Cats are notorious for not being big fans of change, and the biggest change any cat can go through is the death or disappearance of a bonded friend. Whether that friend is animal or human, a cat can grieve the loss just as profoundly as any human.
Watch out for these symptoms if your cat has recently experienced a loss.
Many times, a grieving cat will experience a loss of appetite. This can be very dangerous for a kitty, because prolonged lack of eating can lead to a potentially fatal condition called hepatic lipidosis. If your cat refuses to eat for more than a day, contact your vet and seek treatment.
A bereaved cat can become profoundly lethargic or extremely hyper. Either way, it represents a search for emotional equilibrium. Be kind to a cat who responds to grief by becoming a feline rocket and try to work off some of his extra energy with interactive play. Gentle play can also help a lethargic cat come out of his shell.
If a companion has disappeared, a grieving cat may look for him, either staring out a window waiting for him to return or investigating places where he and his pal used to hang out.
A cat searching for a friend may also call out for that friend. Loneliness or loss can also lead to increased vocalization, possibly at odd hours of the day or night. Conversely, a formerly talkative cat may become silent.
Some cats, when faced with a loss, will cling to anything familiar. Your kitty may become a "lap fungus" and may insist on sleeping with you, accompanying you to the bathroom, and even crying when you leave the house.
Grieving cats may lose interest in the activities they once enjoyed. Play may just not be the same without the missing friend. They may stare into space instead of exploring their surroundings or observing the birds out the window like they used to.
Cats often react to stress such as a loss by exhibiting behavior like over-grooming. The stress of grief can weaken the immune system and leave the cat more susceptible to respiratory infections or other illnesses. Stress also leads to vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, and cystitis (swelling or infection of the bladder and urinary tract).
After a major loss, your feline friend needs your support and comfort just as much as you need his. Spend time with him sitting together and letting him know that you miss his friend, too. Keep your routine as consistent as possible so that your cat has some stability in his life. The length of your cat’s bereavement will depend on his innate personality, the closeness of the bond between the deceased and the survivor, and the supportiveness of his environment.
Of course, always check in with your vet to be sure that changes in appetite, energy level or litter-box habits are not due to a physical health problem. I’ve made the mistake of thinking a cat’s behavior change was due to stress when it was due at least in part to a major illness.
What kind of symptoms have you observed in grieving cats? What did you find worked best to support your feline friend through a death or loss? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.