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Coping With the Loss of a Cat

By Rose Springer

Coping With the Loss of a Cat

Dealing with the death of a cat is difficult for any owner -- no matter the age of your pet.

Dr. Trisha Joyce of New York City Veterinary Specialists, and Dr. Wallace Sife, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB), offer advice on managing the end, grieving and moving on.

End-of-life Decision-making
While a small percentage of cats may die peacefully at home from old age, most pet owners will at some point be faced with the decision to end their cat’s suffering. “Sometimes it’s an uncomplicated decision -- say an animal stops making red blood cells,” says Joyce. “But just as often it’s a slow process, like gradual kidney disease. The cat still has a good day every once in a while.” In the latter situation, Joyce recommends the following:

·         Make a list of the things your cat enjoys, like sunbathing or spending relaxed time with the family. Consider whether it still engages in any of these.

·         Give yourself an objective measure -- a point at which you will let the pet go. For example, “Once my cat’s weight has dropped to X number of pounds, I will put him down.”

·         Seek guidance from your veterinarian and other pet owners who have had to make a similar difficult decision. The APLB’s website offers chat rooms addressing the topic.

“Owners will say to me ‘I can’t kill my cat,’ but that’s not what euthanizing is,” says Joyce. “I think of it as releasing the animal. It’s the last and most selfless decision we make for a pet we have cherished and cared for.”

Memorializing a Beloved Cat

Deciding how to mark a cat’s passing is a very personal decision. Some pet owners choose the formality of a proper funeral in a pet cemetery, and others cremate and scatter their pet’s ashes. Many veterinary hospitals offer to create a clay imprint of a cat’s paw as a keepsake.

Sife suggests making a contribution to an animal group in your pet’s name, planting a tree in its honor, volunteering with shelter animals or setting up a memorial on the APLB’s website. “We’ll light a candle for the cat each year on the anniversary of its death,” he says.

Coping in the Aftermath

Everyone deals with loss differently, although cat owners can expect to go through the same stages of grief as anyone who’s experienced the loss of a loved one. Sife suggests reading one of the many books on the topic, including his own, The Loss of a Pet. “The pain is unavoidable, but a book can help to normalize the experience,” he says.

Most important may simply be allowing yourself to grieve. “It can be hard because society doesn’t allow public grieving as much with pets. People feel less comfortable saying ‘I’m going to take a day off of work because I just put my cat to sleep,’ but it’s legitimate,” says Joyce. She adds that some of her clients have found support groups for people who find they need more comfort than they are getting from friends.

Adopting a New Companion

While a pet can never be replaced, at some point many cat lovers may want to bring home a new pet. Sife advises against seeking out a look-alike. “That may be a way of refusing to accept the loss,” he says. Joyce also advises waiting until the raw part has passed.

If you’re thinking about getting a new cat, consider adopting a stray cat from a local shelter. Saving the life of a cat without a home can be one more way to honor the memory of one that’s passed.

Rose Springer is a frequent contributor to The Daily Cat and The Dog Daily. She lives in New York City.  

Tags: cat health

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Posted on September 30, 2011

Gus says: Dakota became thin during her 16th year and stopped eating just before her 17th birthday. We knew it was time. A year and a half later and we miss her more today than we did yesterday.

Posted on September 30, 2011

Gus says: Dakota became thin during her 16th year and stopped eating just before her 17th birthday. We knew it was time. A year and a half later and we miss her more today than we did yesterday.

Posted on September 28, 2011

Leah says: It took me 5 years too before I could think about having another. The new addition is a stray cat from my wood shed! I couldn't leave him there, could I?

Posted on September 26, 2011

GratefulForBailey says: I want to thank you, too for this article. Our time has not yet come, but it is looming, and I think I WILL take that advice to volunteer at a shelter.  We've spent a lot of money on treatment, too.  We are lucky, it's working so far, but at some point, I will take that money and donate instead to cats and kittens who are in the prime of life.  I think it will help tremendously, both to help me get over the grief, and help other animals who are still living.  Thank you.

Posted on September 8, 2011

Catlady says: Thank you for this article. Alot of the world doesn't seem to understand pet loss. It's been almost 5 years since and I still grieve for my pets. Unable to have pets now so it remains an open sore really. :(

Posted on April 30, 2012

Anjani says: You are right to question if this is aparipropte. Pets usually need to fit into the lifestyle of the owner and some are not compatible. For example:a shepherding dog likes to round things up and be very active- this might not be good for someone with limited space or time to give to exercise. Some people have allergies and long haired animals might make them react. Cats are very independent but still need good care and grooming. Whatever you decide, make the commitment to care for the long term. Some individuals adopt animals and when they mature and are not "cute" anymore, are abandoned, or worse. Many animals who are abandoned cannot live at shelters forever and have to be euthanized. This is not to say having a pet isn't a wonderful bonding experience. May folks welcome pets into their homes and live with them almost like family. Do not gather animals from the wild, nevertheless. Wild animals are wild and do not do well in captivity. Always RESPECT the animals you care for and you may all have great company for many years. Perhaps you could visit shelters or pet stores or pet sit for someone when they go out of town to see if a particular breed is for you. Pet stores will often issue gift certificates for giving. It is also to volunteer at a local shelter to get to know animals better, and then, adopt and neuter!

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