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.


Carrie-Anne Brown

great article, thanks for sharing :)

Donnaa D.
donnaa D3 years ago


Kathy K.
Kathy K3 years ago

Thanks for this thoughtful article. When one of our two older cats died, the remaining 4 often slept where he slept, especially Smudge, who was very bonded to him. Now our remaining older cat is getting close to the end of his life and I'm worried about Smudge will deal with it since he transferred a lot of the bond he had with Sprite to Yam.

Teresa Brooks
Teresa Brooks3 years ago

(Continued from post below) attention I gave him I could not help him with his loss. I had heard of this happening, but it was the first time I had experienced it for myself. When Georgie passed, I showed him to Blossom. It was clear that she understood what had happened, she looked sad and shocked at the same time. Whenever Georgie was not around before, it was due to him visiting the vets, but he always came home and Blossom would greet him and show how much she missed him and wondered where he was. This time Georgie could not greet her back, and it was clear that was what shocked her. After she saw him two more times, she went upstairs and laid in one of his favourite places under one of the beds. Normally Blossom would be downstairs, whereas Georgie was an upstairs cat. I laid Blossom to rest next to Georgie and I know that they are playing and grooming and so happy to be reunited. And I know that all of my animals are together and that one day I will be with them again.

Teresa Brooks
Teresa Brooks3 years ago

When it became time to say goodbye to my cat, Georgie, he was 17 yrs old and he was suffering from renal failure, I was absolutely devastated and I knew how badly it would affect his Sister, Blossom. They had been brought to me by a neighbour after they had been found in some unused allotments at the end of our road, and were around 1 week old. They had to be fed from a pipette as they were so small. We kept them and they lived as house cats and they were part of my family. I have always had animals as part of my family, and when each one of my animals passed away I was devastated and heart broken each time. When each one passed away, whether dog or rat or any animal I have had, I have always shown the surviving animals which they lived with, the animal which had passed. I knew that animals would recognise the passing of another and needed to know what had happened to one another and that they would need time and space to grieve. I have to say that all of my animals, regardless of species, have acted like described above. I have also had an animal that after both of his Brothers had passed, he simply lost the will to live. I woke up one morning which was after the first full day and night he was on his own, I looked in his cage and it was clear to see he had just laid down peacefully and decided he wanted to be with his Brothers. I had heard of this happening with animals before, but it was the first time I had experienced it. No matter how much time and extra atte

Adrienne Tomkins
Adrienne Tomkins3 years ago

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

Sandra D.
Sandra D4 years ago

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.

Carole R.
Carole R4 years ago

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.

Louella Robbins
Louella Robbins4 years ago

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.

Sharon Ganzhorn
Sharon Ganzhorn4 years ago

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