Helping Your Cat Grieve

Pet loss is a difficult experience for pet owners as well as for the surviving pets. Though they cannot tell us how they feel, your pet may be going through a time of grief.  As owners, it is easy to overlook behavior changes while dealing with our own sense of loss. When pets grieve, they usually show their sense of loss with behavior changes such as depression or separation anxiety.

When the cat or dog first becomes sick or starts to decline, the surviving pets often begin to act differently . For people, this can be a time of preparation, and some of our grieving may be done well in advance of the pet’s actual death. Although we don’t know for sure if surviving pets realize their companion animal friends will soon die, they certainly do act like they are aware of the changes taking place . In fact, many sensitive cats react to their owners’ emotional upset and grieve in response to our changes of behavior over the heartache.

The surviving pet may seem withdrawn and depressed. Often the personality changes and a shy cat could become more demanding of attention, while a demanding cat may start to hide. One of the most heartbreaking situations occurs when the surviving pet cries and looks everywhere for the missing loved one. Sometimes it can be helpful to allow the surviving pet to say “goodbye” to the body after a furry friend has died. They may sniff and examine the body, cry or ignore it all together. All of these reactions should be considered normal. That’s the only way we can explain to them what has happened to their friend. Viewing the friend’s body allows them to understand he’s not coming back. They still grieve, but aren’t searching for their friend or plagued with curiosity any longer.

People go through several stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, while not always in this order. Pets have their own process of grieving which may include anger or depression until they finally work through the situation to acceptance. Just as people get over a loss in different time frames, some pets may take longer than others.

Owners and pets can provide mutual support as they grieve together. The bond they share offers comfort and safe place to release the painful thoughts and emotions of the loved one they’ve lost. Be sure to welcome your pet into your presence. Speak to them about the situation to help you both process. Although they may not understand your words, your pet will pick up on your emotions. Be careful not to baby your surviving pets, however, as this can be interpreted as a reward for acting depressed.

Play uplifting music to lift depression. An herbal remedy also helps a percentage of pets. The Bach Flower remedy called Star of Bethlehem is said to be particularly helpful for relieving sorrow and grief. You can find Bach remedies at many health food stores, or online. Also, the herb Saint-John’s-Wort acts as a natural antidepressant but must be dosed according to a veterinarian’s advice. If the depression doesn’t lift and lasts too long, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe an antidepressant drug.

The most effective way for you to help your pet grieve, and even yourself, is to give ample time for this necessary process. Though it hurts, the capacity to grieve honors the memory of the departed, and is a measure of the depth of our love. That truly is a legacy to celebrate.

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