It’s important to let cats work through their grief, just as humans do. Here’s how you can help.
by JaneA Kelley
Back in the dark ages of animal care, few people, including veterinarians, believed that cats grieve for deceased friends. But times have changed. In 1996, the ASPCA conducted the Companion Animal Mourning Project, a study to find out whether pets showed signs of grief. It turns out that pets do: 46 percent of cats ate less after the death of a feline companion, 70 percent meowed a lot more or a lot less than normal, more than half became more affectionate and “clingy” with their people, and many slept more or slept in different places than they previously had. Not only that, but 65 percent of the cats in the study showed four or more behavior changes after the death of a fellow pet.
I’ve seen feline grief up close and personal, too. When I first met my cat, Thomas, he was in the animal shelter’s isolation unit, fighting for his life as a respiratory infection raged through his tiny body. He’d been taken to the shelter with his sisters after his previous caretaker had gone to a long-term care facility, and I’d never seen such a mournful sight as this poor, sick cat whose eyes reflected the broken heart that was destroying his will to live. It took a lot of intensive vet care to get Thomas back to health, and it took a lot of intensive emotional care to bring him truly back to life.
1. Keep to your routine as much as you can
Cats are creatures of habit, and they tend to find any change disturbing. The loss of a beloved friend is a huge change. You can ease the stress of these turbulent times by doing things like keeping to their regular feeding schedules and being consistent with the times you’re at home and out of the house as much as you can.
2. Honor your cat’s way of showing her grief
If your cat is grieving, you almost certainly are, too. In the throes of your feelings, it might be hard to respond appropriately to a grieving cat’s behavior. If your cat becomes more affectionate and clingy and you get frustrated by her constant demands for attention, try to understand that it’s her way of grieving. Likewise, if she’s not her usual cuddly self, don’t take it as a lack of caring.
3. Talk to her
A grieving cat might find the sound of your voice soothing. Even if you don’t believe she understands the words your voice is saying, the words your heart is saying needs no interspecies translation. After Dahlia died, I took the time to hold Thomas on my lap at least once a day and tell him, “I know, sweetheart. I know you miss your Dahlia. I feel so sad, and I know you do, too. I love you so much, and we’ll get through this together.” You might find talking to your cat comforting, too; after all, she’ll listen without judgment.
4. Keep track of your cat’s intake and output
A grieving cat might show a greatly reduced appetite or even stop eating. If a cat doesn’t eat for a few days, she risks developing a potentially fatal condition called hepatic lipidosis. Even if she doesn’t get sick from that condition, she becomes more vulnerable to respiratory viruses and other illnesses if she isn’t getting appropriate nutrition. If your cat stops eating and drinking, consult your veterinarian to see what you can do to stimulate her appetite.
5. Don’t get another cat right away
Your cat — and you — need to take the time to work through your grief before you add another cat to your household. A new cat is stressful for the resident cat even under the best of circumstances, and getting a cat “on the rebound,” so to speak, is bound to create difficulties in your feline family.
What have you done to help your cat through the loss of a beloved animal or human friend? Please share in the comments.
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Winter holidays are especially exciting, with all the sparkly lights and streamers, delicate ornaments and brightly colored garland, and don’t get us started on the candies and treats! All of these things are great fun, and no less so for our pets. So, before you start taking out the decorations, take a few minutes to consider how their placement will affect your pets.
Just to protect your pet and yourself from excitable accidents, hang your delicate and treasured ornaments on the uppermost branches of the tree, and secure them to the branches tightly. In general, it is easier on the whole household if you select tree ornaments that are not likely to shatter. For delicate, glass or treasured ornaments, you might consider creating an area where they can be displayed that is out of reach for your dog or cat, such as from a garland that is hung across a mantel or window. Tinsel, for all its glittery prettiness, is one of the most dangerous tree decorations you can choose. If your pet ingests even a few strands of tinsel — and pets do this more often than you might guess — she is highly likely to suffer the ill, and even deadly effects of an intestinal obstruction. Same goes for edible ornaments, such as popcorn and cranberry strings and candy canes. Leave these things off your tree or your pet will be climbing the tree to get to them.
Lights, Plants and More
Christmas lights should be positioned away from the very bottom of the tree unless you are sure that your pet has been successfully trained not to chew on the cords. Electric cord injuries are very damaging to the mouth tissue and can lead to long term problems with eating, among other issues. Check the electric light cords frequently for signs of chewing.
Other tree decorations that can be hazardous to pets (and children, for that matter) include angel hair — a spun glass or pvc decoration, garland, lit candles, mistletoe, poinsettia plants, and holly berries. Decorations that are not a part of tree trimming, but that are also worth mentioning are advent calendars, in which candy is placed in the small numbered cubbies; and liquid potpourri, which can be spilled or ingested.
It is safest to stick to artificial plants and plastic or unbreakable ornaments, just to be on the safe side. When you can rest in the knowledge that you have done everything to make sure your pet cannot be harmed, then everyone can share in a happy, healthy holiday season together.
