Pet Loss: Coping With The Death of Your Cat
Death, unfortunately, is a part of life and pet loss can be every bit as traumatic as losing any other family member.
Intense grief over losing a beloved pet is normal and natural. Don't let anyone tell you that it's silly, crazy, or overly sentimental to grieve!
My cat Kira who died in 2010
During the years you spent with your cat (even if they were few), s/he became a significant and constant part of your life. People love their pets and consider them members of their family. Owners celebrate their pets' birthdays, confide in their animals and carry pictures of them in their wallets. So when your beloved cat dies, it's not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow. Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you. If you understand and accept this bond between humans and animals, you've already taken the first step toward coping with the death of your cat: knowing that it is okay to grieve when your pet dies. So don't be surprised if you feel devastated by the loss of such a relationship.
People who don't understand the pet/owner bond may not understand your pain. All that matters, however, is how you feel. Don't let others dictate your feelings: They are valid, and may be extremely painful. But remember, you are not alone - thousands of pet owners have gone through the same thing.
What Is the Grieving Process?
The grieving process is as individual as the person, lasting days for one person or years for another. The process typically begins with denial, which offers protection until individuals can realize their loss. Some feel anger, which may be directed at anyone involved with the pet, including family, friends, and veterinarians. Owners may also feel guilt about what they did or did not do, and may feel that it is inappropriate to be so upset. After these feelings subside, owners may experience true sadness or grief. They may become withdrawn or depressed. Acceptance occurs when they accept the reality of the death of their cat and remember their animal companion with decreasing sadness. Remember, not everyone follows these classic stages of grief — some may skip or repeat a stage, or experience the stages in a different order.
How Do You Cope with Your Grief?
While grief is a personal experience, you need not face the death of your cat alone. Many forms of support are available, including pet bereavement counseling services, pet-loss support hotlines, local or online Internet bereavement groups, books, videos, and magazine articles. Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:
- Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it.
- Don't hesitate to reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear.
- Write about your feelings, either in a journal or a poem.
- Call your local humane society to see whether it offers a pet loss support group or can refer you to one. You may also want to ask your veterinarian or local animal shelter about available pet loss hotlines.
- Explore the Internet for pet loss support groups and coping information.
- Prepare a memorial for your pet
When Is The Right Time To Euthanize A Pet?
There may come a time when you need to make a decision about having your cat put to sleep due to health problems. Your veterinarian is the best judge of your pet's physical condition; however, you are the best judge of the quality of your cat's daily life. If a cat has a good appetite, responds to attention, seeks its owner's company, and participates in play or family life, many owners feel that this is not the time. However, if a cat is in constant pain, undergoing difficult and stressful treatments that aren't helping greatly, unresponsive to affection, unaware of its surroundings, and uninterested in life, a caring cat owner will probably choose to end the beloved companion's suffering.
Evaluate your cat's health honestly and unselfishly with your veterinarian. Prolonging any pet's suffering in order to prevent your own ultimately helps neither of you. Nothing can make this decision an easy or painless one, but it is truly the final act of love that you can make for your cat.
Should You Stay During Euthanasia?
Many feel this is the ultimate gesture of love and comfort you can offer your pet. Some feel relief and comfort themselves by staying - they were able to see that their pet passed peacefully and without pain, and that it was truly gone. For many, not witnessing the death (and not seeing the body) makes it more difficult to accept that the pet is really gone. However, this can be traumatic, and you must ask yourself honestly whether you will be able to handle it. Uncontrolled emotions and tears, though natural, are likely to upset your pet.
Some clinics are more open than others to allowing the owner to stay during euthanasia. Some veterinarians are also willing to euthanize a pet at home. Others have come to an owner's car to administer the injection. Again, consider what will be least traumatic for you and your pet, and discuss your desires and concerns with your veterinarian. If your clinic is not able to accommodate your wishes, request a referral.
Having to euthanize a cat is something I've gone through myself and, while it was difficult (as is witnessing the death of anyone close to you), I found it gave me a chance to really say goodbye. I guess my view is that nobody (human or animal) should ever have to die alone.
What To Do Next?
With the death of your cat, you must choose how to handle its remains. Sometimes, in the midst of grief, it may seem easiest to leave the pet at the clinic for disposal. Check with your clinic to find out whether there is a fee for such disposal. Some shelters also accept such remains, though many charge a fee for disposal.
