Cat Care Memorials

How to Grieve the Loss of a Cat


Coping with the passing of a beloved pet

Sadly if you are wondering how to grieve the loss of a cat, this is a must-read for you. Ramona and Petunia. Petunia and Ramona. That’s the way it was for nearly two decades. To say Ramona Reyes and her longhair Calico cat, Petunia, were inseparable was an understatement. Her family and close friends rarely saw one without the other (Ramona had a cat carrier and a leash that allowed her to take her cat everywhere). Petunia was a beloved companion and a constant source of friendship and support in the Jacksonville, Florida, resident’s life. Ramona was just 12 years old when she got Petunia; her cat saw her through her parents’ split, her own marriage and subsequent divorce, a second marriage, a miscarriage, and the birth of her first son.

When Petunia passed away at the age of 19, two years ago, Ramona was inconsolable for weeks. “I knew she was older and had a great life,” said the mother of two, “but when she died, I could literally feel the hole she left in my heart. For a week, I couldn’t eat and could barely sleep. I lost weight and my eyes were swollen shut from crying so much. My partner was willing to do anything to help me and asked if I wanted another cat. But I can’t even imagine doing anything like that anytime soon.”

Ramona isn’t alone. Many cat owners have their pets for more than 15 years, and for a lucky few, closer to 20. Many literally grow up alongside their cats, which have seen them through childhood, school, first jobs, and relationships. You might be thinking that how to grieve the loss of a cat is near impossible at that point when an animal—is more like a family member and a best friend than anything else.

“When a beloved animal dies it can be devastating, overwhelming, and unfathomable,” says Nancy Saxton-Lopez, a New Jersey-based social worker, psychotherapist, speaker, trainer, and coach who has had a private psychotherapy practice with expertise in bereavement, specifically companion animal loss, for 30 years. “The emotions we feel are the same as any loss—but magnified,” she says.

“The human-animal bond is unique,” continues Nancy, who leads a Companion Animal Loss Support Group at St. Hubert’s Giralda, a humane welfare and education organization in Madison, New Jersey, and published The Pet Loss Companion: Healing Advice from Family Therapists Who Lead Pet Loss Groups.

That connection is also something Steve Moeller, co-founder of the first Grief Recovery Method Support Group over 35 years ago, has witnessed firsthand.

“The only time I ever saw my father cry was after the death of his cat that he loved dearly,” says Steve. “My parents had gotten Tiger after all of us children had graduated and moved away from home. Tiger had bonded with my father and was constantly at his side.”

Tiger died from severe kidney problems. “To say that my father was devastated is an understatement,” says Steve. “My father was a scientist and, by nature, was fairly stoic most of the time, but the death of Tiger took an emotional toll on him such as I had never seen before.” 

The loss can really be a shock, especially if a pet owner had this animal for many years, says Liz Teal (née Eastwood), the author of Soul Comfort for Cat Lovers: Coping Wisdom for Heart and Soul after the Loss of a Beloved Feline and the publisher of NaturalCatCareBlog.com. “What’s unique about cats we’ve bonded with for years is that they’re an intimate part of our everyday life. Because they’re there every night and day, by the time they pass we’ve often accumulated more time with them than we have with individual friends. Even family members are unlikely to be with you that consistently.”

According to Steve, who is also a certified trainer for The Grief Recovery Institute and a licensed funeral director for more than 40 years, only people who have owned a pet or developed an attachment to an animal can understand the depth of the grief that can come with the death of a beloved cat.

“To put it in the simplest of terms, a pet is that friend that always offers unconditional love and never utters a word of criticism.”

“To put it in the simplest of terms, a pet is that friend that always offers unconditional love and never utters a word of criticism,” says Steve. “They are always there for you in your moments of greatest happiness and overwhelming sadness.”

The connection people have to their cats is one not possible between humans, agrees Nancy. “These pure souls become integrated into the fabric of our lives. Their presents to us include affection, companionship, better physical health, a strong emotional connection—[they] promote social and physical activity, make us laugh, and allow us to take responsibility for another living creature. Pets also soothe us, calm us, and help us live in the moment.” 

Immediately after losing a pet, Nancy likens the feelings to “a big black hole in the soul.”

