Even if our cats live into their late teens and sometimes early twenties, it’s just not long enough. The price we pay for sharing our lives with these wonderful companions is that sooner or later, we will experience the pain of loss, and it can be as devastating. Joelle Nielsen, a veterinary social worker at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says she often compares the loss of a pet to the loss of a child or a close family member. Nielsen says the big difference between losing a pet, compared to losing a human, is that “much of society is not aware of the strength of the human-animal bond, so pet loss is often seen as ‘disenfranchised loss,’ meaning it is not socially recognized.”

Another significant difference is the matter of euthanasia. Deciding to end a pet’s pain and suffering is one of the most difficult choices pet owners ever have to make, and it can engender massive feelings of guilt and regret after the fact.

Grief is an individual experience

While there are some commonalities when it comes to coping, grieving the loss of a pet is a unique experience for each individual. Factors that play into how the loss is handled include whether the death was sudden or followed a prolonged illness, whether the pet guardian had to elect euthanasia, whether it was the first time the person experienced losing a pet, and the person’s living situation. Single pet guardians for whom the pet was a primary source of emotional support tend to have more difficulty recovering. Regardless of how the loss occurred, there are some things that can help you cope.

Acknowledge that losing a cat is difficult

You will grieve, and you may grieve for a long time. You’re not going to “just get over it.” Marty Tousley, a bereavement counselor at Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ, says that “for some, the insensitivity of others can be more painful than the grief from the actual loss. Most people don’t tell someone to go get a new spouse or child within a month of one dying.”

Sudden or unexpected loss can be more difficult

While loss is always difficult, losing a cat unexpectedly to an accident or sudden illness can complicate the grieving process. With an ill cat, guardians usually have time to gradually get used to the idea of losing their companion, but sudden loss can make it feel like your life just completely fell apart. I share my personal experience with unexpected loss after Amber died after a brief illness.

What not to say to someone who has lost a cat

If you’re the one who is trying to comfort a friend who just lost a beloved cat, it can be difficult to know just what to say. As a result, people often, without meaning to, say the wrong things that, rather than providing comfort, only serve to upset the grieving person even more. Sometimes, the best thing to say is to simply acknowledge the loss – because the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is to not say anything at all.  Read What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Grieving the Loss of a Pet for more suggestions.

Rituals can help you cope

Rituals can play an important role in the healing process. There is something about acknowledging grief through a tangible action that can help soothe raw emotions. Rituals can take many different forms. The best ritual is the one that has the most meaning for you. Read Coping With Pet Loss: Rituals Can Help for some suggestions.

Coping with grief during the holidays

Losing a cat, and the devastating grief that follows, is hard any time of the year, but it can be especially difficult the holidays. The contrast between the rest of the world, which seems to be focused on making merry and celebrating the season, and the bereaved’s private pain and grief can be a glaring reminder that the holidays won’t be the same this year. Read Coping with Pet Loss and Grief During the Holidays for some suggestions on how to cope.

Do cats grieve for other cats?

Just like people, different cats will experience grief in different ways. It will depend on how strong the bond between two cats was, how long the cats have been together, how the human is handling their own grief (cats are highly sensitive to human emotions and often take on a human’s grief in an effort to heal them.) Feline veterinarian Dr. Arnold Plotnick addresses the topic of feline grief in this thoughtful and comprehensive article.

Getting a new cat

Getting a new pet after losing a beloved animal companion can be very difficult for many pet parents. We all know that it’s not possible to ever replace a lost cat. Some are able to get a new pet within days of losing the old pet, others may take months and sometimes even years, or never get another pet again. This is not a decision that anyone else can make for you. Read Life After Loss: Getting a New Cat for more on this topic.

The old adage that time heals all wounds applies to pet loss as well – if you do the necessary emotional work to deal with your grief. Unfortunately, there is no other way through grief except to allow yourself to feel it. But with time, you will find that there will come a day when you’ll wake up in the morning and your first thought will not be about how much you miss your cat, but about a happy memory of the time you spent together.

45 Comments on Coping With the Pain of Losing a Cat: A Round Up of Resources That Can Provide Comfort

  1. I lost my 8 year old cat yesterday after someone drove onto the pavement and hit him. My whole world has fell apart. I feel more grief over loosing my cat than I have when I’ve lost a human family member. I feel like I’ve lost a child. I’m glad this was mentioned in the article because now I feel like I’m not being over the top with my feelings. RIP Pete you will be forever missed xx

      • Hi . We have just had our cat minky put down having cancer ..we can’t stop crying we just don’t no what to do we loved him so much so we no how you fill miss you so much minky xxxxx

  2. I lost by sweet “Little Guy” Rowdy 2 days ago. He went to the vet for his annual exam and was told everything was great, including his bloodwork. 4 days later when I came home from work I found him. He’d been his normal self, running, playing, chasing his brother. Vet said it was likely a sudden heart attack. He was fine, I was told he was in good health, and now he’s gone. I’ve had to make the decision to put cats to sleep in the past due to illness but this is different. I’m completely devastated and I’m having a terrible time dealing with his loss!

