How cats grieve

Venus died last Friday. As my two middle Kiddos put it, “Now we have only two cats?”

Venus came late into the house. We acquired the first two cats around the time we got married, the first one winning over my Patient Boyfriend by being helpless, tiny and orphaned. A construction worker handed him the kitten as he walked across campus one morning, saying, “Hey, do they have a vet school here or something?” (Uh, yeah, only the number one vet school in the universe.) My Patient Boyfriend walked her over to the vet school where they patched her up, and thereafter I got a timid phone call back in Brooklyn saying, “Um, I’m looking at a very tiny kitten.”

And so before we got married, my Patient Husband had another female living with him. And shortly afterward, we acquired the second cat, who was the punchline to a story I won’t relate here (but in essence, she was an “I’m sorry” gift, and the apology was accepted.)

In the interests of anyonymity, they will be Cat One and Cat Two. They had the best relationship I’ve ever seen in cats. Cat One should have been the dominant cat, but she always thought of herself as a little human, even trying to walk on her hind legs. When Cat Two arrived, she loved her because it was someone like her in the world. Cat Two didn’t want to push the dominance issue and get her butt kicked, so instead they co-existed. There was no dominant cat. They had achieved feline friendship.

Venus ended that: she wanted dominance, and Cat One found she didn’t like that so much. Cue years of tension.

Last Saturday, Cat Two realized right away that Venus wasn’t coming home, and she immediately reverted to who she had been six years ago, before Venus arrived. She’s all over the house  now, hanging out on my bed, lying on my pillows, and lounging around as if she owns the place. She’s even renewed her friendship with Cat One, sitting near her and appearing more relaxed than I’ve seen in years.

Cat One took until Thursday night to come downstairs and start yowling. That’s her way of saying, “Where is she?” She does that when she’s missing someone, and although I know she didn’t like Venus — at all — she knows the cat should be here. And instead, Venus is nowhere. As the days go by, her scent fades, and Cat One still doesn’t find her, and yet she knows Venus should be around. It makes no sense that Venus isn’t hiding somewhere, so Cat One checks all her haunts and wanders, yowling, calling.

My cat is grieving. I knew it could happen, but I didn’t expect Cat One to grieve for her enemy.

I know what to do for grieving people. I’m not so sure what to do for her, whether I should let her sniff Venus’s collar or give her extra petting time or just let her explore and wonder. There’s no language to explain to her what happened. Over time, I suppose cats forget, but easing the transition isn’t something you find in the literature.

And in the meantime, Cat One prowls the house, looking for the cat she despised, uneasy, unsettled, grieving the way cats grieve.


About philangelus

Mom, freelance writer, novelist, angelphile, Catholic, know-it-all.
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13 Responses to How cats grieve

  1. blueraindrop says:

    my cat grieved when i went away to college and couldn’t take her…. eventually she got over it on her own, but not sure if theres a way to speed up the processing.

  2. Diinzumo says:

    I think it just takes time. Don’t do what I did and get another cat right away. 😉

  3. philangelus says:

    No, I’m nowhere near ready to get another cat. That’s why I was relieved when there was no one at the shelter last week. I just dropped off the donation and ran. (I’ll mail you the one for yours, so there’s no chance I’ll get pulled in that way either!)

    I guess I’m not sure what the purpose of grieving is in cats, whether it’s the same as in humans, and whether cats need to grieve. If they need to, then speeding it up is bad. But I don’t know.

  4. knit_tgz says:

    No idea how to help. My mother has had cats (as in plural cats) for the last 8 or 9 years. Lately she had several cats die (she now has only one cat, and a new puppy). First when she had a non-neutered female + her male, they had 3 litters and in each litter a kitten died. The female (mother) only grieved for one who died suddenly at a week old (more or less). She first looked puzzled, meowing and looking to her “nest” when she saw us, and then would not let us touch the remaining kitten. On another litter there was a stillborn kitten, but I guess she did not really notice. And on another litter still there was a kitten who had an accident at 2 months old and did not survive (she did not react much).

