Saying Goodbye To Your Best Friend: How To Cope With The Death Of Your Pet Cat
None of us want to imagine losing our cats, though sadly, very few animals outlive their owners. It’s a highly emotional time, and we want to help you as much as we can.
Let’s start with the practical aspects first. As sad as you are right now, these are things that unfortunately will need to be taken care of. If you live alone, you might feel it helpful to have a close friend or family member with you to support you in any decisions you need to make.
This is an extremely sad topic, but we really hope that what we’ve written here will help to guide you through a really crappy time and maybe give you some comfort too.
If you’re thinking of burying your kitty in the backyard, you MUST check the local by-laws in the county or town where you live. In some places it is prohibited by law and you can be fined.
Call your veterinarian if your pet died at home. He will likely ask you to come in so he can discuss your options and might also be able to provide you with resources to help you through your grief. If Fluffy was already very sick and at the animal hospital or you had to make the difficult decision to euthanize, the doctors will help you with these decisions at that time.
Do you have pet insurance? Some plans include covering the cost of euthanasia and other related expenses.
Some vets, especially in rural areas, have their own facility, but if yours doesn’t, he will be able to give you the name(s) of some places in your area that can do this for you.
- Individual cremation – in this case, your pet’s body is cremated, and the cremains (ashes) returned to you. Some vets have urns for sale or have information on hand about where you can purchase one, but often the markup will be high and we recommend taking time to make your decision. You don’t need to have something right away and websites like Amazon have a selection of lovely urns, pendants and keepsake boxes.
- Communal cremation – in this type of cremation, a number of pets who’ve passed are cremated together and disposed of (We’re sorry! We really don’t like that term either!) according to the laws in the area you live. This is a cheaper option, and while we often spare no expense when it comes to our pets, you should not feel guilty for choosing this option if it is what you feel best. You can still have a lovely memorial area in your home made up of some of your beloved pet’s favorite things.
If you live in a house with a yard, and it’s legal where you live, you can bury kitty at home. If you’re renting, you should check with your landlord. Also, think about if you’ll want to leave your pet’s grave behind if you move.
Did you know that there are really such things as pet cemeteries? We didn’t until we started researching this topic when our kitty was really ill. If this idea appeals to you, and you would like to have a physical spot you can visit, simply Google ‘pet cemetery’ and the town or area you reside in to see if there is one nearby.
If you do find a pet cemetery and are thinking seriously about this option, make sure it is well kept and that there are funds to keep up maintenance for a very long time. Another question to ask is whether there are deed restrictions that will ensure the land will always be used as a pet cemetery. If the land is leased, this might not be the case.
GRIEVING: What Can I Expect To Feel?
The love you feel for your pet is profound, so it’s understandable that your grief will also be deep.
It is really important that you’re honest with yourself and allow the feelings of grief to happen. Grief is never silly or wrong and in fact, is necessary to help us move on.
Grief can manifest itself in many ways, and you might experience many different emotions. The important thing to remember is that grieving is a process. It won’t happen overnight and even as you begin to heal, there might still be times that the sadness will overwhelm you. We want you to know that this is normal.
Stages Of Grief
- Denial – this emotion may be a natural response that protects us from having to deal with our pain after a traumatic loss.
- Guilt – feeling guilty is a common reaction when dealing with a death of a pet. Most of the time there is no rational cause. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel it though. Guilt is a normal stage of the grieving process and even though there is nothing we could have done to prevent the death from happening, we may obsess that we could have done SOMETHING.
- Anger – anger has gotten a bad rap. As long as we don’t harm others or ourselves, it is a necessary and helpful emotion in helping us cope with loss. Anger is a natural reaction, and we may feel for a time that life is unfair and that we’ve been robbed of precious time with our beloved pet.
- Depression – depression is more than just sadness. It is an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and loneliness, and has the ability to paralyze us emotionally and quite often physically too. This can include staying in bed all day, not leaving the house, or neglecting all of the things that used to bring you pleasure. If you’re finding it difficult to move past depression, seek help immediately. More than a couple of months of crippling sadness could be reason for concern.
You shouldn’t think of this a checklist. It’s possible you’ll feel one or all of these emotions, or you may not feel them at all. We’ll share some coping skills that have worked for us, and for many cat owners we’ve talked to about this subject.
Okay. So Why Am I In So Much Pain, And How DO I Cope With My Grief?
One thing we have learned over the years, with any loss or trauma, is to let yourself sit in your grief. Really. Let it wash over you, so you recognize what it is you’re feeling – you’ll be more able to fully come to terms with whatever stage of grief you’re going through.