    • It’s almost impossible pain to lose your best friend so suddenly. I too am having a very hard time with sudden death. In a one year period I’ve had 4 cats die- never ever in my life have I felt this deep pain.
      Most recently was my Precious on 5/20/20 – asleep with me on my pillow. I awoke with her 1st gasping loud breath; held while she did it again and she was gone. . Hugs to you Susan as you grieve, love, honor and celebrate Rowdy’s life with you.

  3. Ingrid
    This is a wonderful article. We just lost our beloved cat of 17 years Pretty over the weekend. We are devastated.

      • I just read about Amber, i am so sorry for your loss. We also had a Torti named Sheba for 16 years, she was our first cat before we got Pretty Shy whom passed away this past weekend.
        Sheba passed away in January 2008. She had stopped eating and drinking , we think it was kidney disease. She was our first cat, we still miss her very much.

  4. Tigger left us on Halloween a year and a half ago, and now, our other kitty, lil bit seems to be headed in the same direction she’s been with us some 16.5 years! We’re not even sure what’s wrong.. just that she’s losing weight fast and has had constant diarrhea for far too long. Nothing seems to help it. Poor thing we’ve tried switching her food and giving her probiotics, but nothing seems to be working.. Losing animals is so hard! Watching them suffer is terrible too! So damn helpless!

  5. Our cat named Cougar was put to sleep due to severe heart disease on April 25, 2017, and he was 16 at the time

  6. Recent unexpected loss of my soulmate Riley. From me not noticing a thing with him, he became unsociable. Following morning took him to vet. He was to stay for some tests. 2 hrs later he called me. Said Riley needed ICU. Immediately. Insulin wasnt working and his temp was dropping.. Rushed him to Specialty hospital. That doctor called. Rilley had endocarditis, a blood clot in his atrium, liver wasnt functioning…I quit listening.
    Within 26 hrs I went from being happy to utterly destroyed. That was 101 days ago. It hurts like it was yesterday.

  7. Had my darling Rosie put to sleep last week unexpectedly became Il still struggling with the decisiong i made about her. unfortunately that’s two of my loving friends in 6months and 4 in 5 years. They were such a close group.

    11/28/2016 12:00am
    I am one of those who regret having my cat’s life ended prematurely.
    My treating vet and I were in agreement that I’m Here Max could have his usual quality of life with the administration of pain medication for a month due to an inoperable cancer which had spread to his jaw.
    He was never a playful cat during his estimated thirteen years, nor much of a lap cat .He liked to warm himself by the heater and meowed only in the morning when he wanted his wet food. He used the cat litter without urging and his weight had stabilized when medication for hyperthyroidism was started. In short, other than being in the house most of the time rather than being mostly outside as before, and sleeping more due to the pain medication his life was much the same as before cancer of the jaw progressed.
    I didn’t find it a problem to wipe the occasional drool but he started to bleed on the left side of his gum line. I was concerned about this but had planned to take I’m Here Max to consult with a vet who also practiced holistic medicine for pets so I went ahead with the appointment and asked if anything could be done about his bleeding from his jaw by removing the three teeth which had become loose. The vet told me that he would lose his teeth on his own but that she wouldn’t remove his teeth but had good results with jaw removal.
    I had stated from the beginning that I didn’t want jaw removal, radiation or chemo so I’m not sure why the subject was brought up although IF I remember right she did state that this wasn’t an option at this point.
    The reason for my visit was to have herbal medication added to his current treatment was pushed aside and replaced by what I thought the vet was getting at was that, even with hospice as an option, a more effective pain killer, later on, the correct thing for me to do was to have him euthanized.
    To be honest, at the time I relied on what I perceived was the better judgment of the vet and a friend to euthanize him (ie: have him killed).
    That much as I would miss him and he required no more care really than a well cat I bought into the guilt trip that I was being selfish to keep him alive when he had a terminal cancer.
    That day I was initially relieved that I’m Here Max would be safe from any future suffering due to my “selfish desire” to keep him alive for an estimated 1 to 2 months more.
    It was less than two hours later that I realized that I had made a decision that was neither good for my cat, I’m Here Max, or for me.
    I had pain medication on hand and an 24 hour Emergency Clinic
    within a half hour drive with an indoor cat who NEVER meows so I feel confident he would let me know, if I missed other signs that the time had come. In addition I had him under the care of a vet who supported hospice as a good option for I’m Here Max and me.
    While others may not have the same support I had, I also had to contend with the ideas that “You’re being selfish to keep your cat alive in pain” and “You can’t tell when your cat is in pain”. In short the implication is that I are doing the wrong thing to let the cat live because the cat has a terminal illness and he was in pain which I didn’t realize.
    Don’t let this guilt trip influence what is best for your pet.
    While sick cats find hiding places healthy cats do too.
    Cats aren’t silent in pain. They want YOU to do something,
    Euthanasia can NEVER be undone.
    paula m lattn · 1 day ago

