerns, light ot the incidents, and any predetermining events leading up to said incidents. Additionally, food, health issues, and changes in the cat’s routine or event the household composition should be carefully recalled when starting a veterinarian conversation.
A healthy cat that is overgrooming, urinating, and struggling to eat won’t be healthy for long, so intervening as soon as possible to gain another perspective is critical. Despite all your efforts, a veterinarian may suggest behavioral changes or even a behaviorist veterinarian specializing in feline and other pet behavior modifications.
The good news is couples therapy with your feline probably won’t be on the agenda. For the most part, behaviorists will recommend holistic changes, much as we have already discussed above. Changes in diet, exercise, and enrichment will normally be the first line of defense. Documentation of said changes along with improvements or new developments is critical to track during this learning curve.
Should these not work, some additional treatments are specific to the feline’s medicating or psychological treatments, but hopefully, these are the last resort at best. Engagement and seeing the best, timely care possible should hopefully, with time, patience, and diligence on your part, get your cat back on a healthy mental path toward a long and happy life.
Remember that cats absolutely can exhibit behavior and mood concerns aligned with mental illness. Whether these are a true mental illness or simply outward signs of changes in their environment, caretakers, routines, or other concerns is a debate for another time. What every cat owner does need to realize is just like humans, cats will react to their environment and caretakers and change to these in a way they see fit.
This could be lethargy, not eating, to acting out in ways you will not appreciate. So, first and foremost, think about the love, affection, and joy that your feline companion brings to you – now, turn that around and return it in kind to them. Proper diet is critical, as this helps keep them strong, a proper weight, and enjoy a life free of aches, pains, and discomfort.
Next, bored cats will be naughty cats. Ensuring they have enrichment toys, puzzles, and activities to keep them engaged and not urinating around your house, overgrooming, or lashing out at you is crucial. And finally, as with all aspects of health in your furry family members, document concerns in detail and talk the mental and behavioral issues out with your veterinarian.
If, despite all your best efforts, concerns still arise – have no fear. The professionals have an arsenal of options at their disposal to help. Your feline can live a happy, mentally healthy long life with you advocating for all their needs in the best manner possible.