Grief in animals is not well understood but there has been clear anecdotal evidence from owners that suggests cats can display signs of depression following the loss of a companion – either another cat or a human. Cats can also pick up on their owner’s emotions so if they are grieving it is likely that their pet will react to changes in their behaviour.
Signs a cat is grieving
Not all cats will display outward signs of grief and while each cat will behave differently there are some common behaviours that are often seen when a cat experiences loss. These include signs of depression including:
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping more than usual
- Less inclined to interact or play
- Hiding away or wanting time on their own
- Increased vocalisation
- Acting out of character
A study by the ASPCA in 1996 looked at the behaviour patterns of cats that had experienced loss and found that 65% had displayed four or more behavioural changes such as being clingier, a change in sleeping patterns, being more vocal and a loss of appetite.
What can you do to help?
A grieving cat will need time and space to come to terms with the loss of their companion but there are some things an owner can do to help the process.
- Try to keep your cat’s routine as normal as possible to help them feel less unsettled.
- Spend some quiet time just sitting with and talking to your cat.
- Try to engage your cat in a game to distract them or offer them their favourite treat. Have a think about what normally brings your pet joy.
- Offer plenty of affection but let them come to you. If your cat has taken themselves off for some alone time, leave them until they are ready to connect with you again.
- Grooming is a lovely way to bond so if your cat would enjoy a session with a hairbrush, make time for this.
- If your cat enjoys the company of human visitors to the house, invite a friend round to sit with your cat and play with them.
- If you have to leave you cat home alone, try to engage them with puzzle toys or interactive feeders. You could also leave treats hidden around the house for them to find as a game of hide and seek to give them occupied.
- You could try a calming pheromone diffuser or spray to help reduce the feelings of stress your cat might be feeling.
Getting another cat
If your cat is mourning the loss of a feline companion, don’t make the mistake of thinking that getting a replacement will be welcomed. While your pet might be missing their friend, a cat doesn’t need a feline companion to be happy and most prefer their own company. Don’t rush getting another cat as your pet will need time to adjust to the loss and could find the introduction of a new cat to the household stressful if done too soon.
When to seek veterinary advice
If your cat has been off its food for more than two days you should get them checked over by your vet. Also, don’t assume that any behavioural changes in your pet are a result of grief. It is important to get them checked over to rule out any underlying health problems.
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