Monday, February 25, 2008

Do Cats Grieve for their Feline Friends?

by Kate Tilmouth

Our Happy Cat

It is not unusual for us to have more than one pet in our lives. We have more money and leisure time to spend on our pets than we did years ago and so more and more of us are choosing to live with two or more animal companions. This is great for us, as it means that we have more furry friends in our lives to keep us sane. However this also means that animals are more likely to form bonds and relationships with other animals, whereas in the past this was not the case.

Cats are not pack animals like dogs and so are quite happy being the only animal around. In fact most of the time they give other animals a wide birth. However now that more and more cats are being homed together, their relationships with each other are changing. It is now not uncommon for cats to form very close bonds with other cats in their family circle. They can now often be seen grooming each other and sleeping together on the same cushion. So we should not be surprised that they will grieve the loss of another cat, just as we do with our human family and friends.

However knowing if a cat is grieving the loss of another pet is not as easy to identify as in humans. After all cats cannot express how they are feeling to us in words and do not shed tears in the same way as we do. However cats do show other signs of grief that are very similar to our own. Loss of appetite, sleeping more, sleeping less and increased vocalisation are all signs that could indicate a cat is distressed.

Other signs of grief are, pacing and looking around the house for days, as if trying to find their companion. Looking out of windows and mewing for no apparent reason. A lack of interest in their favourite toys or food and a general listless behaviour that is out of character. Of course many of these signs can also be contributed to ill health and so if the behaviour continues it may be advisable to consult with a veterinarian.

To try and help a cat through a period of grieving, we can pay more attention to them and make more of a fuss of them than we would normally do. However we should not give them treats but rather we should try and distract them with a game. It is all too easy to give a cat a treat to console them when they are mewing or not eating their usual food, but to the cat, we are rewarding the behaviour and they will continue to do it.

It is also important not to rush out and try to replace the pet with a new one. Often people think that this will help their existing cat to get over the loss. However this is often a mistake. Cats should be given time to come to terms with the fact that their companion is not coming back. It also allows them time to establish their own position in the household again. Many owners have reported that a once shy and quiet cat, completely changed after another cat passed away. This can be easily explained; the cat may have been subdued by the other cat and was suppressing their own personality. Once left alone for a while, they as it were, “come out of their shell". So it is good to give them time after a death to find their feet again.

Once sufficient time has passed and the cat’s behaviour is back to normal, then it should be fine to introduce another cat to the home. This of course is very much reliant on the cat’s personality and the likelihood of accepting another pet, but then only individual owners can make that judgement.

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