Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My 4-month-old kitten, Haru, is suddenly acting up. Two months ago, when I first got him, he was extremely loving and a little clingy. So, a month later, I got him another kitty, Aki, to play with. Haru and Aki became best friends — they played and ate and slept
together. But three weeks after I brought Aki home, he died of parvo. Even though it had only been three weeks, Haru seemed to miss Aki immensely. He searched all of Aki’s favorite hiding spots over and over again, and eventually got so frustrated he would let out a loud yowl and run around our apartment like he was possessed.
After two weeks, Haru stopped searching for Aki. But now he has become very clingy again and won’t let me out of his sight. Sometimes he bites me really hard out of the blue, not while I’m petting him, but mostly when I try to pick him up. This was never a problem before Aki died. He always used to be good about using his scratching post, but now he scratches everything. He’s also lost interest in all his toys, even Da Bird, and rotating the toys doesn’t seem to do anything. Physically, he’s fine. He’s eating and drinking like normal and his stools are regular.
I just don’t know what to do when he’s acting up. Is it because he still misses Aki, or this regular behavior for 4-month-old kittens? Please help.
Siouxsie: When a cat loses a friend, he can grieve every bit as profoundly as a person. A lot of the signs you mention are common behaviors for grieving cats: changes in temperament and behavior, becoming excessively clingy, looking for the lost friend and depression.
Thomas: When you say that Haru is physically fine, we trust that you’ve talked to your vet. We always recommend that when a cat has a behavior change or starts acting out with biting, especially when that biting is in response to specific stimuli like being picked up, you bring him in for a checkup just to confirm that there are no physical illnesses or injuries.
Bella: Some of what you describe can be regular 4-month-old cat behavior — the adult teeth usually start coming in around 4 months of age, so that teething can cause some extra “mouthy” behavior.
Siouxsie: But the depression in particular leads us to think that whatever else is going on, Haru is still missing his friend. Keep in mind that three weeks is a very long time in a kitten’s life — it would be like a couple of years for a pair of human child friends!
Thomas: So, Sharon, the first step for you is to make an appointment for Haru to see the vet, especially since Aki died of parvo (also known as feline panleukopenia or “distemper”), which is a highly contagious disease.
Bella: Normal kitten vaccinations do include a vaccine against panleukopenia, by the way.
Siouxsie: While you’re waiting for the vet visit and after you’re back, you’ll need to be especially understanding and supportive of him. I always recommend taking time to really emotionally connect with a bereaved cat. Imagine a wire connecting your heart to his. That wire transmits your feelings to him and his feelings to you. Take some time to sit quietly and “hear” and feel what’s coming through that wire.
Thomas: Share your feelings about Aki, too. Tell Haru that you miss Aki and you’re sad that he died. Tell him you love him and you’re sorry Aki is gone. Make sure he knows you didn’t just send Aki away, but that you couldn’t do anything to save him from his illness.
Bella: Okay, okay, I know that sounds all woo-woo and stuff, but really — it works! Right, Thomas?
Thomas: Yes, it really does. Mama did this with me after Dahlia died, and it helped me feel better to know that she was sad too. That way I could give her love and support her, and she could give me love and support me. She cried on my fur a lot, but I was okay with that, ’cause I cried a little on her fur too.
Bella: Awwww, Thomas. You’re so sweet.
Siouxsie: Oh, Jeez. Like I didn’t miss Dahlia, too? Mama talked to me and hugged me as well, but I just wasn’t such a crybaby about it.
Thomas: But … but … Dahlia and I were snuggle buddies. *sniffle* And she didn’t even want to be near me for the last week. *sniffle*
Siouxsie: Aww, I’m sorry, Thomas. I didn’t mean to be nasty.
Thomas: Anyway … *sniffle* … there are some other things that might help, too. Again, this is a little on the woo-woo side, so take it or leave it as you see fit. But there are natural remedies that can help grieving cats (and grieving humans, too).
Bella: We’re fond of a family of flower essences called Spirit Essences. Mama has used some of them with difficult inter-cat situations before and they really have helped. Two that might work out well in Haru’s case are Changing Times and Loss Remedy.
Siouxsie: If you’re outside the US, you might have an easier time getting Bach Flower Essences. Rescue Remedy is a great soother for physical, emotional and spiritual trauma. There is an alcohol-free version of Rescue Remedy formulated just for pets.
Thomas: Good luck, Sharon. Please let us know how things turn out. We’re sending our purrs and kisses to Haru.
Bella: How about you other readers? Have you had to help a grieving cat? What did you do, and what worked best? Let’s talk in the comments.
When my cat’s littermate died at 13 I played with him all the time to distract him (and I’m pretty sure, me too!) from his grief. I bought almost an unhealthy amount of toys, but it really helped both of us!!!
I’ve noticed a change in my kitty Diamond too when Suntia passed. They weren’t joined at the hip, but they got along well 99% of the time. Diamond has become a lot more clingy and now follows me everywhere I go in the house. I think it’s because she’s never been a solitary cat before she’s gotten so clingy. I don’t have much money to spend on toys and other treats and remedies to dote on her with, but I give her all the love I can pour into her little body, and I tell her often how I miss our lost cuddle buddy. I don’t think she’s gotten over our loss as this happened only months ago, but I think a stronger bond is forming between me and my kitty who had always been just a little distant of me.
When I lost my 6 year old to cancer, my 17 year old cat had a hard time with the loss. He’d always been part of a family of cats. I spent as much time with him as I could and finally at my vets suggestion we got another cat to help him. When I had to put my oldest kitty Karma (he had been the 17 year old, now he was 21) down I talked to my vet about how I worried that my other cats would worry that I had abandoned him somewhere. My vet kindly allowed me to take him home after he had passed so that my cats could say good bye. They all missed him, and grieved but NOT in the hauntingly sad way Karma had when he lost his little sister. They knew he was gone. From now on I will ask my vet to make sure my other babies can say good bye. That’s for future. For now, love your kitten, snuggle your kitten and share your pain. It does help.
When our male cat Cassius died, our older female cat, Heidi, developed a bad case of separation anxiety. I had never realized how attached she was to him until he died, which was a lesson in itself. I tried various methods to help her but really it took a good couple of years before she stopped crying obsessively when I left the house (even just to go get something out of the car!). It didn’t help at all that my job regularly takes me out of town, either. I want to put in a good word for the woo woo communication stuff because one day when I knew I had to go on a trip I picked up Heidi and mentally told her “I will never, ever leave you and not come back, I will ALWAYS come back, and I will ALWAYS be here for you.” Then, every time I went out the door, as I opened the door and stepped out I always looked back at her and sent her a mental picture of myself coming back in the door, as she sat and watched me leave. And it really seemed that it was after that day that her anxiety finally started to subside. I had told her before that I was coming back but not in such an intentional and meaningful way, and it seemed to make a difference.