How to Cheer Up a Depressed Kitten

Woman holding up Siamese kitten.
Woman holding up Siamese kitten. (Image: JackF/iStock/Getty Images)

A kitten might be depressed after being separated from her mother and siblings. If she was a stray who was already alone when rescued, the kitten's depression could reflect traumatic experiences of being lost, hurt, hungry, cold or abandoned. Before cheering up your kitten, you will need to make her feel secure with you. Sit near her and speak quietly, without overwhelming her. Provide a warm, cozy, retreat where she can curl up and rest.

Visit the Veterinarian

Depression can emerge when a kitten feels scared or uncertain in a strange, new place with unfamiliar people. Signs of depression may be similar to symptoms of medical conditions, so before assuming you are dealing with an unhappy kitten, take him to a veterinarian for a thorough checkup. Depression in cats is not common, according to Katherine Houpt, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. However, if the veterinarian rules out physical ailments, your kitten might be depressed. Ask your doctor to recommend ways you can help your new feline family member feel more comfortable and eventually more cheerful.

Fun and Games

Depressed kittens may be reluctant to play, especially with toys that require them to entertain themselves. In her book, "Twisted Whiskers," certified cat behavior consultant, Pam Johnson-Bennett recommends “play therapy,” to involve your kitten in "interactive play with you and other family members." You can become the catalyst for motivating your kitten to enjoy play. Try turning inanimate toys into exciting, lively playthings. For example, attach a prey-like object to a toy fishing pole, and animate it to entice your kitten to act on instinctive hunting behaviors. She might be so intrigued by the toy's unexpected movements that she won’t be able to resist playing.

Time and Touch

Recovering from depression takes time, so be patient and spend extra time with your kitten if he seems sad or withdrawn. Give him special attention, but remember to respect his space and show him affection on his terms. Talk to him and indulge him with safe toys and treats to try to cheer him up. Lay on the floor and let him climb on you. Baby animals instinctively crave the loving touch of a maternal being. By holding your kitten and gently cuddling or stroking him, you not only take on a parental role, you help the kitten stay warm.

Soothing Away Loneliness

Loneliness can lead to depression. To calm lonely cats or those adjusting to a new environment, some people use products called calming or appeasing pheromones, which simulate comforting maternal scents and can help ease the stress of a kitten who has left her feline family. If you adopt a single kitten, give her a soft, plush animal, scented with calming pheromones, to serve as a surrogate mother. A stuffed toy does not offer the soothing experience of being with her mother and siblings, but it can help a kitten feel the sense of security she needs in her new home.

A Feline Companion

To cheer up a kitten who is depressed after the death of or separation from a companion or family member, the North Shore Animal League suggests you consider adopting a playmate for him. The "CAT-PANION Survey" conducted by Harris Interactive, questioned veterinarians throughout the U.S. and discovered that animal experts now believe that "cats are by nature social -- not solitary -- animals." According to the survey results, more than two-thirds of veterinarians agree that cats would prefer to live in the company of other cats and that social isolation has become a "major cause of behavior problems in today's domestic cats."

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