One of your cats dies. How does your other cat feel about it? Is he wondering where his housemate has gone and when she’s coming back? Is he taking it in stride? Is he beside himself with grief? He can’t tell you in words, but there are a number of other ways he can make his feelings known.
If the deceased cat was a close companion — known as a preferred associate among animal behavior experts — chances are high that he’s going to be mourning. Here are some of the signs he may exhibit.
- Clings to you more or needs frequent reassurance with petting and being held more often.
- Becomes more “absent,” either by staying in a separate room or under the bed.
- Vocalizes more than usual.
- Stops using the litter box to urinate, or now uses it inconsistently.
- Shows less interest in play or food.
Indeed, in a study conducted by the ASPCA some years ago, 46 percent of people with cats who lost a close feline mate reported a decreased appetite, while 70 percent said there was a change in vocalizations. They also cited new sleeping areas for bereaved cats, difficulty sleeping, and an increased need for attention.
Easing your pet’s emotional burden
You can’t erase your cat’s grief, but you can make a conscious effort to lighten his emotional load. But first, take your pet for a veterinary check. Increased vocalizations, loss of appetite, urinating outside of the box when your cat never did that before, and other behavior changes can signal a medical problem. Especially if your two cats were up in years, it becomes more conceivable that the one still living has developed a condition that needs medical attention..
Once a medical condition is ruled out, here are some things you can do to help your cat through his grief by putting his mind to other things.
- Let him know you understand by stroking him more, and gently brush his coat more often if he enjoys that.
- Bring home a couple of new toys, and don’t just set them at his feet. Engage with him in play — for instance, by throwing a ball for him to chase or shining a beam of light on the wall. Rotate toys daily to keep things interesting and your pet’s mind occupied.
- Install a new window seat; if possible, put a bird feeder right outside for him to have something new to look at.
- Give him a new puzzle feeder to help distract him. One brand to check out is Pipolino (pipolino.com), a baton-shaped food dispenser your cat can chase to release the morsels inside.
- Invite someone over whose company your cat really enjoys.