If you prefer a more formal option, several are available. Home Buria is a popular choice, if you have sufficient property for it. It is economical and enables you to design your own funeral ceremony at little cost. However, city regulations usually prohibit pet burials, and this is not a good choice for renters or people who move frequently.
To many, a pet cemetery provides a sense of dignity, security, and permanence. Owners appreciate the serene surroundings and care of the grave site. Cemetery costs vary depending on the services you select, as well as upon the type of pet you have. Cremation is a less expensive option that allows you to handle your pet's remains in a variety of ways: bury them (even in the city), scatter them in a favorite location, place them in a columbarium, or even keep them with you in a decorative urn (of which a wide variety are available).
Check with your veterinarian, pet shop, or phone directory for options available in your area. Consider your living situation, personal and religious values, finances, and future plans when making your decision. It's also wise to make such plans in advance, rather than hurriedly in the midst of grief.
How Are Children Affected?
The death of your cat may be your child's first experience with death. The child may blame himself, his parents, or the veterinarian for not saving the cat. And he may feel guilty, depressed, and frightened that others he loves may be taken from him.
You are the best judge of how much information your children can handle about death and the death of your cat. Don't underestimate them, however. You may find that, by being honest with them about your cat's loss, you may be able to address some fears and misperceptions they have about death.
Honesty is important. If you say the cat was "put to sleep," make sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. Never say the pet "went away," or your child may wonder what he or she did to make it leave, and wait in anguish for its return. That also makes it harder for a child to accept a new pet. Make it clear that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and free of pain. If you have a young child, books like Barn Kitty may help you and your child through the grieving process.
Never assume a child is too young or too old to grieve. Never criticize a child for tears, or tell them to "be strong" or not to feel sad. Be honest about your own sorrow; don't try to hide it, or children may feel required to hide their grief as well. Discuss the issue with the entire family, and give everyone a chance to work through their grief at their own pace.
Is the Process More Difficult For Seniors?
If you're a senior, coping with the death of your cat can be particularly hard. Those who live alone may feel a loss of purpose and an immense emptiness. The pet's death may also trigger painful memories of other losses and remind owners of their own mortality. What's more, the decision to get another pet is complicated by the possibility that the pet may outlive the owner, and hinges on the person's physical and financial ability to care for a new pet.
For all these reasons, it's critical that senior pet owners take immediate steps to cope with their loss and regain a sense of purpose. If you are a senior, try interacting with friends and family, calling a pet loss support hotline, even volunteering at a local humane society. If you know seniors in this situation, direct them to this web page and guide them through the difficult grieving process.
Will My Other Pets Grieve?
Surviving pets may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, and suffer lethargy, especially if they had a close bond with the deceased cat. Even if they were not the best of friends, the changing circumstances and your emotional state may distress them. Give surviving pets lots of TLC ("tender loving care") and try to maintain a normal routine. It's good for them and for you.
Should I Get Another Cat?
Rushing into this decision isn't fair to you or your new cat. Each animal has his own unique personality and a new animal cannot replace the one you lost. You'll know when the time is right to adopt a new cat after giving yourself time to grieve, carefully considering the responsibilities of pet ownership, and paying close attention to your feelings. When you are ready, remember that your local animal shelter is a great place to find your next special friend.
Cloning Your Cat
This is one option I'm not personally in favor of but it might be for you. While the cloned cat will look identical to your deceased pet, it's personality may be different as it grows older. Your cloned cat will have dispositions towards certain behaviors and responses due to its genetics, but the environment its raised in will not be identical to that of your original cat and different environmental factors may influence the development of you cloned cat's personality. That's not to say the personality will be better or worse, just different. Look at it this way - how many sets of identical twins have the same personalities despite having the same genetic make-up and being raised in the same environment? There are always random factors involved. Every personality is unique and passes by this way only once.
However, if you feel that cloning is an option that will help you cope with the death of your cat, you should do some background reading first. The National Geographic have a news item on pet cloning and some people's reaction to it. Genetic Savings and Clone offer a cat cloning service within the U.S. If you live outside the U.S. you'll need to contact them for more information.
A dignified and fitting farewell to a beloved cat can contribute to the easing of emotional trauma for a pet owner. The opportunity to pay tribute to your beloved pet grants closure to your pet’s death and is an important step in the grieving process and a variety of memorials and ways to pay tribute to your cat are now available:
A Poem For Those Grieving
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die...
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