Four years ago, we adopted two kittens, Harley and Chopper, and raised them together. Sadly, Chopper recently passed away; his vet thinks he might have had an undiagnosed heart defect. This devastated all of us in the family—including our grieving cat. We've noticed some new behaviors from Harley indicating he is definitely missing his “brother.”
How can I help Harley? Is it wise to add a new cat companion to our family for him? And how do I know when Harley is ready for us to bring home a new cat? What should you do when your cat dies, leaving a lonely brother behind?
A: It hurts all members of the family, including other resident animals, when a beloved companion cat leaves us. Often cats grieve when a favorite friend they bonded with passes on. Like with people, every cat handles the death of a friend differently. Some cats do not seem deeply affected—others become seriously depressed.
So what can you do to help your grieving cat when your other cat dies? It all depends on their symptoms and behaviors.
What to Do When One Cat in a Pair Dies
When one cat in a bonded pair dies, monitor your other cat closely. He must eat, drink and use his litter box as usual. If your grieving cat stops eating for more than 24 hours, seek help from his veterinarian. Watch his sleeping patterns as well. Depressed cats often sleep more than usual. Keeping a consistent and routine schedule will help Harley adjust to the loss of his buddy cat. Feed him and clean his litter box at the same time every day. If he enjoys cuddling at a special time, be available to him then.
Wait until both you and your grieving cat have recovered from your loss before adopting another cat. Chopper’s passing is stressful for Harley. Adopting a cat too soon will compound your cat’s anxiety, because introducing cats to each other can be stressful under any circumstance. Stress can compromise the immune system and can result in illness.
A few indications that your cat has recovered from his loss include normal eating and sleeping habits, playing and not pacing or vocalizing excessively. Additionally, check that your cat is not displaying “needy” behaviors, such as following you around more than usual.
If you decide to adopt a cat for Harley, search for a cat who has a history of living with other cats the same age as Harley and whose activity level is the same. I do not recommend adopting a cat who looks like Chopper. Doing so may prolong your grief and you may have unrealistic expectations of the new cat, based on his looks.
Whenever bringing a new cat into the household, introduce cats to each other gradually and as stress-free as possible. Successfully integrating cats to each other can take a few weeks, a few months or longer.