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Do cats grieve?  

Cat grieving a loss on white bed

Your cat knows exactly how to let you know when they’re hungry or bored, but how can you tell when they’re grieving? There has been little examination of the physical and emotional well-being of cats following the loss of a companion, especially when compared to the same attention awarded to dogs. This could be due in part to the often inscrutable and independent nature of our feline companions. The history of cat domestication is significantly shorter than that of canines; as a result, our cats appear to retain more wild characteristics and display less emotional dependence. Nonetheless, it’s common to observe your cat exhibiting behavioral changes following the loss of a bonded companion. Understanding more about how cats mourn can allow pet owners to offer better support and care to their grieving feline. 

While human grief is defined by an understanding of the irreversible nature of death, it’s almost impossible for us to know how our pets interpret the sudden absence of a human or animal companion. Not all animal behavioral experts agree that cats are capable of true grief as we understand it, however, a sudden shift in mood, appetite, and behavior is common. 

Table of contents:

Do cats grieve humans?  

Cats can be fickle with their attention, and as a result, are often considered aloof and disloyal compared to their canine counterparts. However, recent research has shown that like dogs — and even human babies and rhesus monkeys — cats can form secure and insecure bonds with a caregiver. A 2019 study published in the Current Biology journal by researchers at Oregon State University examined attachment styles in cats and kittens. During the experiment, cats were left to interact with their owners in a new environment, including a stage where the human subject departs and then returns to be reunited with their pet. The findings suggest that 65% of cats exhibited secure attachment styles, meaning the presence of an owner helped them feel secure and calm in the strange environment. A further 36% displayed insecure attachment styles. According to the researchers, this reflects similar patterns observed in babies and dogs.  

If cats form strong attachments with humans, it’s logical they will suffer if this bond is lost. In addition, the sudden change or disruption to a daily routine caused by the absence of a human caregiver can cause significant stress. While cats can’t shed a tear, they will express their distress through behavioral changes, such as changes to vocalization, clinginess, and eating and sleeping patterns. 

Do cats grieve other cats? 

Introducing a new pet to a household can be a time of upheaval for cat owners. Cats may or may not form strong bonds with other cats in the home, an outcome that is largely determined by age and temperament. For unbonded home companions, the passing of one of the pets in the home may present no behavioral changes. However, a 1996 study by the ASPCA of recently bereaved cats found that 70% displayed changes in vocal behavior, while 46% experienced a decreased appetite following the absence of a bonded pet. The study concluded that 65% of cats displayed four or more behavioral changes after the loss of another pet that indicated grief. 

Signs of mourning in cats 

In the unhappy scenario where a cat loses a bonded companion, you may observe the following behaviors:  

  • They may appear listless and depressed 
  • Change sleeping patterns and locations 
  • Changes in vocal habits, either becoming more talkative or quieter than before 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Hiding in enclosed space and increased self-isolation 
  • Outdoor cats may stay away for longer periods 
  • Decreased desire to play 
  • Increased attachment and clinginess to remaining caregivers and companions 

How to support a cat following a death 

If your feline friend is grieving, they need your love and support. Take steps to rebuild their security and comfort in the weeks and months following the loss or departure of a human or animal companion. These include: 

  • More quality time – Make an effort to dedicate more time to your grieving cat to provide emotional support and comfort. Divert their attention with more cuddles, games, and treats. 
  • Maintain a routine – this is the time to stick to a regular schedule of feeding and engagement in order to provide them with a sense of security and stability. 
  • Provide diversions – During times when you can’t be home, leave toys, treats, cat trees, and comforting objects around the home so your cat can remain happy and engaged during alone time. 
  • Behavior management – Behavioral changes are common among grief-stricken cats, particularly vocal changes. If your formerly quiet cat suddenly becomes more loud and vocal, avoid the temptation to treat them to keep them quiet. This will indicate a positive reinforcement of the undesirable behavior. If your cat is meowing excessively, call them to you instead. If they come, offer praise — otherwise, try to ignore the behavior and it should settle over time.  
  • Consider a new companion — Think carefully about the logistics of replacing a lost pet with a new companion. Is your cat good with other animals? Will a new family member offer them solace or create more stress? 
  • Consult a veterinarian – If your cat fails to eat or use a litter tray normally for more than two to three days, contact your veterinarian. They may recommend tests to check for underlying conditions or pheromone therapy to improve wellbeing.  

How can ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA help grieving pets?  

ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA feline paste and oil can offer support for your cat’s emotional well-being and stress by helping to relax and calm them. In addressing your cat’s distress, ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA can lead to improved overall well-being and a happier, healthier cat.