Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I recently had to release my cat, Sassy, from her suffering: she had cancer, and I know it was the right thing to do. However, my poor little Muffin, who was her really close snuggle buddy, has now turned against me. Yesterday, I took the day off work to be with him so we could grieve together. We spent the day, either wandering around aimlessly or cuddling up together. Today, however, is a different story! I had to go back to work and leave Muffin alone. I got home and he was in Sassy’s favorite place. When Sassy was alive, I used to pick her and Muffin up, one at a time, and cuddle them. But tonight, when I picked Muffin up, he turned on me and bit me quite viciously on my hand. He will not move from Sassy’s favorite place even to eat, and if I try and pat him, he hisses at me. It is like he blames me. I know from talking to your Mama that the same thing has happened with you, so I am asking you, most esteemed kitties, if you could tell me what you are feeling and how you were helped, as I am feeling really guilty at the moment.
Siouxsie: Gail, we are so sorry for your loss. You’re right — we do understand the pain of losing a beloved friend.
Thomas: When my beloved Dahlia died, I was so sad! I lost my best friend and snuggle-buddy, and I never thought my heart would ever heal. Especially because before she died, she just wanted to be alone and she didn’t want to snuggle with me at all. *sniffle*
Bella: I can’t even imagine how sad you must have been, Thomas. Here, let’s play tag — that’ll help you feel better. Tag! You’re it!
Siouxsie: Bella honey, we’ve got to answer Gail’s letter. Please wait to play tag until after we’re finished.
Thomas: Siouxsie’s right, Bella. Don’t you worry, there’ll be time for tag and snuggles in a little while.
Bella: Oh, okay.
Siouxsie: Just like humans, every cat is an individual when it comes to reacting to grief. The way Muffin is reacting is one of the normal ways that cats express their bereavement.
Thomas: Because Muffin and Sassy were very good friends, it’s going to take a while for Muffin to process his grief. The best thing you can do for him is to be supportive and reassuring. After Dahlia died, it really helped me when Mama told me that she was really sad, too, and she loved me very much and that we’d get through this together. And she said that a lot. And we did get through it.
Bella: That’s not to say that he never pines for Dahlia anymore, though.
Siouxsie: Even if Muffin won’t let you pet him, be sure to talk to him gently and lovingly and let him know you understand and you’re hurting too.
Thomas: It’s also very important to make sure Muffin eats. Cats that don’t eat can get very sick. Canned food can be made much more attractive by zapping it in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds to bring out the flavor. If you can’t get him to eat by offering him especially tempting things, ask your vet if you can get an appetite stimulant for him.
Bella: Another thing that helps is Bach Rescue Remedy. This flower essence is designed to help pets cope with physical, emotional or spiritual trauma — and the death of a beloved friend certainly counts as trauma! It can be purchased in most health food stores and in some drugstores as well as online. You can put a drop or two in his water or on his food or, if he’ll let you touch him, put one drop on your finger and stroke it into the fur on the top of his head.
Siouxsie: Feliway diffusers might help your poor stressed-out Muffin feel a bit more relaxed, too.
Thomas: If you can consult with a veterinary homeopath, you might be able to find a remedy that would help Muffin to process his grief, too. Homeopathy is a complex system and there are different types of symptom profiles that benefit from different remedies.
Bella: You can also explain what happened to Sassy. We cats understand a lot more than people give us credit for! We’re sure Muffin knew Sassy was suffering, and maybe he just wants to know that she’s at peace and you haven’t just left her somewhere!
Siouxsie: Be sure to honor your own grief, too, Gail. By allowing yourself to experience all your feelings, you’ll not only help yourself but you’ll help Muffin as well.
Thomas: Please do try not to feel guilty, Gail. We’re sure Muffin doesn’t hate you or blame you. It’s much more likely that he doesn’t understand what happened to his best friend. Be there for him, meet him where he is, and allow him the space to grieve in his own way.
Bella: And, of course, if he refuses to eat or begins looking and acting really sick, consult your veterinarian. He or she may also be able to connect you to pet loss grief support groups.
Siouxsie: In the meantime, the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement has some good resources to help you cope. Mama found the book The Heart That Is Loved Never Forgets by veterinary homeopath Kaetheryn Walker to be a helpful resource in helping her understand animals’ grieving process, too.
Thomas: Purrs and condolences to you and to Muffin.