When Your Cat Dies: Gentle Tips to Heal Your Grieving Heart

Updated on January 12, 2018
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Sadie Holloway, a proud cat parent, is a strong advocate for adopting pets from animal shelters and rescue organizations.

Are you missing the love and affection of your cat who has passed recently away? Here are some of the things that I learned about pet loss and grief when my cat died. I hope these tips on coping with grief when an animal companion dies can help you, too.

Recovering from the loss of a furry friend takes time.

Coping with the pain of your cat dying can be one of the most difficult things you'll face. But with patience and gentle self-care there are things that you and your family can do to ease the pain and grief of losing your cat.

Cats can be incredibly affectionate, loving and loyal. They remind us to be playful and adventurous. They remind us to live in the moment and to love unconditionally. In many ways, our cat friends help us to be better human beings. That's why it can hurt so much when your cat dies, leaving you with an empty space in your life.

Talking to an understanding friend about all the cute things your cat did may help ease your pain.
Talking to an understanding friend about all the cute things your cat did may help ease your pain.

Grieving when a pet dies is real. Your feelings are not overly sentimental or silly. It’s OK to acknowledge your pain.

The pain of losing your cat can be devastating. It's important that you let yourself grieve. Let yourself express your sadness in whatever way feels most comfortable and healing for you. Remember, pets are an important part of our lives and losing their love, affection and companionship can be devastating. Don't be afraid to cry openly or talk about how much you miss your cat.

If you can, surround yourself with people who understand the pain and grief of losing a beloved cat. People who don't share your love of pets may not understand your sense of loss. And folks who don't identify as "cat people" may not understand that losing a cat can be just as painful as losing a dog. Part of your healing process involves acknowledging and accepting that your pain and sadness is real and valid. Having a friend or family member at your side who can appreciate the significance of your loss will help you slowly recover and heal.

Although you may feel as though no one can possibly understand the intense feelings that arise when your cat dies, take comfort in knowing that there are many more books and resources available to you than ever before. Many crisis line workers, counsellors, psychologists and health professionals recognize the pain and grief that can be triggered by the loss of pet. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor for support or a referral if you feel like your grief is becoming unmanageable.

Your other pets may be grieving too.

If you have more than one pet in your family, some of the other animals may also show signs of grief and sadness over the loss of an animal friend.
If you have more than one pet in your family, some of the other animals may also show signs of grief and sadness over the loss of an animal friend.

Do you believe that pets are capable of experiencing grief when an animal friend dies?

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Are you feeling guilty about the death of your pet? That’s OK, too. And a normal response to the loss of a pet. Try to accept that you made the best decision you could for your pet at the time.

If your cat died suddenly in an accident, succumbed to a fatal illness or had to be euthanized when her pain was intolerable and her quality of life was fading, it's normal to struggle with feelings of guilt and shame.

"Why couldn't I protect her? If I had only kept her inside that day. If only I had noticed sooner that she was looking tired and worn out."

Sometimes when we grieve we replay situations in our heads. We second guess the decisions that we made. Maybe you didn't try (or couldn't afford) every medication, treatment or special diet that was available, but you did the best you could with all the love you had in you. Take a deep breath and try to forgive yourself.

I had to make the decision to euthanize my cat. While I was devastated to let her go, I knew it was the most humane, compassionate thing I could do for her. For those who have to make the difficult decision to put an aging and sick cat to sleep, try to remember that you gave your cat the ultimate gift of a peaceful and pain-free end, a painless death that may not have been possible had your cat had to wait for a natural death.

In his book, "Going Home, Finding Peace When Pets Die," New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz offers solace to those of us who may be second guessing the choices we made at the end of our pet's life. He writes, "Focus instead on the things you gave your pet and the many things he or she gave you. The walks. The affection. The connection to other people. The shared experience journeying through parts of life together. That, not guilt or regret, is the legacy of your pet."

No Heaven will not ever Heaven be. Unless my cats are there to welcome me.

— Anonymous

Coping with your loss can only happen one day at a time. Be gentle with yourself.

