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4 Ways to Help Cats Overcome Losing a Feline Friend

4 Ways to Help Cats Overcome Losing a Feline Friend

Recently my 16-year-old-cat — named Karma — was diagnosed with a tumor in her jaw. The tumor grew so quickly that Karma had only two to three weeks before we had to help her pass over. It all happened so abruptly that I am not sure I have processed it all yet. I am not sure if the other cats have processed it all either.

When the vet made the diagnosis, she asked me if the other cats had been acting differently. I realized that yes, they had. They had been grooming Karma more, and paying more attention to her. Particularly attentive was Chester, my buff cat who loves to take care of everybody. Chester and Karma were always a good match, because Chester was so caring, and Karma so sweetly and thankfully accepted the care. This was true for Karma’s whole life — healthy or ill.

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When Karma passed on, Chester suddenly seemed bereft. This Catster article lists behaviors or circumstances that we might observe if a cat is grieving. Chester was sitting continuously in front of the fire, in the place Karma loved. He looked lost. It sounds like anthropomorphism but I really felt that there was a void for Chester. Suddenly, he had no sweet Karma to care for. How could I fill that void for him? Should I?

This experience is new to me. When other cats have passed on in the household, their feline friends had been very matter-of-fact about it. I never noticed any grieving behaviors. This time, it is different. I am not sure if this is because of the nature of Karma (truly sweet) or the speed and very little time we all had to get used to the fact that she was leaving.

In reading through some of the related articles (links at end of this post) and the comments, there seem to be a lot of perspectives on what might work and what might not work. But here is what I’ve done so far. And in a way, we are still going through the process.

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1. I let the cats see the body of the deceased cat

I need time with the body, if possible, so I let my cats have that time as well, if they want it. When we brought Karma back from the vet (after she passed on), I sat with her for a long time. I let each cat come by, if they wished. Generally, they take a short look, and leave. But when Kali passed (earlier this year) I actually had a very touching thing happen. I sat with Kali, meditating, and grieving. Chester came and sat with us both, not moving, for at least 45 minutes. It was as if he was doing a vigil.

2. I try to keep things as normal around the house as possible, and stick to routines

Familiar routines seem to make my cats comfortable. In Karma’s case, while she was still alive, I was supposed to travel for training. I canceled travel plans because we were really operating day by day, and I wanted to be with Karma as much as possible, whether she passed on or continued on. (We really had no idea how anything would transpire.) I am really glad now that I was here, not only for Karma, but for the others (prior to and after her passing). The cats are always happiest when both my husband and I are here, and I am so glad that we’ve been able to be here.

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3. I’m as available to the cats as I can be

I’ve been working in the house during the day so that the cats can be with me. If they want to come and be next to me, they do. Things are still shifting and changing and the cats are a little unsettled. Karma had been part of our household for 16 years. But Jamie Bluebell was extra snuggly the other day. I’ve given Chester many treats, and thanked him from my heart for how well he took care of Karma while she was ill. (For example, he groomed her many times, extensively, when she started to become too ill to do more than wash her face.)

I do feel that the cats appreciate our presence and our attempts to establish as normal an atmosphere as possible. As I write this now, I am in the office, but it’s evening, and my husband is in the house and with the cats. I will be in the house, soon.

4. I let the cats use cat furniture that Karma used

I have two small cat beds, and all the cats use them. Karma loved them both, and really loved a brown one with high walls, especially when she was ill. I had to wash the beds all the time in Karma’s last weeks. When she passed, I washed the bed again and put it out, in the place where she liked it near the wood stove. The cats would lay by it or lay in it. I like to think that they were enjoying that reminder of her.

Like I said, Karma would sit in front of the fire for hours. After she passed, I watched as cats took her place there. It was almost as if they rotated shifts. Two of my cats had never spent much time by the fire before, and now I observed them, sitting next to Chester (who had loved to sit with Karma by the fire) in front of the wood stove.

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Maybe the best thing we can do to help a grieving cat is a balance between getting out of the way and making things comfortable and familiar. On the one hand, step in, comfort the cats, make things familiar and steady. On the other hand, also let the cats do what they need to do. They have a way of working things out.

How do your cats grieve? What have you noticed? Have you been able to make this easier for your cats? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: Black and white cat looking out of the window with a reflection of himself by Shutterstock

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This post was written by Catherine Holm, regular contributor to Catster Magazine.

