Their fuzzy faces, adorable purrs, and cuddly nature make our furry feline buddies the almost perfect stress-relieving companions. Some people even prescribe stroking a cat to help battle mental breakdown in humans. But have you ever wondered about the possibility of your cat having a mental illness? We are all well aware of mental illness in humans. But most people brush aside the possibility of a cat having a mental breakdown. I mean, it’s not as if the little guy is struggling with the issues of life such as a stressful job, bills and a mortgage. Because cats are the most unconventional and quirkiest of our fur pets, it’s easy to excuse any weird behavior as just being a cat, and sometimes even joke at it. Have you ever joked about your cat acting crazy, then go on to ignore it? So can cats be mentally ill? Let’s find out.
First of all, what is mental illness? It is a condition of the brain which causes serious disorder in a person’s behavior or thinking. It is also referred to as a Mental Health Disorder and it encompasses a wide range of mental conditions. These affect a person’s thinking, then their mood and finally their behavior. The symptoms manifest in various forms – depression, anxiety, agitation, paranoia, to name a few.
Can Cats Be Mentally Ill?
To date, there hasn’t been enough conclusive evidence and research on the mental health of cats. Although several people believe cats can have a mental illness, they have been met with counter-arguments. You would think this should lead to more research and awareness. Some scientists who do not think that cats can have mental illness argue that a cat’s brain is too simple for the complexity of mental issues. A cat’s brain isn’t complex enough, to them. However, behavioral evidence from cats has proven otherwise – depression, anxiety, agitation. Some vets have adopted certain measures when considering whether a cat has a mental illness or not. This is done by focusing on very unusual behaviors (emphasis on very) that a cat may start displaying. For example, licking itself compulsively or being constantly agitated.
Symptoms Of Mental Illness In Cats
What are the signs to look out for to determine whether a cat is suffering from a mental illness? Scientists say that cats have much more in common with humans than we think. They react to events and emotions just like humans do. If you have any cause for concern about your own cat, identifying a symptom will give you an idea of what kind of mental illness your cat could possibly be suffering from. As stated earlier, mental illness covers a broad range of psychological defects. So if you’re trying to confirm a particular illness, you should look out for particular symptoms. If you’re not sure whether your cat has any mental illness, the following symptoms should offer some guidance as to what to look out for.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OCDs are red lights of feline mental illness. When a particular behavior of your cat becomes excessively repetitive and exaggerated, you should pay close attention. Some cats cry excessively, groom continuously even to the point of irritation and leave you with no clue why. Some cats chew on materials or pace about frequently. Experts say OCDs in cats are mostly triggered by their environment, or change of environment. However, some researchers believe that these excessive behaviors release chemicals in the brain that help to ease the cat’s anxiety, albeit temporarily (so much for simple brains). Another cause of OCDs in cats is a lack of attention or activity.
Depression: Some researchers have discovered that depression in cats usually accompanies one physical illness or another. Thus, most of the time, a depressed cat may be suffering from an infection, injury, or a disease its owner should be aware of. A depressed cat will usually refrain from activities and sleep a lot. Depression in cats can be treated with anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications. But it’s important to visit a vet to rule out any underlying physical illness first.
This is actually quite common, as most cat owners have noticed their felines become demented at some point. Cats suffer dementia as they grow older. Experts suggest that this is the time they require human affection the most. Withdrawal, appearing lost in its movement, repetitive behaviors, and waking up at night for no reason characterize dementia in cats.
Cats are usually very gentle creatures. So when they become aggressive randomly, you know something is off. Although it’s normal for cats to be aggressive when, say, defending a territory, you should pay attention if the aggression is extended for no reason. Again, physical illness could cause a cat to become stressed out and therefore, mentally unstable. Seek medical help. Stressed cats could also spray anywhere except the litter box, and avoid meals for long periods.
- Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome
This disorder makes a cat react suddenly to stimulation that should not cause pain. This condition usually occurs in mature cats, although it can affect cats of all ages. Researchers say cats could burst out suddenly with erratic behaviors like excessive scratching or biting obsessively, all aimed at attacking the pain. This behavior has been attributed to a seizure disorder (you read right). Even more alarming is the suggestion that these behaviors characterize a form of self-mutilation, according to experts. This is because of the “attack behaviors” a cat applies to itself in Hyperesthesia syndrome. FHS is sometimes referred to as Ripping Skin Disorder. Just like other symptoms, Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome could be caused by another physical illness or injury.
Again, consult a specialist for assistance if you’re unaware of any physical illness. Treatment for Hyperesthesia includes anti-seizure medications and good playtime. If your cat is diagnosed with FHS, you should avoid stroking its back.
- Feline Cognitive Dysfunction
If you’ve heard of Alzheimer’s disease in humans, there is a similar occurrence in older cats. This is a confusion disorder characterized by aimless walking, inability to recognize familiar faces, and confusion. Feline Cognitive Disorder is also referred to as senility. Its other characteristics include sleep disruption, anxiety, and fear. Treating senility involves activities that can help keep the cat alert. Outdoor walks, cat hunting games are two helpful activities. In the absence of no proven medical cure, Anipryl has been tried successfully on some cats in addition to therapy. However, the same medication has had no success on other cats.
Causes Of Mental Illness In Cats
Physical illness or injury have been proven to be an underlying cause in most cases of mental breakdown in cats. Fungal infection, cancer, pain, the list continues.
Past trauma is also believed to be a cause. Cats that have suffered abuse, mistreatment, or attacks are prone to have psychological breakdowns. Although with proper treatment, a cat may adapt, its inability to process the abuse and hurt leaves a mental scar that takes time to heal. A lot of patience is required when helping such cats to mentally recover. Sometimes medical treatment may also be required.
Which Cat Breeds Are More Prone?
Beyond the blue eyes, stripes, spots, are there other genetics a cat can inherit because of its breed? Can mental retardation in cats be passed on? Some experts have identified feline physical disorders that are genetic. They range from urinary tract disorder to diabetes. However, there has been little or no evidence to suggest that mental retardation in cats can be hereditary or breed specific.
Treating Your Mentally Ill Cat
Treating a cat with mental illness ranges from simple medications to more playtime. Treatment depends on the mental illness diagnosed. The most important thing is to be observant and to recognize the symptoms. Then seek medical assistance and follow the treatment directions carefully. Before you dash off to the vet, you need to arm yourself with the necessary information your vet will rely on. Observe how often your cat misses the litter box or rejects food. Did it occur after some traumatic experience or illness? Does your cat groom for too long? How long? Does your cat have a history of abuse or mistreatment? Your vet will rely on such information to properly assist your cat.
Caring For Your Cat
In conclusion, cats can suffer from mental illness. While your feline gives you cuddly companionship, it’s important to be observant to its mental needs. Treating a cat well goes beyond food and milk. Although good nutrition for kittens greatly influences their mental growth. It is essential to provide your kittens with enough opportunities to exercise and socialize. Cats need good playtime and affection from their owners. Pay attention to its mood as often as you can. Seek help when you notice any of the symptoms mentioned and make sure that no physical illness is left unattended.
Show me a happy cat, and I’ll show you a fantastic owner – in most cases at least.