Dealing with the death of a cat is difficult for any owner — no matter the age of your pet. Dr. Trisha Joyce of New York City Veterinary Specialists, and Dr. Wallace Sife, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB), offer advice on managing the end, grieving and moving on.
While a small percentage of cats may die peacefully at home from old age, most pet owners will at some point be faced with the decision to end their cat’s suffering. “Sometimes it’s an uncomplicated decision — say an animal stops making red blood cells,” says Joyce. “But just as often it’s a slow process, like gradual kidney disease. The cat still has a good day every once in a while.” In the latter situation, Joyce recommends the following:
· Make a list of the things your cat enjoys, like sunbathing or spending relaxed time with the family. Consider whether it still engages in any of these.
· Give yourself an objective measure — a point at which you will let the pet go. For example, “Once my cat’s weight has dropped to X number of pounds, I will put him down.”
· Seek guidance from your veterinarian and other pet owners who have had to make a similar difficult decision. The APLB’s website offers chat rooms addressing the topic.
“Owners will say to me ‘I can’t kill my cat,’ but that’s not what euthanizing is,” says Joyce. “I think of it as releasing the animal. It’s the last and most selfless decision we make for a pet we have cherished and cared for.”
Memorializing a Beloved Cat
Deciding how to mark a cat’s passing is a very personal decision. Some pet owners choose the formality of a proper funeral in a pet cemetery, and others cremate and scatter their pet’s ashes. Many veterinary hospitals offer to create a clay imprint of a cat’s paw as a keepsake. Sife suggests making a contribution to an animal group in your pet’s name, planting a tree in its honor, volunteering with shelter animals or setting up a memorial on the APLB’s website. “We’ll light a candle for the cat each year on the anniversary of its death,” he says.
Coping in the Aftermath
Everyone deals with loss differently, although cat owners can expect to go through the same stages of grief as anyone who’s experienced the loss of a loved one. Sife suggests reading one of the many books on the topic, including his own, The Loss of a Pet. “The pain is unavoidable, but a book can help to normalize the experience,” he says. Most important may simply be allowing yourself to grieve. “It can be hard because society doesn’t allow public grieving as much with pets. People feel less comfortable saying ‘I’m going to take a day off of work because I just put my cat to sleep,’ but it’s legitimate,” says Joyce. She adds that some of her clients have found support groups for people who find they need more comfort than they are getting from friends.
Adopting a New Companion
While a pet can never be replaced, at some point many cat lovers may want to bring home a new pet. Sife advises against seeking out a look-alike. “That may be a way of refusing to accept the loss,” he says. Joyce also advises waiting until the raw part has passed. If you’re thinking about getting a new cat, consider adopting a stray cat from a local shelter. Saving the life of a cat without a home can be one more way to honor the memory of one that’s passed.