The loss of a pet can be devastating, especially for cat owners. The unconditional love and emotional security provided by cats make them the most devoted of companions, transforming daily routines–like exercise, play, and snuggling–into an entire lifestyle. Developing a bond with your cat makes losing them even harder, especially when friends and family aren’t able to provide support in your time of need.
On occasion, the death of a cat is anticipated, especially if they are older or suffering from an extended illness. Quality of life is always worth considering, along with your own emotional health and the financial cost of treatment for a sick cat. If euthanasia is a potential solution to your pet’s suffering, contemplate the decision beforehand, so that you may prepare yourself for the sudden loss and its accompanying grieving period.
Accept and Express Your Feelings
Grief is an extremely personal experience and there are no right or wrong ways to feel about losing a pet. The most important part of healing is to acknowledge how you feel and find a way to release your pent-up frustration and sadness. Try writing your thoughts down in a journal and allowing yourself to expel grief by crying. Reaching out for pet grief counseling, or connecting with a fellow pet parent can also help you express your feelings and grieve appropriately.
Join a Pet Loss Support Group
“He/she was only a cat,” is a hurtful response that can be expected from well-meaning friends that haven’t shared a similar bond with a pet. Seeking out support from like-minded individuals can help you to realize that you are not alone and that your feelings are valid. Pet loss support groups are a wonderful resource for consolation and affirmation, providing pet parents in grief with social interaction and a shoulder to cry on.
Pay Respect to Your Devoted Friend
People in grief find comfort in rituals, especially those that honor the life of their deceased companion. Paying respect with a brief service or creating a small memorial with photos and significant objects can help you to remember the good times you and your cat shared and provide consolation during a difficult period.
The Grieving Process
The death of a long-time companion can be particularly painful for those who shared a unique relationship with their cat. This includes anyone whose cat was their sole or primary companion, or who was either physically or emotionally dependent upon their cat. Children, the elderly, and handicapped cat owners often have unique bonds with companion animals and may need special attention and support (like joining a pet loss support group) following a loss.
Recognizing the stages (or tasks) involved with grief can give you landmarks on the path to resolution and help you recognize that your feelings are normal. The mourner should not feel that he or she must follow a pre-set list, with each step lasting a determined period of time.
It’s best to recognize that the grieving process for each individual is as unique as each lost relationship. There is no set time period for recovery, but there are some general patterns when experiencing the loss of a loved one:
- Denial: Most people will experience a period of denial, refusing to believe that their cat is dying or has died. Denial is usually strongest when there is little time for acceptance, such as with an accident or short-term illness.
- Bargaining: Those with a pet who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness may attempt to make a deal (or bargain) with God, themselves, or even their cat, in a desperate attempt to deter fate.
- Anger: In frustration, anger may be directed at those closest to the cat, including friends, family, veterinarians, and even oneself.
- Guilt: Guilt may the most common emotion felt by a pet parent following the death of a beloved companion. As the cat’s primary caretaker, all decisions regarding care are the owner’s responsibility. When a cat dies, the owner often feels guilty about actions taken or not taken, even about small mistakes made before the cat became ill. The most attentive caretaker may feel that they should have done more to care for their cat, but we all do our best with the information, knowledge, and resources available to us. It is important not to second-guess the decisions you made along the way and to remember that you tried to act in your cat’s best interest.
- Depression: Depression may indicate that you’re nearing the point of accepting your pet’s passing. It is normal to withdraw and contemplate the meaning of the relationship in solitude during this stage. However, if you are feeling a deep and lasting despondency, it is recommended that you seek out professional help.
- Acceptance: Acceptance is the moment when you’re ready to remember the good times. The daily reminders of your cat’s passing become a little less painful and you can start to think and prepare for the future.
Time to Consider Another Cat?
If you decide to get another cat, know that your new pet can never replace the pet that you lost. You will be entering into an entirely new and different relationship with a new pet. Be sure that you are psychologically, physically, and financially ready and willing to commit the time and energy needed to care for a new companion, without resentment or unrealistic expectations.