    • I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time with your decision, Paula, and I appreciate you sharing your experience. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a way to ever be completely comfortable with the euthanasia decision, no matter what the circumstances. There is no right or wrong decision, and it’s an individual choice for every cat and every person. I hope you will eventually find peace with your decision – as much as that is ever possible. My heart goes out to you. It’s hard enough to lose a cat, but it’s so much harder when you second guess your decision.

      I have to disagree with you on one point: cats do hide pain. While they do show signs, vocalizing is not usually one of them.

  9. I just lost my Shannon after 13 years together. From loss of appetite to death right after surgery was only 3 days. So quick but we were fortunate that he didn’t seem to suffer and that we didn’t have to make God-like decisions concerning the end of life. I miss him terribly and am glad I have another cat in the house who is more snuggly than before. Think he’s trying to both be supportive and getting support at the same time.

    • Having another cat can definitely help when it comes to coping with grief. It sounds like your kitty is very much in tune with what you need right now.

      • A few day ago my beloved companion of almost 16 years, Bizkit euthanised due to failing health. I am inconsolable and struggling with the loss of him. He had such an impact on my life and I am really struggling with losing him, it’s always just been him and me

  10. Thank you for this post Ingrid, losing a pet is hard but in society it is not supposed to be “as hard” as losing a friend, spouse, parent… What if that person who loses her, say, cat, has no spouse, no parents; then the cat is her family ! (I will for obvious reasons not compare this to losing a child). When my parents lost their dog in a horrible accident, they decided to never ever have a pet again, this was before I was born. Twenty years later, I nagged my father so much that he decided to let me have a Guinea Pig, and I could tell he was thrilled. I have dealt with the loss of three much beloved cats, and it never gets easier. It is not supposed to be easy, and I tend to spend time with friends that love their pets as much as I do, so that we can comfort each other when the hard time comes. Insensitive people are not my friends.

  11. Losing a beloved cat is awful. I adore my cats. And we do need to grieve, in our own time and our own way, and for that pain to be respected. I understand how hard it is especially for someone for whom their cat may be their only family. But, Joelle Nielsen, who says “she often compares the loss of a pet to the loss of a child” is right out of order there. I lost my son aged 17. I promise you, the difference between losing your cat, no matter how dearly you love them, and losing your child… it honestly does not compare. AT ALL. We expect to lose a cat. We don’t ever expect to lose our child, and when it happens it is devastation, the end of life as we knew it. We never, ever get over it. Any bereaved parent will tell you that, and will find that sort of comment really offensive. No offence to kitties, but…. please…

  12. Sometimes the best way to honor the memory of a cherished pet is adopt a new one. You’re sharing your love with another animal that needs it. But take your time.

  13. My vet holds a memorial service around the first of the year to remember all of our furriends who have disappeared or gone to the Bridge, and in particular those in the past year. I still miss some of my feral lap cats.

    I was able to find the Companion Animal Related Emotions Pet Loss Helpline from the vet school at the University of Illinois so I could talk to someone about Butler (2011-2012). They have a toll-free number and called me back in a couple days, and sent a follow-up note after the conversation.

  14. Thank you for the post. Losing my cat BearBear was hard. He got sick all of sudden. Even thought he was older I still wasn’t prepared. Still miss him.

  15. Thank you for the fantastic article, Ingrid. I agree that it was as hard, if not harder, for me to hear what people had to say to me about my loss as it was losing Jewel. Well-meaning friends would tell me to “focus on the positive memories,” but that felt very invalidating to me and my loss. I needed to grieve, and I needed to be able to talk with trusting, caring people about how I felt, the good, the “bad,” and everything in between. Grief is so difficult for society as a whole – I think a lot of people try to avoid it, whether they are personally dealing with a loss or are trying to support a friend or family member through it.

    Carmine definitely grieved the loss of Jewel. He is a sweet and sensitive boy, and he bonds to other cats (and his people) strongly. While Jewel was mostly indifferent about him, he was crazy about her. He’d sit and supervise all her treatments and poke his head in on her to check on her multiple times a day. So when she passed, he had a hard time with it. I think we were able to help each other get through some of the most difficult days together.

    • I think you’re right, Sierra – as a society, we do not know how to handle grief. I’m glad you had Carmine help you through your grief over Jewel.

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