Q. We had the same two cats for 19 years. They were from different litters but were the best of friends. One of them died several weeks ago, and the remaining cat definitely seems to be experiencing deep grief and distress. She follows me around constantly, wanting to be petted, and she seems to require a lot of reassurance. I don’t mind giving her what she needs — I am retired and have the time — but is there anything I can do to help ease the loss? Adopting another cat is not an option at this time.
Dear Ms. Eldredge,
A. Cats do sometimes grieve the loss of a close companion (called a “preferred associate” in technical terms), and it is hard for us to watch them suffer. Unfortunately, it can take several months, if not longer, for a cat to make her way through the mourning process. But yes, you can take some steps to lighten her emotional load.
One is to make a conscious effort to increase her environmental enrichment. She no doubt relied on her housemate for shared activity and companionship, and you can help fill in the gap. Even just 15 minutes a day of allowing her to express her predatory instinct will help. Five minutes here and there of shining a beam of light or having her chase a feather or bell on a stick will lift her mood. Consider that exercise increases serotonin, one of the brain’s mood regulators.
Additionally, make an effort to rotate her toys on a regular basis and add some new features to her life — perhaps a fish tank (with a sealed lid) that she can watch with interest or a window seat that looks out onto a newly installed bird feeder outside.
These steps won’t make her sorrow disappear, but they will mitigate her transition into life without a companion cat. After a while, her current clinginess will ease up.