Losing a feline friend is heartbreaking. No matter how much time you had to prepare, the emotions that may arise when grieving the loss of a pet cat can be overwhelming. However, allowing yourself to mourn and cope with the grief in healthy ways, such as identifying your feelings, engaging in self-care, and seeking support, can help you heal.
Grieving the Loss of a Pet Cat: Five Stages of Grief
Many pet owners who have lost a pet cat experience the same five stages associated with mourning. It can be comforting to identify these emotions and understand they are very common following a cat's passing.
- Denial. Following the death of your precious cat, you may feel as though their passing isn't real. It's natural to be in a state of shock or disbelief. Some pet owners even describe it as numbness. Whether you anticipated their passing, denial is a common reaction as you adjust to the absence of your feline friend.
- Anger. Emotional discomfort or pain can manifest as anger. It's not uncommon to feel frustration at having lost your kitty. You may direct this anger toward yourself, your pet, their care team, family members, or anyone else involved in their passing.
- Bargaining. During this phase, some pet owners may feel guilt. They are overcome with thoughts of what could have been if they had only tried X or instead done Y. Feelings of helplessness or remorse may arise, which are both natural responses after a loss.
- Depression. Deep sadness can set in as you adjust to a life without your cat. You miss their presence in your life and may find yourself crying, moving through the day with a foggy mind, or having difficulty sleeping. Sadness can lead to isolation from family or friends, but support from loved ones or a professional can be extremely beneficial or necessary to address depression.
- Acceptance. The final stage involves accepting that your cat is no longer with you. This doesn't mean forgetting your cherished pet, but instead, you can move forward knowing they are at peace and look back on your life together with fondness. Even though your grief may feel overwhelming right now, you can and will achieve acceptance.
How to Cope With Losing a Cat
Grieving is a natural but gradual process that will take time. The stages are not necessarily linear, so they won't always occur in the order listed above. The following strategies can help you cope as you heal from this significant loss.
The matter of what to do with your pet's remains may not be something you want to think about, but it is something you may be faced with. If you elected to have your cat cremated, the veterinary hospital or crematorium will call you within a week or so to pick up the ashes. This may be too painful or triggering for some pet owners. If that's the case, you can enlist a friend to accompany you or have them retrieve the ashes in your place.
Laying your pet to rest in the ground is more time-sensitive, so you may have to take action within a few days. You can elect for a home burial or bring your cat to a pet cemetery where they will handle all details. However, you shouldn't feel rushed to make a decision. Reach out to your veterinarian to see if they have space in their mortuary freezer so you can take time to consider your options.
Identify, Accept, and Express Your Emotions
Whatever emotions you are feeling are valid, and it can be helpful to identify them. Are you feeling frustration, sadness, shame, anxiety, loneliness, or relief? Acknowledge the emotion without judgment, then allow yourself to feel it. Journaling or sharing with an understanding friend can help you unravel the thoughts in your head and make sense of your feelings. Conversely, hiding or denying your feelings can prolong the healing process.
Take Breaks from Grieving
While it can be healthy to embrace your emotions and talk about your late kitty, giving yourself an intentional "time-out" from the grief can also be beneficial. Go out with friends, take a fun class, or go to the movies to give yourself a break. When you return, you can give yourself permission to pick up the box of tissues and continue grieving. This technique can give you a taste of what moving forward without your sweet cat will feel like. However, it's important to differentiate a break from complete avoidance of grief.
Care for Yourself
Caring for yourself is an important part of the healing process. Don't neglect your own physical or emotional needs. Continue to nourish your body with healthy foods, get a full night of sleep, engage in exercise, spend time outdoors, and try to do things that bring you joy. There's no timeline for when you'll begin to feel like yourself again, but you will. For now, take time to do what you need for self-care. If you find yourself struggling to fulfill your basic needs, reach out for help from loved ones or professionals.
Seek Bereavement Support
No one can tell you how to grieve, but speaking with another owner who has had a similar experience can help. Reach out to friends who have lost their dear cats or join a pet loss support group to meet other grieving pet parents. You don't have to do this alone. Professional therapy or counseling services that specialize in coping with the loss of a beloved pet are also available. Talking about the loss can be cathartic for many owners.
Do Cats Mourn the Loss of a Feline Companion?
It's common for cat owners to acquire two kittens at the same time or have multiple cats in a household. You may wonder if your remaining cats are grieving the loss as well. Cats are social creatures who form deep attachments with other felines, so when one cat passes away, the others certainly feel their absence. Even those who did not appear particularly bonded can still mourn the loss of their housemate.
Your surviving cats may show changes in behavior as a result of the loss. These typically manifest as depression or anxiety. Monitor for the following concerning signs:
- Sleeping more than usual
- Decreased or no interest in food
- Unwillingness to play
- Increased vocalization
- Inappropriate urination
The best thing you can do for your surviving cats is to maintain a consistent schedule. Continue feeding them the same food at the same time, and avoid any significant changes in the household. Moving furniture or switching diets can exacerbate their stress. Pheromone sprays or plug-ins can help calm cats while adjusting to the absence of their mate.
Don't forget to provide your current pets with some extra TLC, too. You have all experienced a significant loss and can help support each other through this grief.
Tips to Help Heal Your Broken Heart
There is no "right" or "wrong" way to cope with the loss of your beloved cat, as each person processes it in different ways. However, these techniques may help you move forward and find peace:
- Memorialize your cat with a beautiful epitaph, portrait, tattoo, or another meaningful keepsake. This will allow you to have a tangible reminder of your cherished cat and keep their memory alive.
- Create a photo book featuring your sweet kitty. Reach out to friends and family who may have photos you haven't seen before.
- Share these loving memories with others. Get together with friends who knew your cat and reminisce about their many quirks or adventures.
- Read touching stories, quotes, or poems dedicated to cats who have moved on. Hearing about others' experiences can help you feel less alone.
- Spend quality time with any other pets you might have. The attention you provide will help as they mourn, while also healing your heart.
- If you are able, consider donating supplies or funds to a local feline rescue in your cat's honor. You can even volunteer to help cats in need when you're ready.
- If and only when you are ready, you can consider bringing home a new cat. For some pet owners, this may take years, while others may be ready for a new feline friend after a few weeks or months. Take the time you need to grieve, and approach the possibility when you feel ready.
- Do not compare your grieving journey to anyone else's. Each situation and relationship are unique, so it can be harmful to compare your grief timeline or emotions to others. Instead, go at your own pace and be patient with yourself as you heal from this loss.
How to Grieve the Loss of a Cat
Grief isn't something you should aim to hurry or skip. Allow yourself the time necessary to fully heal after the difficult loss of your cat, as avoiding grief or coping in unhealthy ways can only prolong your healing. Even though your beloved kitty is no longer with you physically, the beautiful memories you shared will always remain.