Guest Post: When Pets Grieve…

HOW TO HELP YOUR PETS RECOVER FROM THE DEATH OF THEIR FURRY FRIEND

By BJ Burman

The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”
(Jeremy Bentham)

If you think humans are the only ones that can feel the loss of a loved one, then you’re mistaken. But I suspect any cat-lover knows that pets grieve just as humans grieve.

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It is sad that many humans think they are the only ones that are qualified to feel sad, happy or grieve when the loss a loved one.

If your pet can feel happy when there is the cause to, then why do you think it can’t feel sad and grieve when there is cause to?

The good news is, this view is changing. Of course, animal-lovers have always known that animals DO feel and DO grieve, and have just been waiting for the ‘professionals’ to catch up with this fact. In 1996, the ASPCA conducted the Companion Animal Mourning Project, a study to find out whether pets show signs of grief. The results are very interesting:

  • 46% of pets ate less after the death of a companion.

  • 70% vocalized a lot more or a lot less than normal.

  • Over 50% became more affectionate and ‘clingy’ with their people.

  • 65% showed four or more behavior changes after the death of a fellow pet.

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People often argue that pets (animals) don’t ‘feel’ the way we humans do because they don’t have the capacity for thought and emotion that we humans do.

However, anthropologist Dr Barbara King says that ‘grief is linked not to some feat of thinking but instead to feeling’. In other words, that ‘grief is a symptom of the real evolutionary benefit at work: LOVE. Kind cites behaviourist Marc Bekoff (author of Animals Matter), saying that animals experience love as well as grief; that animal grief results from ‘lost love’, just like it does for human grief.

My neutered male cat literally brought a kitten home in his mouth one day and henceforth became his ‘daddy’. When Pumby (the daddy) died, Poquey (his baby) went into mourning for a year! Howling, looking for him everywhere. They DO grieve! (Andrea)

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A couple of years ago, my father in law had to go into hospital for 3 weeks. His Siamese cat stopped eating and became very sick, even with the appetite stimulants he still wouldn’t eat and the vet said he was letting his body shut down. When my father in law came home it was too late. Simon had died of a broken heart. (John)

Fact is this – as the above true stories testify, when one of your pet dies the other may start behaving in ways such as:

  • eating less

  • loss of interest in things that it used to feel interest in

  • staying aloof from you and others

  • not sleeping where it used to sleep

  • staying silent most of the time, or perhaps being much more vocal than usual

  • over-preening and cleaning

  • wandering from place to place as if looking for something

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All these are signs that your pet is silently grieving the loss of the other pet. If the pet isn’t really sure whether the other one died or not, it could be hoping that the other pet will return.

What should you do when this happens?

As with humans, time tends to ease the grief, at least a little. Time, they say, heals all wounds – in humans and even in pets.

Some pets heal within a few weeks, while some last for many weeks and even months before they overcome the loss of their fellow pals.

To help the process, here are some things you can do:

  • Give your cat extra love and attention

  • Talk (yes, in English) to your cat about how you are feeling and let them know that you understand how they are feeling (they will pick up on the comforting ‘energy’ of your words)

  • Perhaps provide extra stimulus, like a new toy, or take your cat for a walk (if you have one of those cats that likes going for walks) to keep their mind stimulated and off the subject of their grief, but don’t overdo it—you will exhaust yourself and your cat! It’s okay to spend time grieving, just try to strike a balance.

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Signs to watch out for

However, in some cases, your cat may need extra help or medical intervention:

  • If your cat stops eating for two days or more, try experimenting with different ‘treat’ food, or perhaps warm the food a little to increase the smell, which may entice your cat to eat. If not, however, seek your vet’s advice.

  • If your cat is preening excessively, or not drinking enough water, she may start losing her fur. Again, talk to your vet about this.

  • Finally, if you are just concerned generally about your cat’s mood—lethargy or depression—definitely seek your vet’s advice. There are treatments to help cats out of a dangerous depression.

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There is one question that I haven’t addressed, and that is ‘Should I get another cat?’, and that, dear Reader, is the subject of my next article, so keep an eye out for it!

In the meantime, I do recommend Animals Matter by Marc Bekoff (available here http://amzn.to/16leXDU) and Barbara King’s How Animals Grieve (available here http://amzn.to/1LKQfxz).

