Grief in Cats

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Cat crying

By Rebecca Diaz, DVM
The Cat Clinic

Grief is not an emotion that is often ascribed to cats. However, after the loss of a companion cat or dog, behaviors may be noted that indicate mourning in your cat. This is especially possible if there was only one other companion in the household.
Behaviors that may be noted are vocalization (the most common), insistent rubbing on persons or objects, neediness, hiding, lethargy and/or decreased appetite. One, several or none of these signs may be present with your cat.

If you note the presence of any of these behaviors, we recommend you have your kitty examined by your veterinarian to be sure there is no illness. When one pet in the household has been severely ill, a more subtle illness in another pet may be overlooked. This is especially the case with conditions such as high blood pressure, which can cause some of these behaviors while often having no other obvious indications that a disease is present in your pet.
If the check-up shows kitty is otherwise healthy, then grieving may explain the behavior. If so, how might your veterinarian help? We will explain different steps that can be taken at home to potentially decrease the grieving. One possibility is the use of a Feliway diffuser, which release a scent. The scent is a pheromone that decreases stress and may decrease grieving. It comes as spray or wipes as well as in the diffuser form.  These products are available on line or can be ordered from your veterinarian. Another idea is to leave your TV or radio on when not at home, as the sound of voices might provide a sense of companionship.

You should also schedule more play time and lap/petting time. Play (i.e., exercise) is good for kitty’s mood, and the extra lap/petting times can make kitty feel more in touch and secure. Be careful to actually schedule time, rather than responding to crying, to avoid finding that kitty has trained you to respond to the cries. Lastly, although this is somewhat controversial, sometimes a new pet in the household may help. However, your kitty had a bond to the original companion and may not feel comforted with a new one. This is especially true of older pets.

If none of these changes at home relieve your cat’s sadness, speak to your veterinarian. In particular, do not allow kitty to skip meals, which can lead to severe liver disease. Your veterinarian can provide prescription stress relief which may include herbs, antidepressants or appetite stimulants, as deemed appropriate.

All in all, there is no reliable way to predict how long your kitty might grieve or which of the remedies will work, but you should be prepared to respond to your cat’s grief along with your own. We hope this information will help you with the difficult process.

This article appears in Summer 2016, page 18.

Rebecca Diaz, DVM is the owner of The Cat Clinic, a feline-only veterinary clinic located at 67870 Vista Chino, Cathedral City, CA, www.catcitycat.com, 760-325-3400

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