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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.

Thomas, a tabby and white cat, basks in the afternoon sunlight

Seeking solace. Photo © JaneA Kelley

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.

~ Sharon

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.