Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My cat, Holly, just lost her bestie of 12 years. She keeps looking around for her. We are both so sad. I’m 80 years old, unable to take on another cat. Any suggestions?
Thomas: Oh, Bettye, we feel for you and for your cat. Our human grammie is also 80 years old; she can’t take on any more cats, either, and she really misses having a furry friend.
Bella: So what’s an elder mama of a grieving cat to do when she can’t bring another kitty home? Well, when it comes to elders and elder cats, we’ve got a few tips that may help.
Tara: First, you and your remaining cat are going to need to go through your grieving process together. Mama says she’s found that when cats grieve, it’s really helpful to tell them you’re sad, too, and just peacefully be there for your cat.
Thomas: When I lost my Dahlia to cancer, I was devastated. I moped around the house for a week, I didn’t want to eat, and I just felt such an aching emptiness inside now that my best snuggle buddy was gone. But Mama was so sweet to me: she held me in her arms and petted me while I sat on her lap. “I’m really sad, too, Thomas,” she told me. We often cried together.
Bella: If you’re having a lot of trouble processing your grief, Bettye, there are places that can help. If you can’t talk to a therapist or social worker about your grief in real life, there are books and websites that can help you by a) helping you to know you’re not alone with your feelings; and b) giving you a chance to tell other people the story of your deceased cat and why she was such an important part of your life
Tara: The Pet Loss Companion is one good resource. Another one we recommend highly is My Cat Has Died. What Do I Do? by Wendy Van de Poll. Mama’s read her book, My Cat Is Dying. What Do I Do? and it really helped her cope with losing Siouxsie after so many years together.
Bella: We should note that although we’ve included links to these books on Amazon, the links are for informational purposes only and you need not order them from Amazon — in fact, we’d prefer you didn’t! Feel free to order these books from your local independent bookstore or online at Powell’s Books instead of “The Evil A.”
Thomas: There are websites like Lap of Love and Rainbow Bridge that provide support forums, grief resources, and places to memorialize your beloved cat, and if you need to talk to someone right away, Lap of Love offers a free pet loss grief hotline, and you can find other pet loss support hotlines here.
Bella: After a couple of weeks of Mama’s consolations, Thomas perked up again and both he and Mama felt like they could go on again. Neither of them ever forgot Dahlia, but they were able to start putting one paw in front of the other again at that point.
Tara: Humans don’t have paws!
Bella: You know what I mean.
Thomas: Ladies, please. I’m trying to get some rest here.
Bella: Oh, okay.
Thomas: Bettye, there are some other things you might consider doing, too. If your health allows it, would you be able to participate in a hospice foster program with a local animal shelter?
Bella: Many shelters end up taking in cats that are either quite old or that have life-limiting illnesses, and they need people to take care of those cats. If you have the time, energy, and health to take care of one of these elder kitties, you might be able to bring some light back into your home.
Tara: Also, if the cat you bring in has the same energy level as Holly and you do the introduction properly, your cat and your foster cat will get along well. Fostering is a great way for elders and elder cats to match up and have good company for their golden years.
Thomas: One great thing about being a hospice foster parent is that if you’re on a limited income, you don’t need to worry about the cost of vet care and supplies because shelters provide all that for their foster kitties.
Bella: The other bonus is — and we know a lot of you humans do think about this — that if you’re worried about what may happen to your foster cat after you die, the shelter will bring him or her back into its custody. That means you can just enjoy your time with your foster cat, knowing he or she will be okay once you’re gone.
Tara: Mama says that after we’re gone, she’s going to do hospice foster. She says she’ll be old enough by that point that she doesn’t think it would be fair to bring a very young cat into her life. But she knows elders and elder cats can be of great benefit to one another.
Thomas: It’s true. Studies show that cats can improve elders’ physical and mental health.
Bella: We hope hospice foster might be something you and Holly can do together because we think it would greatly benefit both of you.
Tara: If bringing in another cat is just not an option, there are other solutions.
Thomas: If you and Holly really feel the need to see your feline friend around again, a company called Cuddle Clones makes plush animals that look just like beloved pets. While we’ve never bought a Cuddle Clone ourselves, we know a couple of people who have. They’ve been very happy with them.
Bella: Cuddle Clones aren’t cheap. They cost $249, so if you’re on a fixed income, that might not be something you can get for yourself. But the company has a whole bunch of other accessories that might be more affordable. Or maybe you have a friend or a relative who would be willing to get one for you?
Tara: Mama says if Grammie wanted a Cuddle Clone, she’d get one for her.
Thomas: So basically, Bettye, we’d recommend that you and Holly take the time you need to honor the cat that has died. Then, hopefully, you can consider hospice foster or possibly adopting another elder cat (many shelters have “seniors for seniors” programs that allow elders to adopt senior cats without paying an adoption fee) if your health allows it. If not, we think a Cuddle Clone might be comforting. We encourage you to continue using the resources we’ve listed because elders and elder cats need each other!
Bella: And more and more people in the health and elder care field are starting to see the benefits that pets have for their elder clients. This article does a great job of discussing what pets can do for elders (although the article is rather dog-focused, it’s still relevant) and how elders can make sure they and their pets stay healthy and safe together. It also discusses how you can plan for the possibility that your remaining cat may outlive you.
Tara: What about you other readers? Are you an elder yourself? How have you navigated living with an aging cat and then coping with their loss? If your health hasn’t allowed you to take on another cat, is there something else you’ve done that helps you feel connected and allows you to express your love for cats? Please let us know! Mama says she’s going to be an elder someday, too, and she’s always happy to get tips from people who are living the experience now so she has some idea what to expect.
I wish I had something to add – but you guys covered it. I wish more nursing homes/assisted living places allowed cats. I know there are all kinds of complications and legal issues and concerns over who is really responsible for the cats’ care – but I know for a fact that having a cat in the memory care unit of my Mom’s nursing home gave her a reason to get up in the morning. With dementia, words – memories – even your body fail you – but cats can relate without any of that. There were times I felt my Mom had the most meaningful interactions with Kahlua (a HUGE ginger) – and I was so grateful.