    On the beginning of this year my mother had 3 cats: a very old one who died at 18 years old (the remaining 2 looked puzzled and sniffed her place, but that’s it), a 4-5 years old male who died suddenly of liver failure and a 3 year old female who is the one that remains. The female was very very close to this male, and when he died she went on a full-blown depression. Would not eat, would cry and hide on the food pantry (a dark place where she could be alone), would accept petting but would not purr. And sleep all the time. And no longer go after her toys. After a while she started coming out of the pantry and staring at the door for a long while (and eating, thank God!), still sleeping a lot and still not playing. Then she got clingy. She would meow if left alone for a small while. Finally after a few months (!) she is starting to get back to normal, so my mother got a puppy to keep her company and they’re getting to know each other.

    This was the most extreme case, but I’ve even seen hamsters grieve (only for a day and a half, by keeping company to the body of the deceased hamster). I don’t know why, maybe it’s not really grieving, but some pets do react to death of other pets.

    I sometimes wonder if on the new Heavens and new Earth there will be some of these animals. Maybe they have some limited sort of understanding, like we have limited understanding compared to angels (bad comparison, I know). What did Paul mean when he said that all Creation was expecting salvation (not sure of the verse)? I know all Creation is tarnished by our original sin, maybe in the end they will be made new too?

  5. knit_tgz says:

    Sorry for the long post in your comments, oops!

  6. philangelus says:

    Don’t be sorry. I was glad to read it.

  7. Pingback: nostalgia and newborns « Seven angels, four kids, one family

  8. Daniel Cooper says:

    Hi, we got our cats two years ago, they were brother and sister from the same litter. Last night to our horror, Mo (the sister) was hit by a car! i saw the neighbours in the road and one of them called me over, she was still warm yet looked so cold. I checked over her to see if she was still alive but there was no sign. We are so shocked that this happened and it was really upsetting to all the family, especially the kids. I told my wife that i didnt want Gizz (the brother) to go out any more, which has made me feel really guilty, i taped up the cat-flap and shut all the windows. I just would not be able to cope if the same happened to him. Gizz was ok last night, hes not sure on going back to basics (litter tray etc) however today he has just slept, he has been eating and drinking but wants no attention or fuss. He looks so depressed starring out of the window, i dont know what to do. Also some people say that if i were to let him out he may go looking for Mo and not come home, could this be true? please help me i dont know what to do to help him. I will post progress as the days pass. Dan

  9. philangelus says:

    Daniel, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    I don’t think Gizz would go out and never come home. If anything, he might stick even closer to home because he might be expecting Mo to be hanging around the house, in the places he’s accustomed to finding her. And remember, you’re feeding him at home, so that’s the place he’s going to return for practical cat-reasons.

    Don’t feel guilty for deciding to keep Gizz indoors. You have to do what you think is best for him. My own cats never go outdoors, so I know cats can be happy as indoor-only cats.

    Give Gizz extra loving for now. People who grieve will do what you say he’s doing (sleeping, just lying around listlessly) and that may be what he needs.

  10. Cricket says:

    No, the best vet school on the continent is where I live.

    I’m not a cat person, but I suspect Gizz is also confused why you’re not letting him out. I’ve always thought city cats should be indoor cats. They live 5x longer. Many of the things that make people think cats are happier outdoors are actually bad care.

  11. Cricket says:

    I should clarify that by “things” I meant health problems.

  12. Daniel Cooper says:

    Day two, thanks for the responses, i think i am going to keep him indoors, he does not seem too bad today. He seems quite happy. He has been playfull today and seems himself. He is not calling for Mo yet. I read up on the internet and a lot of forums say that it is best to show the deceased cat to the surviving cat, as cats do actually understand the whole life and death thing, however, i did not know that this was what you were meant to do. A side section of the box that we put Mo in was still in the garden, i brought it in the house today and put it on the floor, Gizz sniffed it quite a bit then layed on it and rolled over the scent and meowed a few times, so i think he may understand now. This could be the reason he has been better today as he may actually understand what has happened. I am not sure that this is definately correct, but just watching him, i am quite sure he knows. I will post again tomorrow with another update. Thanks again. Daniel

  13. philangelus says:

    Thank you, Daniel. I was wondering how you were doing.

    I’ve got to admit, I can’t get into the mind of a cat. I’m pretty good at looking at the world through my kids’ eyes and other people’s eyes, but I have no idea how much cats perceive, and when they perceive it.

    I think Mo might also be adjusting to being indoors. He might feel like Gizz is just outside waiting to come in, or he might really understand it all. Regardless, I’m glad he’s adjusting and doing better. You sound better today too, and I’m glad for that.

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