“The bereaved may feel they have lost part of their body,” says Nancy—just like what Ramona described after the passing of Petunia. “The waves of grief are intense and consistent. There are behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms during the grieving process,” she says.

“Most people never learn how to effectively deal with the grief that they encounter throughout their lives,” says Steve. This starts at an early age, when children are taught to replace the loss, rather than how to process it and move out from under that emotional pain. 

“Perhaps one of the earliest losses most of us experience is when a balloon that we are given comes loose from our hand and floats away,” Steve says. “More often than not, our parents will tell us, ‘Don’t feel bad, we will get you a new one.’ Having them tell us not to feel bad does not make us feel any better, but the message that we unconsciously absorb, as they are drying our tears, is that somehow those feelings of sadness are inappropriate, and there is always a replacement to be found for these things that we love and lose.”

The truth is that you cannot begin to fully form a new relationship until you have effectively grieved and released the emotional pain for that previous relationship that was lost, says Steve, who has mourned several pets of 19-plus years. Using the Grief Recovery Method, he grieves and completes his relationships with each pet that he loses, so that he can build a new and better relationship with each new pet that he might choose to adopt. “We are not replacing a pet, but rather bringing a new and different pet into our home to be loved and cherished.”

According to Liz, we are letting our cats into our hearts more than in the past, and feeling more responsible for them, which makes the loss even harder. Steve says pets have moved from playing a working role in our lives, when people lived on farms and in rural settings, to a more familial role. People are also attaching to their animals more, seeing them as family members and even children. Veterinary medicine has also allowed us to provide better care and medical support for our cats, which brings us even closer to them. “The longer the time spent in any relationship, the deeper that relationship becomes, which translates to a deeper sense of grief,” Steve says.

The grieving process takes a period of time, during which it is important to try to take care of yourself, Nancy says. “This isn’t easy to do as you may have problems eating (not eating, or eating the wrong foods), sleeping (too much or too little), and there is no motivation to exercise. Try to put one foot in front of the other and keep going, but allow your feelings to be. Some people find solace in doing something creative, changing their routine, and being in nature. Sometimes planning a ritual for your beloved cat is helpful.”

It is important to share grief with those who can understand and lend support through this process. “Many times, people mean well but say the wrong things,” Sandra says. “Remember to be gentle with yourself; this is a fragile time for you. The grieving will lessen over time; it is a hard transition from being able to hug and kiss your cat to having him or her eternally in your heart. If you feel the need, you certainly can reach out to a pet loss or grief counselor.”

The services of pet grief counselors and pet loss support groups are becoming more commonplace to keep up with the demand. “The Grief Recovery Institute added a new book and grief program specifically addressing pet loss,” Steve says. “While we had many pet owners attend our Grief Recovery Method Support Groups in the past, the greater recognition of the emotional pain of pet loss and grief made it only sensible to offer specific programs for this form of grief.”

The death of a fur baby can be further complicated when there are real, human children involved.

Liz recommends against using euphemisms for death, while Sandra says children need to be included and informed with facts. “Depending on the child’s age, he or she may not understand what has happened,” Sandra says. “With younger children, it is important to say that their cat died; that he or she can’t move, eat or hear and will not be getting up and especially that they are not responsible for the death. Older children can be told more; that their cat is very sick and may not have a good quality of life.”

If and when a new pet should be acquired is a very individualized decision, and should only be done after you give your grief some space and time. Bereaved owners should continue to work through their grief even after they adopt a new pet. “The important thing is not to use the new cat as a way to skip the grief,” Liz says. She warns that grief can come up at inconvenient times: “many people will find they need another good cry in a car or bathroom, or on a walking break,” she says.

As Sandra puts it, grief is a journey. “Eventually, the waves are less frequent and not quite as intense. However, there are triggers that at any time can overwhelm someone again.” The important thing, says Liz, is to give sorrow the space to transform and most of all, to trust your way. “You might need to process your feelings with someone you trust, or you might need to go throw stones in a river by yourself. Keep reminding yourself that your grief is love. That means it’s valid and important. And to avoid getting stuck in chronic misery or numbness—the only way through your grief is to feel it.”

