Do Cats Feel Sad When Abandoned?

Many pet owners at some point face the difficult decision of whether to surrender or abandon a cat. This often happens due to changes in life circumstances, financial constraints, or behavioral issues. But what impact does this have on the cat? Do cats actually feel sadness when abandoned by their owners?

This is an important question for any cat owner or shelter worker to consider. While we can’t get into the mind of a cat, there are behavioral signs and changes that may indicate feelings of loss, confusion or even depression after abandonment. In this article, we’ll examine normal cat behavior, signs of sadness, causes of abandonment trauma, ways to comfort abandoned cats, and when to seek professional help.

By understanding the psychology and emotions of abandoned cats, we can provide them the best chance at recovery and future adoption.

Normal Cat Behavior

Cats are highly social animals that thrive when they receive affection and companionship from their human families. According to Union Lake Veterinary Hospital, normal cat behavior includes jumping, playing, grooming, scratching, and interacting positively with their owners. Healthy, content cats enjoy human interaction such as petting, brushing, and playtime. They also form close bonds with their human families and crave attention and affection.

Cats display their social nature through actions like rubbing against legs, purring, and kneading. A key part of their normal behavior is forming secure attachments. As the NIDirect explains, cats like to play with toys and enjoy socializing with people. When their social and companionship needs are met, cats exhibit typical happy, healthy patterns of behavior.

Signs of Sadness in Cats

There are a number of behavioral changes that may indicate a cat is feeling sad or depressed. Some of the most common signs include:

Withdrawal – A sad cat may start hiding more often and show less interest in human interaction or play. Cats that are normally social may start isolating themselves more.

Loss of appetite – A depressed cat may eat less food or show less enthusiasm at meal times. This loss of appetite is one of the clearest signs something is wrong.

Excessive vocalizing or hiding – Sad cats may meow or cry more than usual. They also may start hiding in closets or under furniture more often.

Aggression or lethargy – Some sad cats exhibit more aggression such as biting or scratching. Others may become more lethargic and sleep much more than normal.

Grooming compulsions – Excessive grooming, licking, or hair loss can indicate a stressed, depressed cat.

According to veterinarians, these changes in normal cat behavior can signal depression or sadness, especially if they persist over time or worsen (source). It’s important for cat owners to pay close attention to any behavioral shifts and look for combinations of these signs that something may be wrong.

Causes of Sadness

There are several common causes for sadness in cats:

Loss of an Owner or Companion

Cats form strong bonds with their human and feline companions. When a cat loses an owner or feline friend, they may grieve the loss and become sad or depressed. According to The Spruce Pets, signs of grief in cats can include decreased appetite, vocalizing or searching for the lost companion, decreased interest in play and other activities, and hiding.

Change in Environment

Cats are creatures of habit and can become stressed by changes in their home or environment. Things like moving homes, construction, new people or pets in the home, or even furniture rearrangement can cause sadness and anxiety in cats. According to WebMD, signs of stress may include hiding, decreased appetite, increased vocalizing, and urine marking.

Illness or Injury

Cats that are sick or injured may become withdrawn and depressed. According to The Spruce Pets, illness in cats can lead to lethargy, appetite changes, and hiding – all signs of a sad cat. Severe or chronic pain from injury or arthritis may also cause sadness.

Lack of Socialization

Kittens that are separated from their mothers and littermates too early may fail to develop healthy social skills. These undersocialized cats are prone to fear, anxiety and depression. They are often timid around other cats and people. Socialization training may help improve sociability.

Abandonment Trauma

Sudden change is difficult for cats, and being abandoned is incredibly traumatic. Cats form strong bonds with their owners and get accustomed to their daily routines. When abandoned, this abruptly changes, leaving the cat stressed, anxious, and depressed.

A major cause of trauma is being neglected or abused before abandonment. The cat associates these memories with their owner, so abandonment reawakens the pain and fear. This makes the abrupt separation even more devastating.

There is a clear link between abandonment and depression in cats. The sudden loss leaves them withdrawn and unmotivated. Some cats stop eating or vocalizing entirely. The depression can last for weeks or months after abandonment. Proper socialization and care is critical to recover from the trauma.