A pet's death will affect the rhythm of your daily life. Old habits such as going for a walk with the dog each morning or serving the cat her evening meal can jolt you back to the reality that your pet is no longer with you. It will take time to let go of some of these old, unconscious habits.

As a writer who works from home, the days and weeks after my cat died felt long and lonely. I missed the rituals we had carved out for ourselves - the afternoon cuddle, the sly way she'd steal my warm seat whenever I got up for coffee, the loud meow from the living room calling out to me, "Where are you?" (As my cat got older and started to lose her eyesight, she needed more and more reassurance of where she was.)

After my cat passed away, I had a hard time sitting in her favorite blue chair. I felt guilty, as if I was edging her out by sitting in her seat. How could I even think of reclaiming her regal blue throne as a piece of common people furniture?

For people who were caring for sick pets, the loss of a daily care routine can be doubly heartbreaking.

It may be tempting to dismiss these feelings as just being overly sentimental, but it is important to honor your feelings for what they are. Your cat was a significant part of your life.

The video below provided me with a great deal of comfort while I grieved the death of my cat. Although it makes me cry when I watch it, knowing that my furry loved ones, all my furry loved ones, will one day meet me at The Rainbow Bridge eases the pain of losing them in the here and now.

When a family pet passes away, it's not just humans who feel the loss; other family pets may also show signs of sadness and depression. In the mid-1990s, the ASPCA conducted research on the behavioral changes in cats who lost a close cat friend. Researchers found that 46% of cats ate less than usual following the death of a fellow pet friend. And almost 70% of the cats studied showed vocal signs of grief, either meowing more than usual or becoming markedly less talkative. Many of the grieving cats slept more than usual. Many cats also became much clingier to their human companions. So, while you're coping with your grief over the loss of a pet, be mindful of other family pets who may also be going through their own grief process.

Watch for signs that your pets' health might be changing and don't be afraid to talk to your vet if the other household animals' show signs of prolonged grief and depression. (Source: Ask the SPCA; AnimalSense Magazine)

© 2014 Sadie Holloway

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  • profile image

    nathan grindlay 10 days ago from hamilton, new zealand

    i lost my best friend and loving companion "bungle" a little over 4 and a half months ago . i had to have him put to sleep . he passed in my arms at 12.25 the 12 th november 2017, i keep a journal and write to bungle most weeks . i tell him what ive been doing , whats happening about the place . but most of all i tell him how much i love him , and miss him . And i always finish with if love could have saved you , youd have lived forever :) . i live alone at present , and i cant stand it here anymore , i miss him so much its so quiet . to be fair i found bungles company far better than any humans ive come into contact with , i miss you boy , and if love could have saved you , youd surely have lived for ever , goodbye my friend , love nathan {dad}

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    Margaret Rosadini 13 days ago

    It has been a little over a month since I lost my precious Dakota. I have good days and bad days and I miss him terribly. I know in my head tag at putting him down was best for him but in my heart I feel bad.

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    BrenKev8084 2 weeks ago

    I’m sorry I know this will be long. I’m just trying to get pass this immense grief I’m drowning in. My wife and I feed and care for a small colony on cats that lives in the woods next to our house. Back in October as we finished catching and fixing the last of our outdoor cats we took in one of the last two kittens. Before we had took him in we named him Marble and even then he was the sweet and loving. Originally we were just going to keep him for 3 weeks then he would of been old enough to be adopted but those 3 weeks turned into 6 months. Yesterday we realized we hadn’t seen him for hours which was not like him. He was always wanting to sit on our laps. He was only with us 6 months but his passing has taken me out. He had a lot of sinus problems. Some nights a would stay up all night with him because just breathing seemed tough for him. I knew that his time with us would probably be short. The vet had said he had a sinus infection but I think he had more than that. My wife has been great helping me deal with this pain. I just keep seeing him lying there and I can’t get it out of my head. The only relief I get is when I sleep. I was really upset because I didn’t think I even had a picture of him but thank god I found one just before visiting this site. I know eventually it all will pass. I miss my little Marble so much.

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    Bev Payne 2 weeks ago

    I feel like someone has ripped a piece of my heart. I cannot stop crying. My Mr. Kitty had a stroke or had a tumor a while back and went blind, He had lost strength in his back legs and couldn't get up and down things. I took him to the vet many times and he got some shots that helped his appetite and would be ok for awhile. Recently he started going in circles. Sometimes I could get him to quite down. He was so affectionate and would snuggle with me in bed. He was such a big part of my day, always there. Yesterday I took him to the vet and knowing he would only get worse, I had him euthanized. I can't stop crying. My heart is breaking. I have a loving and understanding family but nothing helps. I feel guilty and wonder if I could have had him a little longer, did make the right decision. I keep questioning myself. As unreasonably as it sounds I want him here. I hurt so much.

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    Cynthia Long 2 weeks ago from MIDLAND CITY

    My husband recently brought home a tiny kitten he found on the ground up at the barn. He was afraid another animal might kill it and didn't see any other kittens around. He brought it home. It had to be only 1 or 2 days old. I became its foster mom. I fed it kitten formula, had a schedule, and tried to mimick the mama cat. It was so little and after we had it for 5 days, it didn't want to nurse so I had to force feed it with a syringe. After I had it for about 9 days, I felt it was dehydrated and took it to the vet. He didn't offer any encouraging words but gave it some fluids. We named her at this point, Annie, for little orphan Annie. She would cry every hour of the night for the last 3-4 days of her life and I thought this meant she was hungry. I think her little body was shutting down. Two hours before I found she had passed, I had checked on her. I was so heartbroken and still am. I loved that sweet little kitty so much in the short 11 days I had her. I miss her so much. My daughter sent me some pictures that she had taken of her and it just made me cry. Sometimes I think about going to a shelter to just visit the kittens or maybe a mama cat with newborn kittens just to hold one of them for a little while. I have 4 other cats at home, 3 adult cats and one 6 month old kitten. Right now, its not the same as holding that precious little life. Just hoping the pain and hurt will go away soon.

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    Riley Sweeney 3 weeks ago

    My beloved cat Princess passed away this afternoon. She passed due to kidney failure and old age. She had been so distant from me lately and I knew that her time was almost over. Still, I cannot believe she is gone. Every dayI would come home from work and she would curl up in my lap as I finished last minute work. Now I will never be able to hear her purr or hold her in my arms. She was my best friend and will be missed by many. She was ten years old and has been with me for a large part of my life. Princess, you will be missed by so many.

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    Terra Marx 3 weeks ago

    It's four months now without Kidd.and i still feel her here with me. They say time heals the wounds but it doesn't.

    In time you will get somewhat better and memories will stay for life. Find peace in knowing you gave your kitty the best life it could have.

    I do and I'm slowly making peace with the loss.

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    Margaret Rosadini 3 weeks ago

    Totally understand your grief. When I come home from work I still expect him to be there but he is not. I am sorry for your loss. I have spent many days in tears.

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    Fidler Roop 4 weeks ago

    This morning I screamed as I retrieved my sweetheart from my lawn. She had been struck by a vehicle and left on my yard. She must have been on her way home. I love her so much, and the pain is almost unbearable.

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    LHughes8335 4 weeks ago

    I had to euthanize my wonderful 21 1/2 year old cat, Hope, on 3/19. I am really having a hard time dealing with this. I know I made the right decision for her although I do feel a little guilty. She was in my life longer than my children have. She used to sleep between my husband and I by our pillows. These past 2 nights I haven't been able to sleep because she isn't there. I am trying to be easy on myself and allow myself to grieve but sometimes I feel like people are judging me. I love Hope so much! My home just isn't the same without her. I literally have a big empty hole in my chest. This has been very hard :-(

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    M Scheer 4 weeks ago

    We had to euthanize our beloved Cleo yesterday and I am so devastated that I am finding it hard to concentrate at work. She was with us near the beginning of our relationship and lived to be almost 18 years old. She was the most affectionate and friendly cat you could ever meet. Even strangers visiting our house were amazed at how friendly she was. My wife could not sleep last night from the grief. She had a long, fruitful life full of love and play but it's still so hard to imagine our family without her. She was the last of three cats we've had throughout the years. The house feels so empty...

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    gamyra 4 weeks ago

    My beloved fur-ball and my everything died on Saturday. March 17th. We took him to the vet around 9pm because he seemed constipated. First the vet asked to leave him overnight because for enema. Before we could get home the vet called back and asked us to come back. He found a tumor in his colon. He said that it is massive and the surgery cannot be called a success. He died in our arms. I still see him everywhere and every time I open the door I hope to hear him.

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    Margaret Rosadini 6 weeks ago

    I had to euthanise my beloved almost 18 year old cat Dakota on March first and I am so devastated. I miss him terribly and cannot stand the emptiness.

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    Eka or Erika 4 months ago

    Our cat died today and the last bloodline in that cat family and it was very sad he died from a bite of a dog that we dont know and he just had a birthday in nov 24 ;-;

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    Terra Marx 5 months ago

    I loss my best friend Kidd a Siamese X at 17 years old yesterday. She was diagnosed with a stroke. I had her as a kitten since 2000. I held her in my arms as the Vet started the two shots that would peacefully end Kidd's life it was the hardest day of the six months for I had in May a heart attack and stroke. I miss my little girl and prissy sassy attitude.its will hard to find another as Kidd, right now I'm not looking for a kitten. Kidd was pamper and spoiled and yelled to get her way, of course I caved. Kidd's passing has really hit I hard as I'm still working to heal from heart attack and stroke. Kidd was a indoor kitty and when she went outdoors I always with her. I'm lost for words as of now but I wanted to share my story here as an outlet for I. Thank you...Terra Marx.

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    Terra Marx 5 months ago

    Tonight was the hardest night I've had since May 10th and May 27th...my best friend and gal Kidd passed away in my arms at local animal hospital. She was 17 years old and 4 months old. She passed due to stroke. It began 2 days ago and tonight she couldn't walk or see clearly. I feel I made the right decision to have her put down but my grief is so heavy from it. When saw her struggling to walk and blurred vision I knew it was a stroke for I had a heart attack and two weeks later a stroke.

    Kidd lived a great life, pampered and spoiled and she was a sassy prissy Kidd. She was always at the door to greet me whenever I came home and would yell at me for being gone. I miss my little girl for she was there to comfort I during my illness. I'm a 58 year old Man and I'm crying as I type this.

    I raised her from kitten hood to today. She loved to travel with I in my semi tractor and has a place of her own in the sleeper She would lay on the dash and watch the world go by. I've taken the next week off cause I can see myself without my traveling buddie...RIP KIDD I SO MISS YOU!

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    Sadie Holloway 20 months ago

    I'm so sorry for your loss, Tristan. Sending you thoughts and prayers to help ease the pain of losing your furry companion and cuddly co-worker.

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    Tristan Nadine 20 months ago

    I too work from home, have for different companies over the years, so being here without her, it's pure agony-

    She too had her times where she'd come and rub my laptop with her mouth/nose, try to lay in my lap when I was typing, meow while on a conference call for attention...she was the best coworker anyone could have-

    I have a 16 year old Weimaraner, Kalik was his big sister, that I need to focus 100% of time to now...

    Being I've lived by myself for the last couple years, it makes it very hard-I'd scoop her up all the time and carry her around like a child, on my hip-I'd hug and kiss her all the time and now I can't-

    I feel so numb and like a zombie-I lost my father when I was 14, yet this pain is worse-A piece of me truly is gone, I feel it all the time-It happened on Monday the 22nd and I hate that day now, I hate it-A piece of me was taken when she left and it will never be back-

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    Sadie Holloway 3 years ago

    Tricia Deed, thanks you for stopping by. Yes, pets give us so much unconditional love. They don't care if we are having a bad hair day, or we got yelled at by the boss, or we burnt the turkey. They love us anyway, which is why losing them is so hard.

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    Tricia Deed 3 years ago from Orlando, Florida

    The death of any pet is very hard for animal lovers. Our pets are are a part of our family. Pets give love unconditionally and that I think is why the human being hurts much when death enters.

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