If you’re sad, cry. Sob, let the tears flow, run down your face, or soak your pillow. Just BE sad. It’s okay!
You’re angry? Yell into a pillow, go for a run, or hit the gym. If you’re fortunate enough to have wide open spaces with no neighbors to disturb, stand in your yard and shout! Stomp your feet and shake your fists. I’ve burst out laughing after doing just that, thinking how funny I must look! The laughter through your tears can be incredibly cathartic.
It is not always easy for our friends and family members to understand our grief if they’ve never owned a pet. If you do have someone close to you who has been through this loss before, reach out to them for support and, if they are ready to talk about it, ask them what helped them the most. We can take great comfort in knowing others have survived this, and even learn some coping mechanisms from them.
There are forums and chat pages you can visit to communicate with people who are also grieving the loss of their pet. Socializing with someone who can empathize can make you feel less alone. Just remember, not everyone wants to move on, so look for one a forum like we’ve linked here, where you’ll find positive support and encouragement where the focus is on healing.
If you’re feeling alone and like no one close to you really understands how you feel, books written specifically for cat lovers experiencing the pain of loss can be a wonderful resource.
Should I Seek Therapy?
There are therapists who specialize in helping people learn to cope with the loss of their furry loved ones. If you are still feeling helpless and stuck in your grieving process, finding a trained therapist might be the next step. Start by Googling ‘therapists who specialize in helping cope with the loss of a pet (your city here)’. In my city, multiple listings come up for counselors and support groups.
Many therapists and counselors suggest journaling as a way to help cope with grief. Try writing a few words about how you feel at the beginning of each entry, and again at the end. Over time, writing just might help you work some of the sadness.
There are journals specifically designed for anyone who has suffered the loss of their pet. We know it can be difficult just to open to a blank page and write, so a journal like this, set up to tackle some of the specific issues you are probably dealing with, can prompt you along the way.
Alternative Ways To Help You Through Your Grief
You might want to set up a memorial in a special place in your home as a beautiful tribute to your special feline friend. A few favorite pictures, a loved toy, and their collar may bring comfort every time you look at it.
Do you have tattoos, or maybe you’ve been thinking about getting one? Memorializing your pet this way will keep him close always. Find a photo of him that makes you smile and then DO YOUR RESEARCH. Not all tattooists are adept at pet portraits, so look at portfolios, ask for references, and take your time!
Does your town or city have opportunities to plant a tree or erect a bench with a special plaque? Often the proceeds go to a charity, so you can have a lovely, tangible memorial, as well as helping a worthy cause.
If you’re ready to part with some of your pet’s belongings, your local animal shelter will sometimes (always call first) accept donations of this sort and be thrilled if you would like to donate them. As long as they are in good repair, things like cat carriers, toys, clean grooming supplies, and cat trees and even unopened, unexpired cat food or treats can be a huge asset to a struggling nonprofit. Call around your local rescue groups and ask. Alternatively, the gift of money is always welcome. Just make sure you know how your chosen charity will allocate those funds.
How Do I Tell My Child(ren)?
Children and pets often have an unspeakably strong bond – especially if the pet was there from day one, or from very early on in their lives. There is no easy way to let your kids know that your precious family member has died, just as there is no one right way. YOU know your child best, so really, go with your intuition.
The loss of a pet is often the first time kids are introduced to death and, based on their ages, they may not fully understand what death really means. It’s recommended that you approach this sensitive time with honesty. Use language appropriate for your child’s development and let them know it’s okay to be sad and that they can come to you if they have any questions or need to talk about how they’re feeling.
Should I Get A New Cat?
It’s almost inevitable that well-meaning people will ask when you’re going to get a new cat. Honestly, there is no one ‘right time.’
Some will find that welcoming a new kitten or cat into their home immediately is best because it helps to have someone else to focus on, and the new pet can help ease the pain. Research has shown that cats can have a therapeutic affect on their humans both physically and emotionally. It IS your decision though, and only you will know if and when the time is right.
If you’re not ready to adopt a new feline friend right away, go with your instincts. Everyone grieves differently and for some, it will take more time to welcome a pet into the family. While opening your home to a new pet doesn’t mean you’re replacing the precious pet you’re grieving, to many people it feels that way. Listen to your heart and take the time you need to make the best decision for you and your family.
Because there is no one way of dealing with the loss of a beloved pet, forge your own path and allow yourself to fully celebrate your kitty’s life and your sorrow at his loss. We grieve with you, and hope that we have given you some resources to help you on your journey to healing.
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