When a household suffers the loss of a cat, the human family members are not the only ones affected. The animal companions left behind are suffering as well. Cats are characterized as creatures of habit, so they do not react favorably to change. They like today to be like yesterday and for tomorrow to be like today. If the animal that has passed on has been sick, the companion cat has likely sensed this change. However, if the animal is hit by a car or simply does not return home, this scenario may be more traumatic to the ones left behind. In either case, they will need time to adjust to the loss.
What kind of behavior can you expect from your cat? You may see signs of depression, sleeping more, hiding, loss of appetite, loud meowing as well as searching for the missing companion and standing watch for hours. Some cats even run away. One of my cats spent three days in a spare bedroom standing sentinel over the last spot she had seen her beloved companion. She only left for a few minutes at a time to see if her mate was hiding out somewhere. She also ate little during that time even though the provisions were moved to her.
What can you do for your companion cat in the days immediately following the loss? Since cats are highly sensitive to environmental changes, your objective should be maintaining consistency and safety.
- If there is a body for the cat to inspect, some caregivers believe this helps the cat to better understand.
- If you have a memorial ceremony or burial, include your cat. Let them watch whatever you do and listen to what is said. Cats may understand far more than we think they do.
- Talk softly to your cat and explain what has happened. Assure your cat you will always provide care.
- Hold and caress your cat for as long as he wants attention. He will feel safer and reassured.
- Continue with regular playtime or special rituals with your cat. The cat is familiar with these activities.
- Avoid changing any household routines like feeding time. Maintaining a routine sends a consistent message to the cat.
- Avoid changing cat food brands or rearranging the furniture. This is too much change for the cat piled on to what has just happened.
- Avoid adopting a new pet immediately since the cat may think he is being replaced and he might run off if given the chance.
- Avoid boarding the cat if possible to keep him from feeling abandoned. If you must travel soon after a pet loss, consider having a pet sitter or a neighbor care for the cat. This change in routine is minimized since the cat remains in familiar home surroundings.
- Watch for prolonged grief reactions that may lead to medical problems.
Bottom line-Shower your cat with loving attention!
How has your cat grieved for a lost companion?
Linda A. Mohr is the award-winning author of Tatianna-Tales and Teachings of My Feline Friend and Catnip Connection blog for Seattle Press-Intelligencer, a professor at Northwood University, and the co-founder of Pet Apothecary. She is a member of Cat Writers' Association with human-animal bond expertise. Visit http://www.lindamohr.net or http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/catnipconnection