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Grieving in cats

Little attention is paid to the subject of grieving in cats, largely because they are often seen as independent animals that retain much of their 'wild' nature. But cats do exhibit behavioural changes after the loss of another cat and sometimes these can be difficult to understand.

When animals are closely bonded they are more likely to be upset by the loss of their companion. Even cats that constantly fight can grieve the loss of a feuding partner. While no-one will ever know if a cat understands death, they certainly know that a fellow housemate is missing and that something has changed in the house. The owner's distress at the loss of a pet may also be communicated to the cat, adding to the confusion it may be feeling.

Signs of grief

There is really no way to predict how a cat is likely to behave when a companion is lost. Some cats seem completely unaffected and, indeed, a few may even seem to be positively happy when their housemate disappears. Others may stop eating and lose interest in their surroundings, simply sitting and staring; they seem to become depressed. A few cats undergo personality or behavioural changes when a companion is lost.

While there has been no major research on the subject of feline bereavement, a survey by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found that cats ate less, slept more and became more vocal after the death of a companion cat. But encouragingly, in the 160 households surveyed, all pets that lost a companion were behaving normally within six months.

How can we help?

There are a number of things you can do to help a grieving cat to overcome the loss. Minimising change gives the cat time to come to terms with the loss of a companion cat. Keep the cat 's routine the same. Changes in feeding times or even simply moving furniture around can cause further stress. A grieving cat may go off its food. A cat that goes off its food for several days is in danger of a potentially fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. Encourage eating by warming food slightly or putting water or meat juice or it. Sit with your cat during meal times to provide reassurance. Don't be tempted to change diets to stimulate appetite as this may cause digestive upsets. If the cat does not eat for three days seek veterinary advice. Quality time Spend more time with the cat grooming, stroking and playing. This will give a positive feel to any changes in the house that the cat senses. Don't attempt to replace a lost cat immediately. While your remaining cat may be missing a long term companion, she is unlikely to welcome a stranger when she is still unsettled about the loss. A new cat at this time simply provides an extra source of stress. Like many species, time spent sniffing and nuzzling the dead body of their companion may be a necessary part of the grieving process. It can therefore be helpful to bring the body of a euthanased cat home rather than have it cremated at the vet's. Whenever dramatic changes in behaviour occur, the cat should always be checked by a vet for any underlying physical problem. Unresolved behavioural problems can be referred onto animal behaviourists. Pet loss support Helping your cat to overcome grief can be especially difficult if you are having trouble coming to terms with the loss of your cat yourself. Sometimes it helps to share your feelings with someone who knows from personal experience just how distressing the loss of a pet can be. The Pet Bereavement Support Service is a confidential telephone helpline that offers such support through a national network of trained volunteer Telephone Befrienders. The Helpline is run by two charities, The Blue Cross and The Society for Companion Animal Studies. The Helpline is open daily 8.30am to 5.30pm with an answer phone outside these hours.
To make contact, call the freephone number: 0800 096 6606
A co-ordinator will give you details of the nearest Telephone Befriender. Ref: Feline Advisory Board - www.fabcats.org

 

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