Losing a family member or pet is hard for everyone, including your cats. As your cats age, they’ll likely experience some kind of loss, whether a human or animal friend dies, or if you go through a divorce and your spouse moves out. Whether human or 4-legged, these losses can hit your cat hard, and their behavior is the only way to tell if your cat is currently in mourning. This article discusses how you can tell if your cat is in mourning, and what you can do to help them through this difficult transitional time in your lives.
How can you tell if your cat is in mourning?
Obviously your cats can’t talk or cry, so the signs of mourning can be more subtle or confused for something else. Since your cat doesn’t understand death and doesn’t know why their friend isn’t around anymore, this can be a bit delayed. You might need to put your dog down on Monday, and your cat might not start showing signs of any upset until Friday. Some signs you might notice are:
- Isolation or listlessness
- Decreased appetite
- Less interest in playing, and less energy in general in their day-to-day activities
- Timidness or fear, especially if an animal friend was the more dominant one
- Sleeping more than normal
- Hiding in strange places, like in a closet they’ve never spent time in before
- More in need of attention
- Slower to do normal activities – for example a cat who normally runs into the kitchen as soon as she hears the food can open might take a few minutes to get up and walk to her food bowl
Many of these are normal grieving symptoms in humans as well. Some people say the mourning process in cats is less about emotion and more about a change in schedule. For example, your cat might be used to another cat waking you up at 7am every morning for breakfast, and if that cat passes away, their schedule’s thrown off which upsets them. While this is partially true, most evidence shows that cats absolutely have emotional connections to other beings, and not having that person or animal in their life anymore causes upset in itself.
The grieving process can also be different if the loss was a gradual decline versus a sudden loss. If your dog was dying of cancer for several months before ultimately passing away, the mourning process can be different than if your dog passed away in an accident. While we don’t know if cats can sense someone is going to pass away soon, many cats do notice a change in other animals and will begin experiencing mourning-like symptoms before the death actually occurs. So if you currently have an ill person or pet in your life and you’re preparing for the loss, don’t be surprised if you notice any of the above symptoms in your healthy cat while your sick family member is still here.
How to help your cat through mourning
Many experts say, if possible, to allow your cat to see the dead friend. Often a cat will recognize something is changing, and this will “jump start” the mourning process. While it sounds morbid, the sooner your cat recognizes their friend won’t be coming back, the sooner they can get through mourning. The cat will likely sniff the body, touch it, and they may start meowing or run away.
After a loss your should try to keep your cat’s life as normal as possible. Don’t suddenly remove all your other pet’s belongings from the house, or block off a room that your family member was staying in before passing away. Keep their feeding times the same, even if they aren’t eating as much, and keep as many elements of their day-to-day life the same as they were before the loss. Extra stress, even things that seem minor to you, can make this transitional period more difficult for your cat. Exposing yourself to those things that ar initially painful might help you as well, such as an empty dog bed that your dog previously slept in every night. Throwing that item away can slow down the grieving process since you’re attempting to avoid the loss. Confronting it can help both you and your cat.
Quality time is also important for both you and your cat after a loss. Your cat will certainly feel more lonely without their friend, and spending extra time with him or her can help both of you adjust to your new normal. Talking to your cat is actually very beneficial to them, and your familiar voice often soothes an anxious cat. Even just spending time in the same room can help them. Instead of going out on Friday night you might want to just stay home and watch tv and allow your cat to come up to you if they want to. Having you around will help ease their stress.
Don’t force your cat to stop showing signs of grief. You might get frustrated if your cat has decided that your kitchen sink is the new place they want to hide while they’re mourning, but allow them to do that at least for a time if they need to. Imagine losing a grandparent and wanting to stay at home and just cry for a few days, but your friends are trying to force you out of the house and go to the movies with them. For many people, this would just be upsetting and frustrating. Your cat will likely feel the same way. Obviously if your cat goes days without eating or using the litter box, then you’ll want to get them to a vet and make sure everything’s ok, but be patient with their behavior and know that they will get back to normal eventually.
Don’t get a new pet right away. While you think getting a new cat might make your cat feel better, in most cases the extreme change a new animal would cause to their environment would just cause additional stress and make the mourning process even harder. If you do intend on getting a new pet after the loss of a new one, give it some time, allow your cat to adjust, and then introduce your cat to a new pet slowly and responsibly. Just because your cat played well with a cat that had been around their entire life doesn’t mean she’ll suddenly accept a brand new cat the same way.