Plus, I do invite you to email me at bj@petsrememberedforever.com if you would like to be kept informed of when my book How To Help Them Heal: Everything You Need To Know To Help Your Pet Grieve And Heal After Pet Loss will be available. (By the way, I love hearing from fellow furbaby-lovers so please do get in touch.)

BJ xx

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We regularly write about all things relating to cats on our Blog Katzenworld! My partner and I are owned by three cheeky cats that get up to all kind of mischief that of course you'll also be able to find out more about on our Blog If you are interested in joining us by becoming a regular contributor / guest author do drop me a message.
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79 thoughts on “Guest Post: When Pets Grieve…

  1. Oh, they definitely grieve. Even if you think that two cats had little interaction or even hated each other. I experienced this twice in less than a year, recently. The grieving process is as complicated as the “introduction” process.

      1. How long did it take Oliver to accept Nubia? I had a cat that took more than a year to forgive me for what she saw as interlopers 🙁 Very hard.

        1. He was really good. He gave her loads of space when she first arrived. I still remember how he kept looking in her room to see if she was happy for him to come in and if she hissed he walked away. After 5 days they played together. But I think we were lucky!!!

          1. Indeed, I think that you were very lucky! My first tortoise shell, Calico, took a year to forgive me, and to rub salt in the wound would speak to my now-ex-husband’s lap. Melon took a year to accept Rosie, but has been a lot more forgiving with Pearli – because we decided to get her very soon after Rosie was run over. I shall share those stories in due course…

          2. Oh no 🙁 I am not even sure how I would cope if that happened to one of mine. Let alone the one left behind! Those are times I’m happy they are indoor only I have to admit. Nubia lost a leg before we adopted her because of a car accident. And Oliver came from an indoor home to the charity.

          3. same here – an elderly tom (was turning 6, when the new one arrived) who had lost his companion from sickness – four weeks of no second cat, than he started complaining – so after another 4 weeks we had a new cat. She was really shy for me, but bonded with my tom immediately.

          4. And you should not even ask what I have done for the one that died. I once took her to the vet in the middle of the night, left her in the clinic several times, we had vet-bills that would leave a lot of people on the brink of ruin (All in all around 5000 Euro, I’d say. But I did not do the math, just an estimation). You do not just abandon a family member. And when FunTom was lonely after her death I searched for a cat that was compatible with him. Neither looks nor age were that important, temper and character had to fit.

          5. Yeah I totally know what you mean. One of my best friends saved her cat through loads of operations and money that made some people go “why don’t you just get a new cat” needless to say she doesn’t talk to those anymore! The good thing for her the vet managed to save her boy. (He had a very bad accident with a car)

  2. There’s a pretty good article about this in January’s, Cat Watch newsletter, put out by Cornell University.

  3. I’ve witnessed, firsthand, the grieving process between the loss of two of our cats. One died young, at about age eight. It confused our oldest male. He vocalized for days. Our female, who had always been very distant, took up with the older cat and they finally bonded. Our yellow Lab was also taken under the wing of the two cats. Each found a way to comfort, and in the end, their bond grew strong. Two years later we would lose our oldest cat. That tragedy just bonded the Lab and female tabby all the more close. We went on to rescue two new cats. Oddly, they are the misfits. They tolerate each other, the dog and the tabby, but they are not bonded like the dog and tabby are.

  4. Yes, I believe animals mourn…. Our cat Greg mourned – ate less, sat silently whole days, wandering around the house – when our beloved Bob died….

    Greek did the same thing plus shouted continuously when Grace disappeared – I hope she’s in the right hand taken care of well….

    Thanks for this interesting writing 😺

  5. I know animals mourn. Our cat came into our house as a kitten when our dog was already a few years old. She’s so attached to the dog that if she can’t see the dog out the window when we take her out to potty, she walks around the house and cries for the dog until it comes in. I don’t even want to think about the heartbreak she will feel someday when our dog passes. The stories in your blog are very touching and sad, but I think this is an important topic for pet owners to think about. Looking forward to your next post!

  6. I had 2 male cats several years ago and one died 2 years before the other…Skinny was sad and clingy and I had to spoon feed him for a while like I had done when his Tigger was dying.
    When I moved away years ago I left my dog with my daughter and her father in the family house but my dog missed me so much she got depressed and my ex had to go to hte house at lunchtime to keep her company for several months…we were reunited a year later when my daughter moved back with me. Animals grieve for sure.

