I recently had to have my 18-year-old cat put to sleep. I miss her greatly and I’ve noticed my other two cats behaving differently in her absence as well. Do pets grieve like we do? What can I do to help them?
Grieving a friend in Forest Pines
Dear Grieving a Friend,
I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve recently lost an important part of your family. Pets are our family and when we lose one, it can cause real, intense grief -- to both the humans AND the other pets in the home.
Dogs and cats are pack animals and so they look to the other humans and animals in their home for safety and security. When a “pack member” leaves, that can cause a lack of stability for the animals in your home.
Sometimes, the death of a pet in the home can cause other pets to begin to act out, or show signs of distress and grief. These are very common reactions to an abrupt change in an otherwise very dependable situation. First up, let’s discuss what grieving looks like for our pets.
How can I tell if my pet is grieving?
You might notice your remaining pets looking around the house for their lost family member. This seeking behavior is very normal and you might find them looking in your deceased cat’s favorite napping or sunning spots.
This interest in your cat's old haunts shows that your other pets are genuinely wondering where she went and likely miss her.
You might also see changes in the personalities of your existing pets. They might cling to you more or be more withdrawn.
They might also show less interest in eating and playing than normal. If your cats stop eating for longer than a couple of days, though, you’ll want to do whatever you can to convince them to eat as going long stretches of time without food is dangerous to cats. Try to entice them to eat with their favorite cat foods or even chicken baby food, if nothing else appeals to them.
Allow them time to adjust
Just like humans, animals need some time to come to terms with their “new normal.” You might notice a new pecking order or social structure emerge among your other pets and this is very normal. If possible, leave them alone to work this out themselves. It might involve a little growling and other seemingly aggressive behavior, but as long as no one gets hurt, it’s all part of the process.
As hard as it might be, try to control your own emotions around your existing pets. Pets are very intuitive and when their human is distraught, it causes them stress. Vets recommend that you talk to your pets in an upbeat voice and refrain from getting too loud and emotional in front of them.
Hold off on replacing your pet
Sometimes, our instinct is to immediately replace our dearly departed pet with a new one. While I typically will NEVER advise you against adopting a needy pet from a shelter, in this case, hold off for a while to allow both you and your pets to grieve and adjust to life without your old kitty. Bringing a new pet into your home now might only cause more stress for you all and, ultimately, resentment that the new pet isn’t fitting in as well as you’d hoped.
With a little time, love and understanding, I hope that you all will heal and recover from the loss of your precious friend. The death of a pet is one of the hardest things that pet lovers endure, but alas, it is the price of choosing to love something that we will likely outlive. In my humble opinion, grieving the loss of a pet is the highest form of love. Tabby is sending you and your pets lots of love and purrs during this difficult time.
Do you have a question for Tabby? Email her at email@example.com.
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