Losing your beloved pet is a heartbreaking and emotional experience, and as much as we might wish they could live forever, it’s one that all cat or dog owners will face at some time or another. It can be even harder if people you know don’t fully understand the strength of the bond between you and your pet. Like me, you may have experienced sentiment along the lines of “but he was just a cat” – even now those words infuriate me! A cat might only be a cat, but they live with you day in day out, though the ups and downs of life and they become a part of your family. Grief is a necessary and natural part of coming to terms with your loss, however long that may take you, so how do you cope with the loss?
The stages of grief
- Denial. This stage comes immediately after the death of your cat, and can last for a while. You’re in shock, feel numb and can’t believe it’s real. In fact, you still expect your cat to come purring to greet you when you walk through the door.
- Guilt and anger. After denial, you move onto guilt and anger. Why him? If your cat was killed in an accident you may think that it was your fault for not watching him closely enough or for not being there 24/7. If you had your cat put to sleep then guilt is very common, even though you know you were doing the right thing. If your cat was suffering, then you made the right decision to end his pain.
- Readjustment. You have to adjust to life without your beloved cat, no matter how impossible it may feel at first. You’ll find yourself gradually accepting that he’s not there, and carrying on with living your life. During this time it’s perfectly normal to ‘tear up’ or continue to cry on occasion.
- Acceptance. Finally, it starts to become a little easier to smile and recall the happy memories you shared with your cat rather than cry over his absence from your life; and the sharpest stages of grief and loss have passed.
How do I cope with the grief?
Different people cope with the loss of a pet in different ways, by crying, withdrawing, planting a tree in memory, displaying the ashes, creating a photo album, talking through their feelings and sharing memories with family and friends, there are many, many ways. The most important thing to remember is that there is no ‘normal’ way to deal with grief. Accept that you’re grieving, and don’t take it to heart if well-intentioned people try and cheer you up in ways that you find insensitive. Eventually, and there is no time-limit on this, you’ll come to the realisation that you need to let go of the grief, and it won’t mean that you didn’t love your cat when you do.
How soon should I get another cat?
This totally depends on you and it’s your decision. Other people will have opinions on whether you should get another cat straight away or wait a set period of time. You’ll know when you’re ready, and it could be fairly soon afterwards or years later. When I lost my beloved Rose in June 2007, I didn’t welcome new cats into my home until December 2011 – so it took me 4 ½ years before I was ready.
Some people are the complete opposite and find that it helps to get another cat quite quickly, not to replace the cat they’ve lost, because that’s impossible but because they want the companionship and to know that they are providing a loving home for a cat in need. I would recommend though, that you take the time to mourn and accept the death of your beloved cat before you consider getting another cat. Don’t forget that cats are very sensitive to emotions, and coming into a grieving household won’t be the best start for them in their new home.
During the initial, heartbreaking stages of loss, it’s easy to think that you’ll never have another cat to have to go through this again, but try not to think like that. We have cats for the joy and happiness they bring to our lives, and for the happiness and security that we bring to theirs. After all . . . it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.
Have you lost a beloved cat or dog? How did you cope? How soon did you open your heart and home to another pet?