Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My 13-year-old female, Maridette, lost her “sister” last year. “Dette” has developed a constant meowing problem, wants 24/7 attention, keeps us awake late and wakes me up early after husband leaves. She gets plenty of food, stroking, lap, and outdoor fun in warm weather. Why won’t she settle down at night? My husband and I are losing sleep. It’s been over 7 months and is worsening.
Siouxsie: Marguerite, it sounds like Maridette is grieving.
Thomas: There are a lot of humans who don’t know that we cats grieve when we lose a loved one. When I lost my beloved person a few years ago, I was heartbroken! My person and I were very close, and when I was taken to the animal shelter with my sisters I got so sad and depressed that I got really sick. I cried all the time, too. I didn’t understand what had happened because one day I was in my home with my person and my sisters, and the next day I was in a cage in a strange-smelling place, and my person was nowhere in sight.
Dahlia: Cats that are really good friends grieve when their companion kitty goes away and never comes back.
Siouxsie: It sounds like Dette is still looking for her sister because she doesn’t understand why her sister isn’t there anymore.
Thomas: What were the circumstances of the sister’s disappearance? Was she sick? Did you take her to the vet and have her euthanized, or did she just go away and never come back?
Dahlia: Either way, Dette doesn’t know what became of her sister. Her crying and attention-seeking behavior is happening because she’s worried about her sister and doesn’t know why you’re not trying to help find her.
Siouxsie: There are some things you can do to help Dette through her grieving process. The first thing you need to do is talk to her about what happened to her sister. Explain that you did everything you could to help her, but after a while there was nothing you could do. If she had to be euthanized, tell Dette that her sister was very sick and suffering and that you did the kindest thing you could under the circumstances. If she got lost, tell her that you looked all over the place and tried to find her, but with no luck.
Thomas: Tell Dette that you miss her sister and you understand how sad she is because you’re sad too.
Dahlia: We know a lot of people feel silly talking to cats, but honestly–we understand a lot more than many people give us credit for! This is especially true if you open your heart while talking to us. That way we can feel what you’re feeling and we can understand more about what happened.
Siouxsie: If you don’t know what we mean by “opening your heart,” here’s one way to do this. With Dette in your lap, focus your thoughts on your heart and your feelings. Imagine your heart as a TV screen, showing Dette what you’re feeling inside as you talk about what happened to her sister.
Thomas: We know this sounds pretty “woo-woo” and “out there” to a lot of people, but you’d be surprised how well it works.
Dahlia: If you feel like crying as you talk about Dette’s sister, let yourself do so. We cats recognize crying as a sign of sadness in humans. You might even find that Dette cuddles you even closer or tries to lick away your tears in an effort to comfort you. Dette will feel less alone in her grief if you show your sadness, too.
Siouxsie: When Mama brought Thomas home, she helped him through his heartbreak by doing this and by giving him a homeopathic remedy called Ignatia amara. Ignatia is a remedy that helps us to cope with grief and loss.
Thomas: Homeopathic remedies are given as tiny little pellets, so they’re easy to administer. You can either let the pellet dissolve in Dette’s water or you can give it as you would a pill. One pellet a day (in any potency you can find–6X, 12X or 30X) should have some effect. I know I came around within a couple of days.
Dahlia: Make sure you give her the remedy at least 20 minutes before or after she eats.
Siouxsie: Homeopathic remedies work on an energy level. They don’t contain chemical drugs, so you don’t have to worry about homeopathy being unsafe for cats. Homeopathic remedies can be found at health food stores in the US and at pharmacies in the UK and Europe. If you can’t find homeopathic remedies in your area, there are mail-order outfits. Just do an internet search for homeopathic remedies and you should be able to find several places you can order them online.
Thomas: Be sure and talk to your veterinarian about Dette’s behavior, too. He or she may be able to prescribe a medication that reduces Dette’s anxiety level. Drugs like buspirone and fluoxetine have been used on cats to help alleviate anxiety-related behavior problems.
Dahlia: Your vet is a great resource for treatment of behavior issues as well as for physical illnesses. Veterinary schools teach them about behavior issues. Vets also read journals and go to conferences and workshops where they keep learning about the latest developments in treating animal behavior problems.
Siouxsie: Your vet may also be able to refer you to an animal behaviorist. A behaviorist will be able to give you more tips to help Dette cope with the loss of her sister.
Thomas: Consider purchasing a pheromone diffuser. These products release “feel-good” pheromones into the air and will help reduce Dette’s anxiety. Mama used a pheromone diffuser to help Sinéad and Siouxsie and me live happily together; it also helped me to feel better about how my life changed so radically after losing my person.
Dahlia: We hope these tips will help Dette cope with her grief and help you to cope with Dette’s grief-related behavior. Please write back and let us know how things turn out. Your feedback will give us more information that we can use to help other cats and people with similar issues.