Losing a cat suddenly is the biggest fear of many owners. If a cat is taken unexpectedly ill or experiences an accident, the impact can be severe. A sudden cat death will understandably take a psychological toll on the humans it leaves behind.
Treat the death of a cat the same way you would a human. Say goodbye, acknowledge your grief, and allow yourself to feel sad. At the same time, focus on the good times you spent with your cat. Seek support from friends, family, or counseling. Eventually, you’ll remember the good times with your cat. This will help you accept your loss.
Cats are part of our family. This makes the sudden or unexpected loss of a cat a bereavement. It is important that this is acknowledged. There is no shame in grieving for the loss of a much-loved feline companion.
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Coping with the Sudden Loss of a Cat
By its very nature, the sudden death of a cat is a difficult experience. Without appropriate time to steel yourself for the inevitable, the loss will be increasingly painful. There are warning signs to look out for that a cat is nearing the end of its life. These include:
- Not eating and associated anorexia
- Regularly eliminating outside the litter box
- Difficulty breathing
- Body temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit and inability to warm up
- Isolating and hiding by choice
- Failing to groom
If you spot these warnings, you may need to prepare for the worst. The loss will still be painful and heart wrenching, but you will know what to accept.
Accidents, such as road traffic collisions, or sudden illnesses are harder to accept. Your cat may have been fine in the morning but gone by the afternoon. In such tragic circumstances, you will need to find unanticipated coping mechanisms.
Acknowledge Your Grief
If you lose a cat, you will experience grief. The loss of a beloved pet is no different to losing a human family member. The shock of a sudden or unexpected demise will only make events more upsetting.
This means that you will experience the five states of grief outlines by the Kübler-Ross model. As a reminder, these are:
Initially, you may refuse to accept that your cat is gone. You will likely expect it to jump into your lap at any moment. You may set out food and water out of habit. When you remember what has transpired, you may grow angry. The whole experience will feel unfair.
The bargaining stage can be linked to guilt. You may find yourself running through endless, “what if?” scenarios in your mind. You’ll wonder if things could have been different. This will invariably enhance and magnify the hole in your heart cause by your cat’s death.
Over time, the pain will lessen. This leads to acceptance. There is no timetable attached to grief, though. Do not feel bad about yourself if you are still anguished after weeks or months. You need to complete the grieving process in your own time.
In between, accept that you are grieving. Do not fight the process. Grief is a tunnel that needs to be walked through. It cannot be dug under, walked around or climbed over. Eventually, when you are ready, you will walk through that tunnel.
It is important that you say goodbye to your cat. The sudden nature of its passing will take you by surprise. You will not want to be left with a feeling of unfinished business, though.
It is up to you as to how you go about this. A lot depends on the logistical arrangements. If you need to dispose of the cat’s body, think about how you’ll do so. You have several options.
- If the cat was euthanized, ask your vet if they have a garden of remembrance
- Check if there is a pet cemetery in your area
- Bury the cat in your backyard, at least two feet deep
- Investigate local animal cremation facilities (be aware, these services are designed for roadkill and are not always sympathetic)
Holding a funeral for your cat may also be cathartic. Ask friends and loved ones to attend, sharing memories of the cat’s life. This way, you can ensure that you hold onto happy memories at a crushingly sad time. In addition, you can lean on loved ones for support.
In saying goodbye to your cat, you are acknowledging what has happened. This may be heartbreaking, but it will help you move in in the longer term.
Create a Memorial
When the time is right, you can donate your cat’s belongings to an animal shelter. This does not mean that you are purging all trace of your cat, though. Your pet may be gone, but it will never be forgotten.
Create a memorial for your cat. Gather favored photos of your cat and make a scrapbook or collage. This can be done with family members as a communal exercise in catharsis. You could also create a memorial tombstone, or plant flowers or trees in your cat’s memory.
This way, you will always feel a connection with your cat. You can visit it in spirit, if not in body. Perhaps more importantly, you can recall happy memories. When the sharp sting of grief fades, you will be glad of this opportunity.
Nobody should go through bereavement alone. You need to share your feelings and let them out. Failure to do so will just allow overwhelming sadness to build.
Speak to friends, family and neighbors that loved your cat. Talk about past times and laugh at memories. You may find that others are saddened by the loss, too. Communal grief can be a powerful healing mechanism.
You could also consider counselling. The loss of pets is taken increasingly seriously in the 21st Century. Many professional counsellors will discuss your feelings with you.
If finance is a concern, consider a volunteer counsellor. Psychology and Psychotherapy reports high satisfaction rates from such practice.
Even if you are uncomfortable speaking about your grief, there are ways to share your feelings.
Write your cat a letter, detailing how much you enjoyed your time together. The online realm also hosts many forums designed to aid and support pet bereavement.
The final key stage to overcoming a feline death is distraction. The loss of a cat hits hard because they spend so much time in the home. You will be used to relaxing in your home with your cat in your lap.
While grieving for the loss of a cat, undertake a new hobby. Take long walks in nature. Volunteer at a local charity. Work on your backyard. Start a creative endeavor, like painting or writing. These can be great ways to process emotion.
You may even want to consider taking a vacation. If concerns over cat care prevented you from traveling, this is the time to rectify that. Doing so is not betraying the memory of your cat. It is a pivotal step to starting a new life.
You need to remind yourself that there are still pleasures to be found in life. It’s undeniable that you will feel like the world has lost its sparkle for a while. By undertaking activities that would not have involved your cat, you can find new passions.
I Can’t Get Over the Death of My Cat
You will be able to cope with your loss one day. It will not be an easy journey, but you can and will complete it. The key is to take each day as it comes. Every morning, upon waking, your heart will hurt a little less. Eventually, memories will make you smile rather than cry.