A Love that Lasts Forever: Wonderful Ways to Remember a Beloved Cat

Remember your precious cat with a beautiful, handcrafted Cat Angel Figurine Tree Topper from Kitty Cat Art Studio. Available in a wide range of styles, you can even send an image of your cat to create a personalized ornament. (From $55, kittycatartstudio.com)

 

Keep the memory of your cat close to your heart with an elegant memorial necklace from Pacific Urns. These pretty pendants can easily be filled with a small amount of ashes and with designs including paws, cats, and hearts, there is something for every taste. (From $259, pacificurns.com)

 

Honor your cat’s memory with this beautiful reminder of their loving spirit. With a variety of colors, engravings, and lighting options to choose from, this handmade DNA Swirl Heart Memorial is a lovely reminder of your beloved cat. (From $400, crystalremembrance.com)

 

We all want to be able to honor our pets and commemorate the time spent with them. The customizable Organics Charm from Buddies Keepsakes is the perfect way to furever remember your sweet companion. (From $180, thumbies.com)

 

 

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24 Comments

  • Daragh Hourigan

    I took a lot of pictures and videos in the last days, and on the day the vet was coming to the house to put them down. I had some lovely jewelry made – pendants to wear – someone on etsy – very affordable. I let them go for general cremation with a service I found that has a field they scatter them on. I did get their paw prints in plaster. In future, I think I might just do them on paper myself. I still have two cats. I am getting older and I had to consider that I can’t end up in assisted living with too many urns of ashes, paw prints, fur trimmings….

  • Cindy Merrill

    My Ginger passed away 2 weeks ago- my husband was fine with it- he never liked her- Fred, Ginger’s sibling is his favorite cat. My heart is broken and my husband couldn’t care less.

    • Nicole E.

      Hi Cindy,

      We are so sorry for your loss!

      🙁

  • Tiffany

    Hi Wendy,

    I’m so sorry for your loss of Ginger. The loss is very important to you. Find someone to talk to that can be sensitive about your loss and be supportive.

  • Darlene Campbell

    Cindy, I’m so sorry you have lost your dear friend Ginger and that you feel you are grieving alone. You obviously had a special bond that your husband did not share, but many of us understand and share the pain of your loss.

  • Anna Estes

    I lost my beautiful 6 years old cat Sandy several months ago. He had lymphoma and died within 2 weeks of discovering his illness. I was and still in shock and devastated. After 3 months of grieving I was ready to look for another shelter kitty that needed a home and I felt like I can provide. She is lovely. She will not replace Sandy, but eases my pain knowing that another little life is safe and happy.
    I am thankful for my family and friends that no one said “it was just a cat”, get over it.

  • Mary

    I have lost 13 kitties (on top of thr miscarriage of my twins and death of my mother in law) in the span of a month. We might lose two or more as well… My kitties are the only reason I keep fighting the want to die but I am now losing them as well. I can not take it anymore… Too much pain and too much death.

  • Wanda

    I lost my sweet little Bo 6-26-19. Lost his brother My sweet little Oreo on Thursday 6-11-20. My heart is so broken. I can’t seem to find a way to smile again I miss them so very much

  • Sherrie

    My baby, Woodland, was 19 years old and my husband found him in our woods as a kitten. He wasn’t totally weened yet as I would put him on my shoulder and he would suck on my ear. He was diabetic for 11 years and went into remission but then developed hyperthyroidism and kidney issues and got so weak he could barely stand. He died June 13, 2020. I feel like I have lost a part of myself and miss him so much.

  • Didi Sindelar

    I just lost my beautiful Oreo Saturday. We had decided on today being the day we took her to the vet..but Sat..while gone for only a couple of hours..and a friend who was staying with her just finished spoon feeding her and had gone to wash the dish..in that one minute of not watching her..(we haven’t slept in weeks) and keeping her from touching her tumor..she rubbed it in just the right way where her eye tumor exploded! I feel sooo extremely guilty for having my kitty experience that without me being there.
    .as well as my friend who INSISTED on helping me out.. was there to witness such a horrific sight. Oreo was in great spirits..still plying with string and toys and using her scratching post..and going up and down stairs until just that day..even tho the tumor continued to grow. I miss my baby SOOOOOO MUCH!!!

