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How Cats Grieve

Learn how to help cats through the loss of a fellow cat with tips from CAT FANCY and CatChannel cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger.

Learn how to help cats through the loss of a fellow cat with tips from CAT FANCY and CatChannel cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger.

Q: We recently had to put one of our five cats to sleep. The cat who was the most bonded to him seems depressed. He stays upstairs most of the day and won’t come down with us and the other cats. He has also become more aggressive with one of the other cats.

What should we do? My wife has been hinting about getting a kitten to give to the cat a new friend.

A: Losing a cat is stressful for everyone — including owners and other resident animals. The loss can be especially hard on the cats who were bonded to the missing companion.

Grieving cats can express their feelings in a variety of ways including:
Vocalizing
Sleeping more
Retreating from other household members
Eating less (Not eating can hurt cats’ health)

In addition to grieving, the loss of a cat causes disruptions to the household, by changing how the remaining resident cats relate to each other. Cats establish places in their flexible hierarchy and they have territories. When a cat dies or is removed from the household, the remaining resident cats need to reestablish their places in the hierarchy and redefine territories. Sometimes cats will become aggressive towards each other when another cat passes on.

Help your cats through this difficult time in a number of ways.
•    Maintain Consistency Keep a schedule, engaging in activities your cats like such as play and grooming. Feed them at the same times every day.
•    Treat Your Cats If your cats enjoy treats, conduct daily cat-treat treasure hunts by hiding treats throughout the house on cat trees, shelves and in interactive toys.
•    Be Present Cats can be comforted simply by the presence of their favorite people. Spend time with your cats, reading a book or working on your computer.
•    Feed Well Give your cats high quality cat food that they adore and monitor their eating habits. If they stop eating, immediately consult with your veterinarian.
•    Share Ground Help the adjustment in the social structure by giving cats ways to mark territory and show their positions in the changing hierarchy. Scratching is one way cats mark their territories. Place scratching posts and horizontal scratchers in every room the cats hang out. Also provide vertical territory, such as tall cat trees, window perches and shelves throughout your house. Cats show their positions in the flexible hierarchy by where they sit in relationship to each other. The more vertical territory you have, the happier your cats will be.      

Adopting a kitten or another cat at this time will probably cause your cats more stress and further disrupt the household. Introducing new cats or kittens to resident cats is very stressful and so is grieving. Instead of compounding the stress by adopting a cat at this time, help your cats adjust to the loss of their companion. Consider adopting a new kitten only after your cats are back to their regular routines and have adjusted to the loss.   

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