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12:12AM PDT on Mar 25, 2014

I read this article a few months ago before I learned that my dear Shabby was terminal with Lymphoma. And since I had the two of them, Puffy, who had been together for nearly 13 years, I was concerned what would happen if one of them should pass.

My sweet Shabby left us on March 20, after a very tough struggle at the end, and left a very large void for me and Puff.

While Shabby was ill, Puff was by his side sleeping with and grooming him as he always had, and for Shabby, I was very grateful to Puff that he didn't shun or avoid him. When Shab passed I brought Puff to him but he ran away. I left Shab alone for Puff to approach him but it didn't happen. The following day Puffy seemed lost. He walked throughout the house many times, as if trying to find Shab. He also vomited and had diarrhea and he didn't eat very much. I became very concerned about Puff and spent much more time holding and petting him. This also helped to fill the void I was feeling.

I realized that I would have to make our life without Shabby as routine as possible from here on. It has seemed to help, as Puff now seems more responsive and taking to his normal ways since then and it has also eased the pain for me.

I never realized how much Shabby was the center of both Puff and me, as Shab had always been first a people cat (my baby) and Puff was dependent on Shabby since he was brought in as a kitten to an adult Shabby cat who took care of him.

I know now it will take a very long time

8:22AM PST on Feb 14, 2014

HI.HOW I miss my TOMMY ...SO MUCH, but life goes on and with my cats they searched everywhere for him, they undestood when I cried that he was gone, comfort, hugging, kissing, helps a lot and talking made the difference. He is still here with us we agreed.

5:57PM PST on Feb 3, 2014

The animal to animal bond can be very strong. They miss their friend and they grieve. Usually, after a time, they will get back to their lives but I doubt they ever forget their friend. Animals are pretty much like us.

10:23PM PST on Jan 9, 2014

this story is not about a cats death,it is about a pair of ducks death.I had a pair of ducks from the time they were a few weeks old.they became a very loving bonded pair ,Charlie and daisy.they were together for about 15 years,before Charlie died.daisy was grief stricken and unconsolable.she went to their nest where they slept together and would not leave it.I picked her up and moved her and tried to feed her many times,she went right back to their nest.After a couple weeks ,my sweet daisy died too.Any time another male came close to daisy,charlie would come running to save her.they were never very far apart from each other.I still think of them often,as I still live on the farm I grew up on.I know I will see them again.

12:30PM PST on Jan 8, 2014

Such a lovely, sensitively written article. A great reminder that animals grieve, too.

7:52AM PST on Jan 7, 2014

We consulted a cat psychologist when Echo was inconsolable after the death of his 16 year old brother, Mythryl (both indoor cats). He yowled as if in physical pain and started urinating on the back hall rug. He checked out fine with the vet. We were given many helpful suggestions, none of which resulted in moderating his grief noticeably. We gave him appropriate love and care, changed the place where we fed him. Put plastic down and continuous kitty litter boxes in the chosen places. Did some "clicker training," which he enjoyed, etc. He died of the same condition as his brother two years later. In retrospect, I wish we had shown him the dead body of Mythryl.

3:48PM PST on Jan 2, 2014

My deepest condolences to anyone who has lost their pet.

Other animals grieve each in his/her own way. When I was younger we had to put a dog to sleep due to invasive, inoperable, terminal cancer. Our other dog who had known her since she was 2 months old was obviously grieving so we gave her extra attention and let her keep all the toys the other dog used. She recovered from her grief and lived a long healthy life thereafter.

Lots and lots of love.

4:01AM PST on Jan 2, 2014

One of my cats died unexpectedly at the age of eight at the end of September. His brother from the same litter knew something terrible had happened the minute he came into the house, maybe even before, as I had already seen them actively communicating at distance without making a sound. We showed him the body the evening of Kat's death and the following morning before burying him, but he didn't react. Kit has reacted since by taking on more and more of the personality characteristics of his brother (they are very different), and our vet says this is not the first time she has heard of this. Before his brother's death Kit's legs were a very dark grey. Since, both his back legs have become such a pale grey that they are almost white - like his brother's. It gives me a great deal of comfort to think that Kat is doing so much to show me he is still around.

3:00AM PST on Jan 2, 2014

Thank You for the article & some comments.

12:37PM PST on Jan 1, 2014

When my older cat lost her sister in an car accident, everything was fine as long as I had layed her out in the kitchen. But after one and a half day I buried her and the remainig sister was desperate. I promised to get her a new companion, but my choice was not the Ideal. Too young and naughty it seems. But at least, the younger helped to get over the loss although they don´t really love each other.

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