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Ask A Vet: Can Cats Feel Grief?

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Have you experienced a loss of a family member or pet and felt that your cat felt grief as well?

Cat lovers all over can describe behaviors and attitudes that they relate to grieving in their cats, but emotions are very hard to quantify (even for people who can describe what they feel).  Grief is an extremely complex emotion for people and psychologists have long described these feelings in terms of stages of grief. The loss is very real and each individual needs to navigate his/her own journey to cope with grief.

As a species, we like to think humans are more evolved and complex than other members of the animal world and refute the possibility that animals can feel emotions. But are we being fair to animals? If we assume that they cannot experience emotion just because they cannot describe it, are we missing out?

Cats are not typically found in herds or packs in the wild, although lions exist in a pride, and do not commonly develop strong pair bonds with their mates. But what they do experience is family bonding. A kitten is very dependent and bonded to its mother and the mother to the kitten.  Pet cats are somewhat locked into eternal kitten-hood when it comes to family dynamics. Other pets and people in the household are viewed as family so it stands to reason that any change will affect your cat, sometimes profoundly.

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The loss of a house mate, even if the two were adversarial is disruptive to the entire household. Animals like boundaries and feel secure knowing where they stand in their environment, so a change shakes everything up.
Any cat suffering a loss should be allowed time for adjustment and be treated with patience.
Walk with your cat to areas preferred by the missing individual and reassure her calmly. Do not assume that your cat does not feel grief just because she cannot tell you about it.  Dealing with loss and grief is something that you can do together which helps shore up your own family bonds.  When you recognize grief, you are not alone in your sense of loss and neither is your cat.

Do you love cats and wonder why they do the things they do? Follow me on Facebook at Kathryn Primm, DVM.

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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