Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Recently my family lost its oldest cat, Star. Since then, my cat Lucia, who was very attached to Star, has transformed into a very lovey-dovey and cuddly cat, when she was very secretive and reserved before Star’s passing. Do cats mourn other cats and seek comfort from their humans?
I had three kittens, but one died and one of the survivors, Flor, has stopped doing anything. She sleeps, she doesn’t play, or even eat. Please tell me what I can do to help her.
Siouxsie: Yes, we cats do mourn the loss of our feline companions. We also grieve when we lose human companions–and even when we lose dog friends.
Thomas: When I lost my human, I became very depressed. I stopped eating and I slept all the time, too. In fact, the depression made me so heartsick that I became physically ill! I got a really bad cold that turned into a major infection, and if the people at the shelter hadn’t worked so hard to make sure I got better (and if Mama hadn’t come and told me she loved me and wanted to take me home) I probably would have died from my grief.
Siouxsie: And when my sister Sinéad (may she frolic forever in the mouse-filled fields beyond the Bridge) was killed, I looked for her for days! I cried and meowed a lot and demanded attention from Mama. Mama was mourning and looking for her a lot, too–she didn’t know for sure that Sinéad had died until she had a dream that Sinéad came to her and said good-bye–so we took comfort from each other.
Thomas: I didn’t even know Siouxsie liked Sinéad that much, since Siouxsie always grumped at her and stuff! I was sad when Sinéad died, too, and I often took comfort by snuggling with Mama.
Dahlia: I’m lucky that I haven’t experienced such heartbreaking grief. My life’s been an adventure so far, and I haven’t had much to mourn about. But I know if I lost Mama or one of my cat friends, I’d be really sad.
Siouxsie: The most important thing you humans can do to help us through our grief is to understand that we do grieve and support us through that process. In return, we’ll support you as you grieve the loss. We can comfort each other during this difficult and painful time.
Thomas: Signs of grief in cats are very similar to the signs of grief in people. Grieving cats may search for their missing companion, particularly if their companion was taken to the vet for euthanasia or the cat got lost in the woods or killed by a predator. They may also become lethargic and eat less, become disoriented and disinterested in their surroundings, or become aloof and spend time alone. Conversely, grieving cats may become more clingy and affectionate.
Dahlia: The way a cat manifests grief really depends on the cat’s “personality” and how the cat adapts to change in general.
Siouxsie: Grief is much harder for us to bear when our people don’t understand that we’re sad, too.
Thomas: Veterinary homeopath Kaetheryn Walker wrote The Heart that is Loved Never Forgets, a book about grief in animals and how people can help us through our grief with homeopathic treatment and companionship. When Mama adopted me, she treated me with Ignatia amara, a homeopathic remedy indicated for grief associated with fear and depression. It made a huge difference! I actually felt like exploring my new home within hours of getting the remedy!
Dahlia: If you had to euthanize one of your cat’s animal friends, it can help us to understand what happened if you bring home our friend and let us see and sniff the body. Unresolved losses, where we don’t know exactly what happened, are the hardest to deal with. This is true for humans as well as animals.
Siouxsie: Even to this day, if Mama sees a black cat within a mile of the farm, she can’t help but wonder for a moment if it’s Sinéad. She never found Sinéad’s body, and even though logically she’s almost certain Sinéad is dead, there’s still an emotional response.
Thomas: We know that bringing the body home can be very difficult for you humans, so we understand if you don’t want to do that.
Dahlia: Mama and her family bury their deceased animal companions in a special place on their land. But they live in the country and can do this. In a lot of places you’re not allowed to bury an animal on your property because of health regulations and the like. It helps humans (particularly human children) to have a place where they can go to “visit” animal companions they loved and say a prayer for them.
Siouxsie: Provide your grieving cat friend with more affection and attention. Try to distract her with fun activities and play, but be aware that it may be a few days before she begins to respond to these efforts.
Thomas: Most importantly, keep tabs on your cat’s eating, drinking, and litterbox use. If your cat fails to eat for more than a day or so, contact your veterinarian. Kittens can quickly become malnourished and dehydrated, which can be fatal. Adult cats can develop fatty liver disease, which can also be fatal.
Dahlia: And Uriel, we’d recommend that if your other kitten died from a contagious disease, you have the survivors checked out to make sure they don’t have the same disease. You don’t want all of your babies to die from an illness that could have been cured or prevented with early treatment.
Siouxsie: Your vet may also be able to give you more advice on helping your cat cope with her grief.
Thomas: Make sure you don’t adopt another animal until you and your cat(s) have adjusted to the loss. Adding a new cat at this time can cause a stressful situation to become even more so.
Dahlia: And most of all, be patient and compassionate–with your cat companion and with yourself. Grief is a process, and time is the only thing that heals the wound.