Keep working through the techniques discussed above to manage mourning. Work at a pace that suits you. There is no, “right way” to grieve. Some overcome the demise of a pet faster than others.
It is important to consider the impact of pet bereavement on others, too. This includes both human and animal family members. While it is important to acknowledge and manage your own grief, others may need your support.
Part of the hardest part of losing a cat suddenly is explaining the event to a young child. In addition, children will have their own grief journey to undertake. This will be enhanced by a lack of full comprehension as to what happened.
It is not just toddlers that will struggle with this. The Journal of Counselling and Development explains how hard pet bereavement can hit teenagers. The study claims that adolescent girls especially struggle with the emotional trauma of such an event.
It is advisable to stick to the facts in explaining sudden cat death to a child. Just keep things age appropriate. Do not claim that the cat ran away and will come back soon. Explain that there was an accident or illness and the cat could not continue living.
Beyond this, offer support. Remember, the loss of your cat will impact your entire family. Try not to allow your own sadness to overcome everyday life. Allow children to grieve in their own way, showing patience and understanding.
If you work together, you can share the bereavement journey. This will help all of you to come to terms with your pet passing away. You need to ultimately move on, if only for the sake of your children.
It is not just your human family that will notice the death of a cat. Other pets, especially fellow felines, will acknowledge the change in circumstances. Even if two cats did not get along, one passing may still be mourned. Signs that a cat is depressed include:
- Increased vocalization and clinginess
- Loss of appetite
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Grooming to excess
- Hiding and sleeping more than usual
If you spot these warning signs, focus on distracting your cat. Make time for play, ensuring that no further routines are changed. Even if you are not in the mood, take the time to meet the cat’s needs. A living cat’s reliance upon you to meet its needs has not changed.
Your surviving cats can also be a source of comfort at this time. Anthrozoös explains how a depressed mindset typically leads to instigating more interaction with a feline.
Happily, cats are typically responsive to this. The same study also claims that a depressed mindset can be lifted by interacting with a feline. All the same, be careful about how you relate to a cat while grieving.
While it’s difficult, attempt to manage your sadness. A constant mood of gloom can be oppressive for cats. This will make the feline constantly anxious and stressed. It will live in constant fear that something bad is about to happen.
My Cat Died and I Feel Guilty
Guilt is an emotion commonly associated with bereavement. Death Studies claims that a positive end-of-life experience minimizes the feeling of guilt. In the event of sudden cat death, this may not have been an option. An expected cat demise may have been traumatic.
If your cat dies suddenly, you will understandably look for an explanation. Thoughts may then turn to self-flagellation. Should you have noticed ill health earlier? Did you leave the front door open, leading to a traffic collision? Did you leave toxic food within a cat’s reach?
Guilt, like all emotions connected with bereavement, will fade over time. You need to overcome these feelings yourself, though. You cannot turn back time. Constantly re-running events in your own mind achieves nothing. It just prolongs the grieving process.
Balance is also important. Even if you do not blame yourself directly for your cat’s demise, you may dwell. Don’t berate yourself for the times you were too busy to play or pet a cat. Instead, think about the sacrifices you made to make your cat happy.
Finally, take a leaf from your cat’s book and practice forgiveness. Your cat forgave you for being late with a meal, or accidentally stepping on its tail. You need to practice this same forgiveness with yourself.
If you were forced to euthanize your cat, guilt is likely to be magnified. You may feel directly responsible for your cat’s death.
It is important to remember that no vet will take the decision to euthanize lightly. If this action was recommended by a professional, it was for the best. The most common reasons for euthanizing a cat are:
- Injury or illness that makes breathing difficult or impossible
- Severe injury that will lead to chronic pain and suffering
- Injury or illness that compromises quality of life beyond reasonable levels
- Terminal illness that would otherwise lead to a prolonged, painful demise
Euthanasia opens up a new set of emotional difficulties. You’ll need to decide whether to be present when the injection is administered. You’ll then need to deal with the aftermath. Seek advice and support from a professional. Do not go through the process alone.
Should I Get a New Cat?
Some cat owners cannot contemplate the idea of adopting a new pet after a sudden loss. It seems unfaithful to the memory of a dearly departed companion. This is not the case. An abundance of cats still need loving homes, and you could provide this.
Only you will know if your heart is healed enough to take on a new cat. Take the time to grieve for your lost companion before making this decision. As you know, taking care of cats is a significant emotional undertaking. You need to ensure you are ready for this.
Avoid the temptation to immediately replace your cat. This is impossible. Cats, like people, cannot be replaced. They are all unique individuals, with their own personalities. This means you’ll have a different relationship with another cat. You must be ready for this.
In addition, it takes time for a bond to form between human and feline. The bond with your previous cat had time to organically grow. You cannot expect a new cat to immediately share the same sense of kinship. Assuming this will lead to disappointment and frustration.
What’s more, the cat will notice. Cats are skilled at picking on human emotional cues. This will just make the bonding process tougher and longer. When you’re ready, you’ll love a new cat as much as your lost companion. Give yourself enough time and space to do so.
If you worry that you cannot care for another cat, consider another pet. It is unfair to take on a cat if you will constantly liken it to a previous companion. A different animal may be a better option for you. This way, you are less likely to draw unfavorable comparisons.
If you feel that you miss feline company, you can still enjoy this. Volunteer at a local cat shelter. Your assistance will often be gratefully received. Spend time with the cats of friends or family, too. You can still play with and care for cats without taking one into your home.
Losing a cat is a heartbreaking experience. Draw comfort from the times that you shared, though. Your cat had a good life. It knew that you did everything you could to make it happy. It is sometimes better to burn brightly and briefly, enjoying a short but blissful lifespan.