Sometimes, it feels like you are living with two cats: the sweet and mild-mannered Jekyll and the surly and rude Hyde. Cats are known for having mood swings. Dealing with those are an integral part of living with felines. What may seem like a mental disorder is normal for cats.
Can your cat be bipolar?
Yes, cats can suffer from bipolar disorder but it is very rare. When a cat has bipolar disorder, there will be a deviation from your pet’s normal behavior. The problem is, these changes can be imperceptible, especially if you have grown accustomed to your cat’s quirks and mood changes.
It is also fairly easy to mistake bipolar disorder with other disorders and conditions that can afflict cats.
What is bipolar disorder in cats?
In humans, bipolar disorder or manic depression is a mental illness that is characterized by the cycling between high or manic moods and low or depressive moods.
Bipolar disorder in cats can be hard to detect because what may seem odd behavior to you is fairly normal to your pet.
However, there are a few signs that indicate that a cat indeed has bipolar disorder.
What are the signs of bipolar disorder in cats?
1. Frequent mood swings
It is normal for a cat to change his behavior. But when this mood change is almost instantaneous, it is highly likely that your cat has bipolar disorder.
Bipolar cats do not stay depressed or manic for long. Each swing is quick but the change is frequent.
Another normal behavior that cats have is jealousy. Your pet can become jealous when you show affection to a person, another cat, or the family dog.
But in a cat with bipolar disorder, this jealousy can exhibit itself in the form of aggressive behavior.
3. Changes in sleep pattern
Cats are creatures of habit. It is just less stressful for them when things run like clockwork, including their sleep.
Even after a short time living with you, your pet will learn to adjust his routine, including his sleep pattern. If you observe your pet, he wakes and sleeps about the same time, day in and day out.
If your cat has bipolar disorder, his sleeping and waking times will noticeably change. He may also change the spots where he sleeps.
A cat with bipolar disorder will exhibit aggressive behavior in a few ways.
For instance, it is normal for cats to hiss at their humans to let them know that they are hungry. What is not normal is when this aggressive behavior is followed by destructive behavior.
Playing with toys is a good way for cats to let off some steam and stimulate his senses and hunting instincts. Sometimes, your cat may play a little rougher. But it is not normal for him to hiss at his toys.
Aggression can also manifest while you are grooming or petting your cat. Cats can be a little aggressive when they want to tell their humans that they have had enough petting or grooming. But it is not normal when your pet snarls at you.
5. Urination and defecation outside the litter box
One great thing about cats is that you can teach them how to use the litter box. After training, your cat will use the litter box exclusively to do his business.
However, a cat with bipolar disorder will intentionally pee and poop outside the litter box. If you are sure that the litter box is perfect and that your cat is healthy, it is possible that your cat is suffering from the mental health disorder.
6. Destructive behavior after meals
Once your cat has had his fill of his favorite meal, it is normal to see him play and become hyperactive. What is not normal is for your cat to become aggressive and destructive right after eating.
Are there other conditions behind your cats behavior?
When you notice unusual mood swings in your cat, it does not necessarily mean that he has bipolar disorder. It is possible that he is suffering from another disorder or disease.
For example, a cat suffering from hyperthyroidism may also exhibit signs of anxiety. Apart from anxiety, hyperthyroidism has symptoms like diarrhea, hyperactivity, vomiting, weight loss, and appetite increase.
If you have a senior cat, his behavior change may be attributed to cognitive dysfunction. In younger cats, this change can signal a neurological disorder.
Among the most common symptoms of cognitive disorders in cats are obsessive-compulsive behavior, lack of appetite, staring into space, changes in sleep pattern, disorientation, and increased vocalization.
Bipolar disorder in cats can also be mistaken for obsessive-compulsive behavior and vise versa. OCD is common in cats and is similar in humans: repetitive performance of actions for no logical reason. Among the most common manifestations of OCD in cats are pacing, constant meowing, excessive grooming, and chewing fabric.
Cat owners may also misdiagnose their pets as suffering from bipolar disorder when actually, their cats are depressed. Depression is fairly common in cats that are left alone for long stretches of time. A depressed cat will show symptoms like laziness, unkempt appearance, and excessive sleeping.
Finally, cats can mirror their humans. They are quite intelligent and perceptive that they pick up the energy and behavior of their owners. Your cat’s erratic behavior can indicate your own mood swings.
How are bipolar cats treated?
If you suspect that your cat is bipolar, the first thing that you will need to do is to visit the veterinarian. The vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication like Prozac to help you and your cat deal with bipolar disorder.
If you are averse to the idea of medicating your cat, you can work with a feline behaviorist.
As for prevention, there is not much that you can do. To date, scientists have yet to discover the underlying cause of bipolar disorder in cats. Some experts have proposed the idea that both environmental and genetic factors may contribute to the disorder.
It does not help that even healthy cats are easily stressed by even the most minor changes in their environments and routines.
Cats can be bipolar
It is fairly easy to miss the signs of bipolar disorder in cats simply because of the constant change in their behaviors. What may seem odd behavior in other cats may be normal for your pet.
But in most bipolar cats, the telltale sign is the rapid change and swing in behaviors. If you sense that something is amiss, you should carefully observe his behavior to rule out other possible causes.
Image: istockphoto.com / Zbynek Pospisil