  7. Cats seem to show many different emotions, just like humans. We had two cats, Abbey and Tigger, who really cared for each other. When Abbey died, Tigger’s health seemed to suddenly decline and he died a few months later.

  8. Oh, they absolutely do grieve. My Maine coon mix’s demeanor completely changed after his best bud, a black male shorthair, passed away suddenly. He had been a very happy-go-lucky and friendly cat before, but after his BFF died, he became aloof and grumpy. He never was the same, although he did brighten up a bit when another young male joined the clan later on.

  9. Excellent post. Pets do have feelings and you can see it in their everyday interactions with their human companion as well as their furry comrades.

  10. Right now, I cannot figure out if my cat is grieving for my neighbor’s cat (who was put down last Friday). Her cat was not outside as much as mine, so they didn’t see a lot of each other, but I think he somehow knows. Or it could be that he’s got cabin fever from not being able to be outside as much as he likes due to the extreme temps and snow we’ve had. Probably a combo of both. When my previous cat died, he left for a day and a half, and then came home to be my only cat.

  11. Very true and extremely well written. I agree with every word 100% and support this post with all of my heart. Of course, cats and all animals grieve. That is not in dispute. They have the same feelings as humans. This is why we fight for them! Great post!

  12. Fish grieve, also. I had two peppered corydoras catfish in a tank with some platy fish, and when one of the cory cats died, the other stayed by his body for several hours. He was sad, too.

  13. Great article and timely for me to read as I have two senior female cats (16 yrs). They have been together since nearly the beginning and I know when one goes the other will be lost. It’s hard for me to even contemplate it without falling apart so I am taking the “enjoy the glass while it’s full, while it’s here. Someday the glass will be empty, someday the glass will break..it’s inevitable. Until then I will enjoy the glass.”

    1. Hope you still have some nice years to come. When I got my first indoor couple in 2006, I had asked myself seriously, if I was able to deal with losing them one day. If I had not been able to say Yes, I can take this along with the good days, I would not have been able to get the cats. It would just not have been fair.

  14. Reblogged this on As I see it and commented:
    Great article and timely for me to read as I have two senior female cats (16 yrs). They have been together since nearly the beginning and I know when one goes the other will be lost. It’s hard for me to even contemplate it without falling apart so I am taking the “enjoy the glass while it’s full, while it’s here. Someday the glass will be empty, someday the glass will break..it’s inevitable. Until then I will enjoy the glass.”

  15. Important post. Our cat Karl was heartbroken when his best pal Magnus died 4 years ago. He wandered around the house crying (looking for him) and stared at us as if asking us where we had taken him, and hid a lot. It took a long time for him to come out of it. Yes, he was grieving.

  16. I never knew how true all this was until last september when my Son’s cat died…our other cat’s personality changed completely. We never knew how much they relied on each other until then…she became so close to all of us (prior to the she basically ignored us) and the dog….she waits until the dog goes to sleep and snuggles up next to her now.

  17. A hard topic to think or talk about, but good to know info. We have three cats in varying ages, and the oldest is definitely showing her age. It will be hard on all of us to loose one.

    1. I know it’s one of those topics you don’t really want to think about. But it is at the same time an important one. :(. Hope you’ll have many years to come with your kitties 🙂

  18. I’m on a road trip across the country and we had to leave my little kitty behind. She is with my mother in law who she knows and loved very much so I’m happy about that, but this still made me cry. Haha

  19. When my Father was living with us our two dogs got very attached to him. He went into the hospital several times and they would spend a lot of time on his bed. We were able to take them up to see him so they knew he was still around. However, after he passed away we could tell that they knew he wasn’t coming back. They were constantly going into his room and whining. A year later, our small dog got lung cancer and he was gone in a month. The one good thing (if you can call it that) is that he died at home, during the night before we were going to take him to the vet to take him out of his pain and misery. It was good because our other dog saw it happen (she woke us) and could understand why he was gone. We got a kitten about 6 months later and she tried to play with a toy left over from Joey and Violet (the bigger dog) grabbed it away from the cat so fast. Violet put it in her bed and 2 years later it still has to be in her bed. But cat and dog are friends.

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