  • Stephen Weiss

    We Lost our Casey cat. She was with us 24-7 when we were in the living room. She was exactly 14 yoa. Born in July of 06 and Died in July of 20. from Lymphoma.
    Casey had a rough start, she was found as a 3 month kitten with her 3 sibling who were dead. She was found by my wife’s brother. They were all thrown out by a trash dumpster. It took Mike several weeks for Casey to come to him as he toyed her with a shoe string and cat food. She grew to love Mike. Shortly after we got Casey we were having a roof put on our home. the noise scared Casey so much she hid to where we could not find her. Mike came to our home and within seconds after Casey heard his voice she came out. After that it took my wife several weeks for her to get Casey to come to her. She used the same method as Mike and it did work. Casey went from a really feeble cat to on of the most affectionate cats who seemed to love everone I have ever owned. After a while as I said she stayed near us whenever she could. I am saddest as I was unable to see Casey before she passed due to Covid 19. Nobody but the help was allowed in the building. She was on pain medicine and a feeding tube. I only hope she never thought we disserted her. I can not think of the last time I was this sad. I really Loved Casey and I miss her deeply. This greaving really sucks.

  • Jessica McVicker

    My Abigail was just diagnosed with throat cancer after taking her to the vet 4 times within the last month and being told over and over again she was fine. Now she’s dying and I can’t even process this. I am forever broken! how will I go on without my Abigail!?

  • Karrie

    I lost my Alvin yesterday. He was 15 1/2 yrs. He’s been by my side since he was 4 days old. He was orphaned and I hand reared him. I bonded with him during those early bottle feeds. He was there, when my kids came home for the first time. He was there through my mental health struggles, he was always by my side. No matter my day, he was waiting for me, his love was strong, he was my best friend and I was his. Suddenly he is no longer here. The grief is almost unbearable. I dont know how function. Every room in my house, every action, every memory is so painful. I didnt get to say goodbye.

  • Lorie

    I just put my beloved cat Smokey down after 15 yrs together. It was the worst day of my life and the pain is so intense. Reading all the comments about the deep love and affection for their beautiful animals is helpful. I never imagined a life without her in it nor could i have imagined a bond and love so profound. Rest in peace my darling girl, rest in peace.

  • Lorie

    Karrie, i feel exactly the same way and I extrnd my deepest sympathy to you and to all the amazing ppl who have lost their beloved cats. It does feel unbearable..im on day 2. my thoughts are with you.

  • Bill Poole

    A few years ago we gave food and shelter to a neglected stray cat from neighbors down the street. He turned up more and more for food, love,shelter and affection and got into our hearts. I was with him when he passed away this past weekend (August 08/20). I know he is at peace but there is a empty void in my heart and a feeling that I could of done more. I know this will heal but he will remain a part of my soul forever. Bill

  • Lorie A Schoeberle

    I lost my black cat Baze(yes, he was named after a character in Rogue One). I adopted him from a local shelter and took him to a vet for a check up and he tested positive for fiv. He was with me for 3 years and I loved him. After the vet told me he was positive for fiv and we talked about it, she did a dental cleaning on him. Recently he had been not eating as much, started drinking alot, urinating outside of the litter box, his left eye didn’t look right either. I am totally grieving and crying alot, I called in sick from work today. I am blaming myself for it, I should seen things better and took him for more vet checks with the fiv. In the end the vet said he was losing sight in both eyes, maybe was diabetic, and or kidney failure in addition to the fiv which will accelerate conditions. She agreed with my decision that it was time. He was a awesome cat, he had a little scar on his nose and I thought that he was a grizzled warrior just like Baze in Rogue One. I know that he’s in heaven with my other cat Darth, my horse, my Mom and my husband. I know I got to get through this, but I will look for another cat to save when its time.

