A lot of people write off cats as aloof and indifferent. Yet research and anecdotes alike confirm that cats develop close-knit bonds with people and other household pets. So what happens when they lose a family member? Do cats grieve? Let’s take a look at signs that a cat is in mourning, and how to help a grieving cat.
Do cats grieve? Yes
A cat that is bonded with a family member (furry or otherwise) will often show signs of mourning upon the health decline or loss of that individual. Pet parents have seen evidence of this time and again, and in 1996 the ASPCA even documented it:
The Companion Animal Mourning Project focused on common signs associated with mourning following the loss of a family pet or feline companion. The study concluded that 65% of cats experienced four or more behavioral changes which indicated grief.
These behavioral changes included decreased appetite (46% of cats displayed this symptom); increased sleep or insomnia; changing the area of the house where they slept; changes in vocal patterns, such as meowing more often or becoming quieter (70% of cats); and showing clinginess with their owners.
Signs of a grieving cat
Just like people, every cat reacts to loss differently. Signs that your cat may be experiencing grief include the following:
- Retreating or acting withdrawn
- Depression or listlessness
- Loss of appetite
- Increased sleeping
- Increased clinginess
- Acting out or misbehaving
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Increased or decreased vocalization
You may be wondering: Are these real signs of mourning, or is the cat just thrown by a change in the household? Animal behaviorists like Jackson Galaxy believe cats do indeed experience grief, and have offered up tips for how to help.
How to help a grieving cat
The best thing you can do for a grieving cat is be there for them. You may be feeling heartbroken at the loss of another pet, and it’s important that you lean on your remaining animals for comfort—both giving and receiving.
Spend extra time with your cat
Help fill the void in your cat’s life by spending extra quality time with her. You might consider napping together, cuddling, and pampering her with a nice grooming session. Even sitting with your cat to read, watch TV, or scroll through your phone will positively reinforce your comforting presence during this hard time.
Provide playtime and distractions
Exercise is good for the soul (and the heart!). If you don’t already have a daily playtime routine with your cat, start one now. Use a laser pointer, wand toys, and catnip toys to really up your game. This will provide a nice distraction for the both of you—a time to laugh and appreciate what is still precious in life.
Stick to a routine
Skeptics believe that cats don’t really grieve, but are simply upset by a change in routine. While we don’t necessarily agree with that, it is important to help your cat maintain her regular activities, from her sleep schedule to her feeding schedule. Cats, like people, find comfort in familiarity.
Provide entertainment while you’re gone
During a time of mourning, you and your grieving cat may be attached at the hip. Eventually, though, you’ll have to part for longer periods of time. Make sure your kitty has distractions and comforts when you’re out of the house, too. Provide a cat tree or window perch for your cat to watch the world go by outside, and leave food puzzles around the house for surprise treats.
Don’t reward inappropriate behavior
One of the most common signs of cat grief is increased meowing or even yowling. It can be heartbreaking to listen to, but you should be careful not to “reward” this sort of behavior. Resist the urge to give your cat treats in order to quiet her. Instead, ignore the meowing or gently hush her. If she quiets down eventually, that is the time to reward her good behavior.
Try herbal remedies
Herbal remedies can act as natural stress relievers for pets. Some popular choices for pets include flower essence blends such as Bach Flower Rescue Remedy and Jackson Galaxy’s Loss Solution. Check with your vet before starting an herbal remedy routine with your cat.
Talk to your vet about medical treatment
If your cat’s symptoms of mourning persist, talk to your veterinarian about prescription medical solutions. There are many antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications safe for pets, but do not give your cat human medicine without first checking with your vet.
Don’t rush to adopt another pet
After the loss of a pet, it can be tempting to quickly bring another animal into the household. You may assume that this will help your grieving cat feel normal again, but that won’t always be the case. Introducing another cat or dog into the household may only add to your current cat’s stress. While we do fully support adopting more pets in time, make sure you give your furry family members—and yourself—time to grieve and adjust.
Do cats grieve? Yes. But after losing a loved one, you and your grieving cat can help heal each other’s hurting hearts.
Cover photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash