When Your Cat Dies: Gentle Tips to Heal Your Grieving Heart
Coping With the Loss of a Cat Can Be Devastating
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.
What to Do When Your Cat Dies
With a loss so massive, it can be extremely difficult to know what to do with your life now and how to even begin grieving such a wonderful animal. Hopefully, this guide will help light the way through your healing process.
Here are some of the things you can do to help grieve the loss of your cat:
- Accept that your grief over losing your beloved cat is valid.
- Surround yourself with people who understand.
- Understand that feeling guilty is a natural response.
- Accept that grieving is a gradual process, unique to every individual.
- Make a list of all your favorite things about your cat.
- Keep in mind that your other pets may be grieving too.
- Rediscover your purpose in life (or find a new one).
- Determine if, and when, getting a new cat is a good idea.
Your Grief Over Losing Your Beloved Cat Is Valid
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 ways feel most comfortable and healing for you. Remember, pets are an important part of our lives. Losing their love, affection, and companionship can be beyond heartbreaking. Don't be afraid to cry openly or talk about how much you miss your cat.
Though grief can't be shared and is something that an individual goes through alone, there are luckily a few things you can do to help you carry that burden.
Surround Yourself With People Who Understand
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.
Note: If you're also looking for some guidance on how to help your children through this difficult time, then check out my article on How to Talk to Your Children About the Death of a Pet.
Feeling Guilty Is a Natural Response
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."
These are all common questions and feelings when a beloved feline dies. 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 and all the resources at your disposal. 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, 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
Grieving Is a Gradual Process, Unique to Every Individual
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 like 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.
Note: For a more detailed breakdown of the common stages of grief and how they can relate to the death of a beloved animal, take a look at this gentle guide on The Stages of Grief When Losing a Dog.
Make a List of All Your Favorite Things About Your Cat
Though this might be incredibly difficult, consider writing down a list of all your favorite things about your beloved feline. Funny things they liked to do, little personality quirks that were unique to them, the little acts they did that made you feel like you were the only other one in the world.
Writing down all of these little bits and pieces that made up who your cat was and what they meant to you can both help with the grieving process and also aid your memory in years to come whenever you want to fondly remember your loved one. Author Michael Zadoorian talked about doing this very act as part of his process for grieving his sweet cat, Bongo: "I just wanted to write about the gifts that this small furry creature had given me. Even then, by using the past tense, I was trying to get used to the idea of him being gone."
Cherish Their Memory
Honor your beloved companion by making a list of all of your favorite things about your cat.
Your Other Pets May Be Grieving Too
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 as well.
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.
Do you believe that pets are capable of experiencing grief when an animal friend dies?
How Do You Move Forward?
Though the popular saying goes that "time heals all wounds," many of those with terribly deep wounds and other forms of trauma know that this isn't always the case. In fact, one could make the case that time heals very few wounds and is often powerless against the most painful of them. Sometimes, you never really stop grieving so much as you learn to live with it. But that doesn't mean that we are helpless in the face of our grief.
Once again, everyone grieves and heals in their own ways. And to be honest, not all wounds can ever be truly repaired. Some holes just can't be filled again by anything—or anyone—once they are created by the parting of a loved one.
Rediscovering Your Purpose in Life
But among the most common and powerful ways to move forward in the face of massive grief is to rediscover your purpose in life (or find a new one). According to Dr. Robert Neimeyer, a psychology professor at the University of Memphis in Tennessee, grieving can be understood as a "process of trying to reconstruct a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss." He also added that healing is less about waiting for the passage of time than it is about "what the bereaved person does with that time that matters."
Naturally, this can mean a variety of different things. Maybe it means focusing on sharing all the love you still have to give with the people—and animals—who mean the most to you in your life. Perhaps you eventually begin volunteering at a local animal shelter to help spread the joy of loving a wonderful animal to as many people as possible.
There are so many ways to find new meaning and purpose in this world—or to rediscover the ones we already have but have perhaps temporarily forgotten—if only we are able to look for them. Of course, you may not yet be in a place where your grief will let you do much of anything outside of mourning your lost friend. But when the time comes where you feel like you might be up to finding and fostering that new meaning, you might just be surprised at how big of a difference it can make in your life—not to mention the lives of others.
Should You Get a New Cat to 'Replace' a Lost One?
This is a very difficult question to ask and rarely has an easy answer.
In many cases, this can actually be a terrible idea that could potentially backfire and prolong your grieving. After all, a new cat is not your old cat that you loved for years and years and formed a unique bond with. They will not do all the same things you loved about your previous cat. You will not feel that same deep, unspoken emotional connection when you look into their eyes. And they cannot repair all of the broken parts inside of you left in the wake of your beloved's death.
Simply "replacing" your cat with a new one will not change the fact that you need to feel your feelings of grief. And that takes time.
When Is the Right Time to Get a New Cat?
This is yet another aspect that comes down to the individual level and can't be easily covered with a blanket statement that applies to everyone.
In general, however, a good method of determining whether or not you are ready for a new cat involves assessing your own emotions about your departed friend and how raw those feelings still might be.
If it feels like you are simply trying to replace your friend—rather than bring a new buddy into your life—then you might want to hold off for a bit.
But if you feel like you have reached a point where your grief is less ever-present in your daily life and you are ready to love a new friend, then you might be OK to start looking for your next feline companion.
Eric Richman, a licensed independent clinical social worker for Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine hotline, put it this way:
“I’d pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself. Is it, ‘I want another cat like Fluffy around,’ as opposed to, ‘It would be wonderful to have another cat in my life I can love again.’”
- Gormly, Kellie B. (2017, September 28). How Long After Your Cat Dies Should You Wait Before Getting a New Cat? Retrieved April 8, 2019.
- Pawlik-Kienlen, Laurie. Healing Your Heart When You Miss Your Cat. The Adventurous Writer. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
- Zadoorian, Michael. (2016, May 18). There Is Nothing 'Inappropriate' About Grieving the Death of Your Cat. Huffington Post. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Our ten-year-old Maine Coon was euthanized, leaving a two-year-old rescue kitty that she did not like. Now, the two-year-old is very sad. Should I get her a younger kitten for her to have as a companion?
I'm sorry for the loss of your 10-year-old cat, and I appreciate your questions about adopting a new kitten. The decision to get a new pet after an older fur-friend has passed away is a deeply personal one, and I can't offer specific advice on what to do in your situation. Here are some things to think about though, in making your decision about whether or not you should get a new cat to keep your surviving cat company.
Will you have time to care for a new kitten, and make sure that your other cat will be able to interact with it safely?
Does your cat respond well to change?
Is your cat in good health? A cat who is sick or stressed won't likely respond well to a new cat, or any new pet.
Is there a way to help your cat deal with the loss of her feline friend that doesn't involve getting a new cat? For example, would extra playtime, attention and mental stimulation help her deal with her feelings of sadness?
Are the other members of your family ready to adopt a new cat? It's important that everyone in your household has been able to grieve the loss of your older cat too. Perhaps talk to other family members and see if they're ready for the responsibility that comes with bringing home a new cat.
Have you considered adopting a mature cat as a companion for your two-year-old cat?
As you can see, there are many things to think about before adopting a new cat as a companion for your remaining cat. It's clear that you care deeply about your kitty and I know that love and affection will help guide you in making the best decision for you, your cat, and your family. I wish you all the best in whatever you decide to do.Helpful 118
© 2014 Sadie Holloway