Grief in cats
Do cats feel human-like emotions? Can they grieve?
Recently scientists have begun to recognise that cats lead rich emotional lives and can show emotional responses such as grief. Changes in their environment like losing an owner or a companion cat or other animal, moving house, surrender to a shelter or change of owner can all cause grief-like behaviour.
The research suggests that the level of distress is dependent on the degree and length of the bond with the lost loved one.
Grief may take up to six months to resolve.
How can I tell if my cat is grieving?
Watch for changes in their patterns of social behaviour, eating, sleeping and interaction with surroundings. How is this behaviour different to the pattern before the loss? Being familiar with your cat’s daily routine and behaviour helps. Focusing on the outward expressions of grief compared to their normal behaviour helps prevent you projecting your own emotions or expectations on to your cat.
Eight signs that your cat may be grieving
- loss of appetite
- changes in energy level – becoming very lethargic or extremely hyperactive
- changes to normal sleeping pattern
- searching or sitting where the lost one used to sleep
- excessive howling or unusual silence
- wanting to be alone or staring out of the window for prolonged periods
- neediness – following you and seeking attention more than normal
- health issues such as the emergence of latent cat flu or gastrointestinal upsets.
How can I help?
In most cases, passing time and a supportive owner allows healing to occur. Steps you can take to assist this process include:
- responding appropriately – for example, if the cat is howling don’t scold, just reassure gently and calmly
- providing extra love and attention (if your cat enjoys this) or respect their need for privacy
- keeping to routines such as daily feeding times, types of food offered and the position of litter trays
- encouraging appetite – try warming food or offering favourite foods
- offering an object from the lost loved one so your cat can access their scent
- allowing the grief process to take its course and not rushing into another pet immediately.
If your cat is losing weight, or exhibiting any other signs of illness, see your vet. They can rule out other causes of changed behaviour and there are support treatments and medications available to assist.