When Our Cats Grieve

The loss of an animal companion can be very hard to cope with - but do our remaining pets suffer like we do? Experts say yes. Heres how to help them


Simply put, grief is a reaction that is caused by an abrupt absence of someone or something that provided pleasure, comfort, happiness and reassurance. Much like we do, cats will also grieve following a profound loss.

But do cats mourn in the same way as humans? Is their grief as intense as ours? Since we cannot enter into the cat’s mind, it is virtually impossible to emphatically answer this question. But cats do display their grief in a variety of ways that we can recognize — and also for varied periods of time. What we can readily observe is that a cat’s behavior can change radically upon suffering the loss of a closely bonded feline (or human) friend.

Some signs to observe
When a feline companion suddenly dies or goes missing, his absence in the household may be keenly felt. Cats often become withdrawn, confused and highly stressed when they experience an abrupt loss. The surviving cat or cats often spend considerable time searching for the feline buddy: sniffing out their common areas, frequently returning to places in which the missing cat spent time, pacing, yowling and calling out in an effort to find their missing companion.

A grieving cat may lose her appetite and refuse to eat. She may show a lack of interest in her surroundings, play and exercise. Sleep patterns often change and she may stop grooming herself, or conversely begin to overgroom in an effort to self-comfort. She may become overly attached to her guardians and get extremely “clingy.” Some grieving cats may sit silently while staring aimlessly out of the window or at a wall. They may stop using the litter box, and house soiling can occur. Some cats may even try to escape by dashing out the door.

Helping these cats
Regular Catnip contributor Arnold Plotnick, MS, DVM, ACVIM, ABVP, is a board-certified veterinary internist, feline specialist and the owner of Manhattan Cat Specialists. In his thought-provoking article, “Do cats grieve for other cats?” he raises the question whether it may be helpful to the surviving cat to view the body of their deceased companion(the article can be accessed at: http://manhattancats.com/Articles/feline_articles.html.com).

In response to this question, Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS DACVB, Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University replied, “Whether this is helpful or not is the subject of debate, and there is little evidence to support either view.”

Researchers in the field believe that cats may sense death much in the same way as a young child since they cannot grasp the permanence of death. If that is the case, Dr. Dodman states, “It would be like letting a two year-old child see a deceased family member at a funeral. The consequences may not register.”

Dr. Plotnick’s differing opinion is: “If dogs and cats do comprehend death more than we give them credit for, viewing a deceased companion may help to explain why that companion cat won’t be around in the future. Anecdotally, people have reported that some cats stop searching for an absent companion after being shown the body of a deceased companion. This may indicate that cats have at least some comprehension that something dead cannot come alive again. This may be linked to the fact that they are predators.”

How you can help
Grieving has no timetable. Some cats may grieve for a few weeks, or as long as several months. In order to better help the surviving cat through the grieving process, Dr. Plotnick recommends that you give the cat extra playtime, copious attention, patience, understanding and compassion.

It may help the cat to become more sociable and less clingy by offering new toys and treats, and enhancing the cat’s environment. According to Dr. Plotnick, “Cats are resilient animals. If given time to grieve, they will return to some of their old rituals, develop new rituals, and once again regain the contentment that they previously enjoyed.”

The grief of humans
Most cat guardians do not view their pet as “just a cat.” In fact, many people consider the cat to be a beloved family member. So when a cherished cat suddenly dies or passes away after a protracted illness, the guardian is often devastated — especially if the emotional connection is particularly significant.

For humans, grief is a highly personal and unique experience that often comes in stages. Grief can be cyclical, occurring in waves of highs and lows. Immediately following the loss, the lows are generally more profound and can be all-encompassing. However, with the passage of time, the intensity slowly starts to diminish. Even so, years after a profound loss, feelings of grief may once again spring up at the time of the anniversary, or when looking at photographs and recalling precious memories.

The grieving process can sometimes start prior to the cat’s death. Anticipatory grief may occur when the beloved cat has been suffering a painful, extended terminal illness. At first, the guardian may feel greatly relieved when the cat dies or must be euthanized; however the heartache may not diminish when the cat actually dies.

There are many facets of grief, including emotional and physical distress, the disruption of daily schedules and even obsessive thoughts over the deceased cat. Some people will experience pangs of guilt, suspecting that they must have “missed something,” causing their cat’s death. Others may be angry with the vet who didn’t “do enough” to save their pet. Some will be in denial and shut down emotionally, but fortunately most people will eventually reach feelings of acceptance and resolution.

Naturally, no one will react identically to the death of his or her cat. Every relationship between the cat and the guardian is truly unique. The qualities that made our cats so special to us — and the losses that we feel without their presence —greatly influence the measure and length of time of the grieving process. — Jo Singer


  1. My cat Jesse died almost two years ago and I still have bouts of crying, not just light sobs either, but crying my heart out for the loss of the best cat I’ve ever even known. He was about 6 or 7 months old when I got him, and he never scratched on any furniture, never knocked anything off of any high place, never got into the garbage, never drank out of the toilet, in short, he was so different from all other cats I have known or kept myself. I am 75 years old, and I’ve had a lot of cats during my life, but he was the best cat ever! Anyway, he died in my arms almost 2 years ago, I had no other cat to grieve him, only me and my boyfriend, who knew him as well as I did, but he chose me to be his “one”, his “person”, his “hooman”; I was so lucky, and to think I “didn’t want another cat in the house” at that time, then we had two other house cats and one outside cat. When we moved to Las Vegas, I brought him and my guy brought his cat, Gabby. My guy got another cat every so often but none lasted until his last one; Zorro Lee, and they didn’t get along, so there was no love lost or grief given when Gabby died. My guy was devastated though, and still misses her. We’ve had over 40 cats since he lost his apartment and moved in with me; we were “cat hoarders”. It was all my guy’s fault, he wanted a companion for Zorro, so on free day at the shelter, he adopted Delilah, who, unbeknownst to him was pregnant. After that he didn’t do anything, he went without having the two male kittens fixed, so it didn’t take long for all the females (4) to get pregnant; twice, and three times for Delilah. I was so disgusted, but I fell in love with so many of them, but until I went broke buying food and litter, I wanted to keep them all! Animal control was called and they took all the females and their kittens, but still left a couple of them and we got the males back; one original, the other was adopted quickly. The original one we got back and still have. I got to keep one also, and I kept a 3rd generation female. Most of the rest of them we think were euthanized, and super not necessary! One batch was adoptable age, another had been just about a week old, they should have been nurtured til adoptable, they were gorgeous; 4 white, one marbled, and one 99% black with only two thin strips of white on it’s chest and belly…. I wanted so

    • Take comfort in knowing that our heavenly father God has Jesse soul in his loving care. What a great gift to have enjoyed the company and love, God created these beloved for our enjoyment, and to enstill love and compassion in our hearts.
      Fill the void you feel, need to have and hold, with the love of your God, and his messiah Jesus.


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