Coping Mechanisms

Cats can have varying abilities when it comes to coping with major changes like abandonment or adjusting to a new home. Much depends on the cat’s personality, history, and individual differences.

Some cats may display self-soothing behaviors like excessive grooming, tail chasing, or vocalizations to deal with sadness and stress. These are normal coping mechanisms that may subside once the cat feels comfortable in their new environment.

Other cats adapt more readily to new settings and stimuli. With time, patience, and care from their new owners, most cats are able to adjust to a new living situation after abandonment. However, the amount of time needed for adjustment can range from days to months depending on the cat.1

Knowing your cat’s personality and providing them with reassurance and routine can ease the transition to a new home after abandonment. But if concerning behaviors persist, it’s best to consult your veterinarian.

Providing Comfort

Abandoned cats need compassion and care as they adjust to their new environment. Meeting their basic needs for food, water, medical care, and shelter is the first step. But they also require socialization and outlets for play to thrive. Providing comfort involves giving them safe spaces to retreat to when frightened. Their trust has likely been shaken, so be patient and allow them to warm up to you in their own time. Let them approach you rather than forcing contact. Offer treats and playtime, but don’t overwhelm them. Gentle, predictable care is key. They need reassurance through routine and affection that they are in a stable home now. With time, patience, and care, an abandoned cat can regain trust and find contentment in their new life.

Impact on Future Behavior

Experiencing abandonment as a young kitten can have lasting impacts on a cat’s future behavior. Kittens that are separated from their mothers and littermates too early often have trouble developing healthy social skills. This can lead to attachment issues later in life where the cat struggles to bond closely with their new owners. They may resist being held or petted.

The trauma of abandonment also puts cats at higher risk for developing stress disorders like anxiety and fearfulness. Loud noises, new people or other unknown stimuli can provoke an exaggerated stress response. These cats tend to hide more and may lash out when feeling threatened.

Cats that have been abandoned often have trouble socializing with other pets as well. They tend to be more solitary and territorial. Early socialization is important for cats to learn how to properly interact with other animals. Without it, they are more likely to fight or avoid contact altogether.

While the impact of abandonment can be lifelong, cats can overcome these behavioral challenges with time, patience and care from their new owners. But early trauma may always affect how securely a cat can form attachments and deal with stressful situations.

When to Seek Help

In most cases, abandoned cats will gradually adjust to their new environment. However, if signs of sadness persist for weeks or months, it may be time to seek professional help. According to PetMD, prolonged signs of depression are a red flag. These include loss of appetite, lethargy, anti-social behavior, and lack of interest in toys or activities the cat once enjoyed.

Likewise, the sudden onset of aggression or house soiling could indicate an underlying mental health issue in an abandoned cat. ASPCA Pet Insurance notes these behaviors should prompt a veterinary visit to check for illness and a behavioral consultation. If the cat is harming itself by pulling out fur or refusing to eat, immediate intervention is required.

The trauma of abandonment can impact cats in complex ways. While time and patience are key, don’t hesitate to reach out for help if an adopted stray cat struggles to adjust. With care and support from you and professionals, the cat can go on to lead a happy life in its new forever home.


To summarize, cats are quite capable of feeling sad and heartbroken when abandoned by their owners. Cats bond strongly with their human families and can suffer extreme anxiety and depression when that relationship is suddenly broken. Signs that a cat is grieving the loss of their home include increased vocalizing, changes in appetite, hiding, and loss of interest in play. The trauma of abandonment can have long-lasting effects on a cat’s ability to trust people in the future. The good news is that with patience, care, and affection, abandoned cats can recover and learn to trust again. By providing abandoned cats with a safe and loving forever home, we can help alleviate their sadness and give them back the happy, content lives they deserve.

In the end, all cats need is to feel safe, comfortable, and loved. If we make an effort to understand their behaviors and emotional needs, we can better provide abandoned cats the care required to overcome their sad pasts. With time, attention, and devotion, their hurt can heal.

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