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5 Ways to Help a Cat Through Change

Change, such as a death in the family, isn't easy for anyone, particularly cats. Here's how to help.

 |  Jan 10th 2014  |   4 Contributions


Some cats handle change better than other cats do. I wrote recently that my cat Chester seems hugely affected by the death of my cat Karma. I've never had a cat grieve before after the loss of a pet, and Chester did not grieve as hard when other buddies of his passed on earlier this year.

This has really been a wakeup call for me. Some cats have a hard time with change, and the same cat can react to change differently than in the past. And change can involve many situations, not just death. It might mean moving, a new roommate or partner, another cat becoming ill, even something as seemingly small as deciding that the cats no longer get to sleep with you in the bedroom. It's up to us -- as always -- to consider their health and care through whatever the change is.

Based on no scientific evidence, and just my observations over the years with the cats who have come and gone in this household, here are tips for when you and your cat are facing any kind of change.

1. Observe

Start with observing behavior. What's going on and what are you noticing? Obvious behavior detours come to mind like a change in eating, drinking, or bathroom habits. But if you learn to watch your cat, you'll notice if other slight behavioral things are off. Are they acting differently? Interacting differently with other pets or or people? Moving differently? Sometimes, your cat may just "look" different. You can't put your finger on it, but there's something that's changed about your cat or her appearance.

Bengal cat by Shutterstock.com

2. Rule out anything medical

Many ways that a cat might react to change are also similar to things you might notice a health issue -- if something was up medically with your cat. So, if you're not sure what the cause is of whatever you're noticing, rule out health issues with a veterinary visit. In my case, Chester suddenly started acting very differently about a week after Karma passed on. Chester got picky about food, seemed a lot more sleepy, interacted less with us, and acted as if he wanted to hide.

All of these things can indicate health issues, and as cat lovers know, cats are very good at hiding what's going on. Chester was due for his annual exam anyway, so he was checked over thoroughly. A blood panel and a thyroid test were also normal. I'm almost positive that the behavior we've been seeing is a reaction to the change in the household (which is to say, Karma passing on).

3. Maintain comforting routines

My theory is that if I can keep things as "normal" as possible, even through change, that kind of care will help my cat. Many cats have favorite rituals. Chester, for example, loves to come into bed with us, stand on our chests, and purr. This makes him very happy. We've been giving this to him freely and letting him stay in the bedroom the entire night if he wishes. Since the change that Chester was going through (i.e., Karma's passing) seemed to elicit grief on Chester's part, I've hoped that giving him a routine that he really loves will help him overall.

It seems to be working. Gradually, Chester seems to be transitioning back to his normal, cheerful self. He is extremely happy and purry in the morning, after a full night on the bed.

Television might be a comforting routine for some cats! Our cats love it when we sit down and give them an excuse to pile on us.

4. Play!

I think play is the great equalizer, and I think it's wonderful therapy for cats (not to mention exercise and the honing of the cat's instinctive hunting skills). If play has been consistent through your cat's life, this is another way you can keep life normal.

In my case, play has helped a grieving cat start to have a little fun, and has brought back old, playful behavior. I've had to be patient, though. Chester wasn't ready to play a lot at first, or that interested. I've introduced it gradually over the last week. Last night, he played hard. You can imagine this made me happy.

5. Go away if you need to -- or stick around

If you're worrying about the impact of change on your cats (and I know that not everyone takes this to heart like I do), sometimes the best thing can be to get away from your cats for a few hours. I've had moments during in recent weeks where I went out and Chester's mood actually seemed better when I came home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Maybe.

On the other hand, if you're sensing that your cats might do better if you're around, and you want to be around, this can work well. Again, this is another constant you can provide.

When change comes to your household or your life, what have you noticed about how it impacts your cat? How have you been able to help your cat? Let us know in the comments.

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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of a short story collection about people and place. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city. 

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