An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cat Grief

Dear Readers,

Bailey Showing Concern
From time to time, one of my colleagues alerts me to a need that I've yet to address. For this topic, I thank Bailey who is concerned about a cat of her acquaintance who is dealing with the death of his feline companion.

Just like purrsons, each of us grieves differently. Sometimes the disappearance of a fur purrson or a beloved human from our lives seems to make little difference. Some of us go on as if nothing has happened. Other times it is a BIG deal. According to veterinarian Bruce Fogel in his book The Secret Life of Cat Owners, we can take up to six months (or so) before we adapt to the changes that loss brings. Exactly how long it takes and the nature of the process is very individual.

If you are fortunate and your purrson was able to thoughtfully prepare in advance, s/he may bring the body of your companion home after euthanasia. This can be a kindness, for it gives you the change to sniff and explore the physical form of the lost one and recognize that s/he is well and truly gone.

Sometimes this is not possible, but if your purrson brings back the lost one's collar or a blanket on which s/he had been placed during those final moments that, too, can help you come to terms with the fact that your friend will not be coming back. In this way, you will not feel the need to search for the lost one.

You see, many humans get very upset when, as some of us do, we cry and cry as we search the house or yard for the lost one. If you are so inclined, it might be a good idea if your purrson accompanies you outside for the first week or so, just to make sure that you don't wander off and become hopelessly lost as you continue your search.

But if you are one of the lucky ones, you will have no need to constantly search the lost one's territory and favourite places, because you will have had a chance to say 'good-bye' to the depleted physical form. Of course, you may chose to sit vigils on the grave if your friend is buried in your yard, or purrhaps on some particularly significant and favoured place, for awhile.

If the relationship with the lost one was stressful, you may become a happier cat - often to your purrson's consternation, who may view you as unfeeling. Said purrson didn't truly understand the relationship you had with the lost one and so may not be able to appreciate what seems to be an about-face. But you should be allowed to feel as you feel, free from judgment. Know that humans do NOT understand feline grieving and so they are capable of interpreting it in many different ways.

In the face of grief, you may adopt a diffurrent purrsonality. The happy cat becomes sullen and morose. The timid cat becomes assertive. Many of you may want more attention - assurance in the face of disruption. Some of you will hide. Such changes are possible. Some are temporary and some permanent. 

Loss of this kind is a disruption of your territory. Suddenly existing space- and time-sharing arrangements are up for grabs. If you are left as the only pet, then it all becomes yours and this could be a source of relief, even joy; or it could overwhelm you. If there are other felines in the household, it can become a time of renegotiation of who gets what space and when. Serious business.

Because any territorial change can be stressful to us, it is wise to keep your territory as much the same as you possibly can. Of course, you may have little control over what happens, as purrsons rush about getting rid of toys, the so-called extra cat bed or litter box.  But this is a time when you need the comfort of the familiar. Sure a new toy or new cat tree for you may perk you up. But please also leave the existing stuff in place until you are well and truly over your loss. And then pieces can be removed one at a time.

And my advice on keeping your territory the same also applies to your usual routine. Try to keep your feeding, playing, etc. schedules the same because routine can be a source of comfort.

If you are fortunate to have a compassionate human in your household, s/he will be on the lookout for changes that suggest you need added support at this time:
- a loss of interest in food,
- a loss of interest in play,
- a loss of interest, period,
- not using the litterbox,
- not grooming,
- sleeping more than usual.

Not wanting to eat: Surely your purrson will notice your lack of interest in food and try to tempt you - purrhaps with some of your favourite treats or by sitting with you and coaxing you to eat. This is NOT the time to change your menu (which can lead to tummy upset) but rather to make the foods you most enjoy more interesting. If you are at a loss about how to make your meals more yummy, have you purrson consult Tempting Your Cat to Eat. It's within the section called Persuading Your Cat to Eat on an excellent website devoted to the care of cats with chronic renal disease. The tips on the matter of helping you regain your appetite are applicable even if you are otherwise healthy.

Refusing to eat becomes a serious matter if it goes on for more than three days because you can develop fatty liver disease that can become difficult to reverse. It is life threatening. Call your vet. 

Loss of interest: If ever there was a time for human contact, it is now - even if you are a timid cat and go into hiding. It can be a fine balance between indulging you when you are needy and rewarding you for neediness. Do consider consulting my pages (at the top of my blog) on Interactive Play Therapy and on Touch Therapy. A gentle purrson can sit near you, talk or sing to you and if you are willing, can stroke or groom you. And if you feel better than that, how about some interactive play?

Litterbox Problems: If you stop using the box and choose to go elsewhere, consult your vet immediately. The stress of loss can bring about a urinary tract infection. And you will need medication - fast.

Extra Support: Some of us need an little extra support, and flower essences (herbal remedies NOT essential oils) have helped many of my colleagues because they are gentle healers. Three essences come to mind as ones particularly helpful at this time: Honeysuckle (either Bach or FES Quintessentials brand), Bleeding Heart and/or Borage (both FES) and are usually found at health food stores. Those unfamiliar with using such remedies can get information on administration and dosage on the site by Jean Hofve.You may prefurr obtaining a ready-made bottle of a grief formulation instead, such as  Loss Remedy or Grief Relief.

If you are truly having a difficult time, consider a vet consultation and a short course of anti-anxiety medication. I seldom suggest this - unless the lost one is one's beloved human and the heirs are either so upset or so unfeeling that you have become the lowest priority and not only are your needs not being met but you are possibly being shoved into a new environment. Then this is the time for all the help you can get - Feliway, security bridges in the form of a piece of the loved one's clothing and your toys and equipment - the whole nine yards. 

When Your Purrson Needs Support 

You may be handling the situation well only to be confronted with a purrson who is falling to pieces - rushing to grab you at the least provocation and covering you with kisses, breaking into tears for hours on end, or even forgetting to feed you as s/he focuses on the one who is no longer there. It is often difficult for purrsons to cope, because of the unique features of human society. Let me explain.

When a human dies, it is a BIG deal to other humans. There are many rituals; cards and flowers are sent; donations are made in memory of the purrson; and there are formal burials, memorial services and celebrations of life. People expect members of their species to be distraught and distressed for quite some time. And they are willing to listen and to offer support.

But when a purrson experiences the loss of a pet, most members of his or her species pretend that nothing has happened. They expect that life should just go on. No rituals. No tributes. No nothing. Coupled with the fact that many purrsons feel guilt over the loss of their fur one, it can be a very difficult and isolating time. And while we can recover by about six months, it can take them up to a year. The article, Coping with Grief Over the Loss of Your Cat describes the human grief process. Your purrson can consult the New York Times article, Mourning the Death of A Pet, as well.

If your purrson continues to be deeply distraught, nudge them in the direction of the local pet loss support group;  your vet or the local animal shelter may be able to point them there as well. Such a group is a more appropriate venue to release such feeling than hugging you too tightly and constantly crying into your fur. Additional resources for humans can be found on the and the website.

And one last thing: please discourage your purrson from attempting to resolve your and their grief by getting another pet as soon as they can. It makes about as much sense as telling someone who has lost a child to get pregnant immediately - as if one child could possible substitute for another. Adapting to a newcomer is a stressful process, even if it can be positive. You both need to take your time.

My thanks to Bailey for bringing this topic to my attention.

With purrs,