More Christmas Tree Tips
It can be very difficult to keep a young, still-in-training pet away from the Christmas tree, particularly if this is his or her’s first Christmas. Even for an older pet, who may have learned not to jump on the tree — either because it fell on him last year or because your admonitions worked — you will still need to be cautious with the ornaments you place within his reach.
A live tree can be especially hazardous. Dogs and cats like to chew on sticks (i.e., limbs) and greenery, and the fir tree oils can be irritating to the mouth tissue causing such symptoms as drooling and vomiting. Also, if your pet is chewing on the branches, there is a good chance he is also swallowing some of the needles. If enough needles are swallowed they can get caught in the intestinal tract, puncturing the lining or bunching together and causing obstruction. Both can have deadly consequences.
A popular tree decoration called flocking, an imitation snow product, can also cause serious problems when significant amounts of it are swallowed. If you are going to have a tree in your home, it is best to at least get a non-flocked tree.
In addition, some trees are treated with chemical preservatives to keep them fresh longer. These chemicals leach into the water in the feeding dish, making the water poisonous to drink — which pets will do if the water is left uncovered. If you do not have a tree skirt to cover the water dish with, you can use a towel, plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
This post was written by Becky Robinson, co-founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, the only national advocacy organization dedicated to protection and humane treatment of cats.
Feral cats call the outdoors their home, all year round and in all weather conditions. While they are skilled at surviving harsh weather, and finding their own food and shelter, they can always use a helping hand during the winter months. As temperatures drop, there are plenty of simple ways you can help the cats in your community stay even warmer and safer this winter.
Give Me Shelter
One great way to help them through the winter is to provide an outdoor shelter. Specially-built shelters guarantee feral cats a warm spot to escape harsh winter storms. Alley Cat Allies’ list of feral cat shelter options is available here; they vary in shape, size, and level of assembly.
Any shelter for feral cats should follow these guidelines:
- Elevate the shelter off the ground for warmth, and place it in a quiet area with minimal foot traffic.
- Shoot for a shelter sized about two feet by three feet and 18 inches high, providing just enough space for three to five cats to huddle. If you’re sheltering smaller numbers of cats, make the shelter smaller—the smaller the shelter, the quicker it can be heated up with body heat.
- The door should be between six and eight inches wide. Consider installing a flap on the door to keep out snow, rain, and wind.
- Insulate the shelter with straw, but not blankets or other materials like hay that absorb moisture.
As the weather turns colder, feral cats will also need extra calories to maintain energy levels. Providing extra food and water, and keeping them from freezing, is an important step in helping outdoor cats this winter. Wet food in insulated containers is best, as it takes less energy for cats to digest than dry food. To keep water drinkable, use bowls that are deep rather than wide, and refill them with hot or warm water. Place the bowls in a sunny spot and add a pinch of sugar to keep the water from freezing as quickly.
Take some extra steps in your everyday life to keep outdoor cats safe in your neighborhood. Remember to check under the car before starting it, as cats will sometimes crawl into the engine or hide underneath it for warmth. Winter is also the time of year for antifreeze, which often tastes irresistible to cats and other animals, but is toxic and deadly. Keep it out of reach, and clean up any spills.
Visit Alley Cat Allies’ website for more information about connecting to local resources, and for other tips on how to keep cats everywhere safe and well cared-for throughout every season.
Poor itchy kitties! Summer is flea time and those nasty little bites can make our cats just miserable. What to do? Some folks swear by garlic. Others say pyrethrin-based powders do the trick. But some natural remedies may be dangerous to your pet.
Find out which remedies are safe–and which you should avoid–to keep your kitty flea-free.
Flea powders containing pyrethrins (derived from chrysanthemums) have been generally considered “safe”, but research has shown that these powders can be ingested by cats during grooming. Avoid them.
Although feeding raw garlic to your dog is a tried-and-true remedy for canine fleas, research now suggests that garlic and cats don’t mix. Avoid using raw garlic with your feline: it can cause a dangerous form of anemia and even lead to death.
The safest methods of flea control begin with the environment:
Wash your cat’s bedding and any area rugs frequently. Fleas can’t swim and hot water will kill them.
Vacuum often and dispose of bags in an airtight container, or freeze them first to kill flea, eggs, and larvae.
Beneficial nematodes may be used to dust your lawn. These creatures will infest and kill fleas, but are harmless to pets and humans.
The best defense against fleas seems to be a healthy overall immune system. Keep your cat in top form by feeding her a diet rich in omega-3 and omega-6 oils, including a small amount of brewer’s yeast to meals, and avoiding over-processed foods with by-products.
If your cat already has fleas, bathe her with a mild detergent once a week to remove adult fleas, larvae, and eggs. Groom her with a flea comb between baths. Dip the comb in water after every stroke to drown any fleas you comb out.