  • David

    We lost our Freya last Thursday night. She was 16. Nearly four years ago she was diagnosed with diabetes. My spouse, whom Freya loved with all her heart, was meticulous in caring for her. I helped, of course, but they made a heroic effort to give her as long and happy a life as possible. She couldn’t get around that well in her last days, but she was happy to be with us and showed us her love. Now our job is finished. For so long we had structured our days around her care, including insulin shots every 12 hours. I told my spouse they did everything perfectly, and gave Freya as long and and happy a life as she could ever expect to have. But of course it leaves a hole in our hearts and in our lives. It’s really hard. On top of that her brother is still with us, and he has never known a time without his litter mate. I can’t tell if he’s ok or not. But it fills me with great sorrow that he lost a lifetime companion.

  • Ezzy

    My cat, his name is Loki. He came home yesterday 10am bleeding from is eyes, nose, and mouth. I opened my back door to go outside, then I see him in front of me. I screamed and called my mom on the phone while I let him inside. I spent his last 12 hours with him. Telling him everything was going go be ok. His nose was broken and is jaw was fractured. We had no money. So we took him to the vet and they put him down. He was only 2 years old, I only had him for one year. I miss him so much. R.I.P

  • Alisa Steady

    We lost our lovely Orange boy 8/30/20. I knew and loved him for 16 years. My husband and I are heartbroken. He cried for one day. I, however, am crying days on end. Today is day 5 without our beloved sweet boy in our lives. I am shattered. Loss of a fur baby is real, and as emotional as loss of a human companion. I know it will get better. But for right now, I’m sitting with the heaviest sadness I have ever known.

  • Carly

    I made the terrible decision to put my cat down this week. I’m 35 weeks pregnant, my husband was out of town, and I’ve had this cat for 16 years – half of my life. Last year, at her checkup, we were told she was amazingly healthy for a girl of her age. A week ago, I took her in for an exam because she started urinating outside the litter box. They said there was a chance of advancing kidney issues (which where in very early stages at her annual the year prior – we were advised to switch to a kidney supporting diet, which we did) and suppported an antibiotic shot, pain meds, and a watch and wait approach. Tequi immedietely stopped outside-the-box urination and seemed perky and happy (eating, snuggling, making happy kitty noises). We were so happy to report to the vet how well she was doing! Then the sudden turn. I took one look at her sad, frail body and dilated eyes and knew something very big had shifted. I took her back to the vet and was told her kidneys were failing and her liver wasn’t far behind. Treatment would be short-term (days to weeks was the guess) and there would be no making her comfortable. All alone and in tears that were soaking my Covid mask, I made the decision to say goodbye. It was the worst moment of my life. This kitty, who had given me non-stop love for her entire life, who just days ago had shown huge improvement, is now gone. My brain unconsciously seeks her everywhere – I constantly think I see or hear her before my logical brain catches up and reminds me that I never will again. I know my grief is a representation of my love for her, but she was the best little friend I could have asked for and I can’t imagine life without her. It’s so hard.

  • Kieran

    We had two cats called Zeus and Artemis, brother and sister. Last night we went out to call our two cats in and found Zeus completely motionless just outside our front door. He was already gone by this point. What I’m struggling with is that he was only 1 year and 4 months old and that I didn’t get long enough with him. In such a short time he had become such a big part of me, he was my little man. Both cats had a great personality and did everything together and now Artemis sits there looking out for Zeus much like I find myself doing. A big part of me died yesterday and I don’t know how I’m going to continue to function anymore.

  • Ashley

    I picked my cat before I met him. A friends mom was at a farm and had told me about this “beautiful grey and white kitten” and before I knew it, I was asking if I could take him home. Sox was apart of my life for 16yrs years. He was with me through every single happy moment and through the darkest of times. He saved my life more times then he’ll ever know, just by being there for me when no one else was. In June he was diagnosed with 3 different terminal illnesses and I knew no matter what we did, it would only prolong the inevitable. We did try some treatments but Sox just wasn’t his happy go lucky self anymore and so 3 days ago I made the hardest decision of my life. No words will ever be able to describe the pain I feel and right now I don’t have much for the future. Every time I close my eyes I see his beautiful face and I cry like my hearts being ripped from my chest. Everyone says in time it will be ok, but right now, I just don’t see that.

  • Joanne

    I lost my beautiful angel Sandy yesterday. She had oral cancer with a poor prognosis. She had the most beautiful personality and nature. My heart is a black hole. Thank you to everyone who comments here this is a huge help and comfort to me to read your stories.

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