Q: We adopted two cats, Harley and Chopper, as kittens and raised them together for the past four years. Sadly, on Thursday morning, we found Chopper lifeless; his vet thinks he might have had an undiagnosed heart defect. This devastated us. We noticed some new behaviors from our other cat Harley indicating he is definitely missing his “brother.”
This may be a stupid question, but how do I know when Harley is ready for us to bring home a new cat for him?
A: It hurts all members of the family, including other resident animals, when a beloved companion cat leaves us. Often cats grieve when a favorite friend they bonded with passes on. Like with people, every cat handles the death of a friend differently. Some cats do not seem deeply affected — others become seriously depressed.
Monitor your cat closely. He must eat, drink and use his litterbox as usual. If your cat stops eating for more than 24 hours, seek help from his veterinarian. Watch his sleeping patterns as well. Depressed cats often sleep more than usual. Keeping a consistent and routine schedule will help Harley adjust to the loss of his buddy cat. Feed him and clean his litterbox at the same time every day. If he enjoys cuddling at a special time, be available to him then.
Wait until both you and your cat have recovered from your loss before adopting another cat. Chopper’s passing is stressful for Harley. Adopting a cat too soon will compound your cat’s anxiety, because introducing cats to each other is stressful under any circumstance. Stress can compromise the immune system and can result in illness.
A few indications that your cat has recovered from his loss include normal eating and sleeping habits, playing and not pacing or vocalizing excessively. Additionally, check that your cat is not displaying “needy” behaviors, such as following you around more than usual.
If you decide to adopt cat for Harley, search for a cat who has a history of living with other cats the same age as Harley and whose activity level is the same. I do not recommend adopting a cat who looks like Chopper. Doing so may prolong your grief and you may have unrealistic expectations of the new cat, based on his looks.
Whenever bringing a new cat into the household, introduce cats to each other gradually and as stress-free as possible. Successfully integrating cats to each other can take a few weeks, a few months or longer.