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Surviving the Loss of Your Cat

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Our pets are always there for us, and cats especially; they provide companionship, listen to our problems without voicing criticism or complaint, and love us unconditionally.  It can be devastating to lose a pet to illness, accident or old age.

Many times, a person will have a harder time grieving for their pet than they would if a member of their family had died.  There is no commonly accepted “standard” for coping with the loss of a pet, no seven stages of grief especially for cat owners, and no tried and true method for dealing with a loss of this type.

But when your best friend passes away, whether he or she is feline or human, you need to go through a grieving process in order to heal.  Don’t feel guilty if your level of grief is equal to losing a family member.  Grief is a normal, emotional response to trauma and you need to get through it in the way that works best for you.  Here are some points to remember when going through this difficult time:

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Express Your Feelings
You won’t come to terms with the death of a pet if you keep your emotions bottled up and holding in your hurt feelings can lead to symptoms of fatigue, depression and even physical stress.  Do what you need to and don’t feel guilty: cry and be angry, if those are the emotions you’re experiencing.  If you have children and are trying to help them deal with the loss, show them that you too are sad.  If you hide your feelings, you’re telling them that they shouldn’t show theirs either.

Understand the Stages of Your Grief
As you come to terms with your loss, you’ll go through several stages of grief.  You might at first feel a sense of disbelief or denial when you come home from work and expect your cat to meet you at the door with a sweet meow.  This denial can be followed by anxiety or a seemingly irrational feeling that your pet has abandoned you.  Eventually, this feeling of abandonment will likely give way to anger or self-recrimination, especially if you made a decision to euthanize your pet after an accident, or to stop him or her from suffering after a long period of illness. 

Sadness or depression may follow, but after a period of time you should be able to remember the happiness your cat gave you and focus on the good memories you made together.

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Talk it Out
Talk to a friend or a family member about your loss.  Remembering the good times with your cat and sharing stories about pets they’ve lost might help to lessen your grief a little bit.  If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your ordeal with friends or family, find out if your veterinarian can recommend a pet loss support group.  If your town doesn’t offer any support groups of this type, search online.  There are many forums available for people who’ve lost pets to share their experiences and comfort.

Explaining to your Children
If your cat was a family pet, make sure that you talk to your children and explain what happened with as many details as you think are appropriate for their age.  Many times, the death of a pet is the first direct experience a child will have with losing a loved one. The loss may be softened if your child understands he or she made a difference in their pet’s life through the love and happiness they shared.  Avoid telling your children that your pet “was put to sleep” or “went away” as this can cause confusion and even prevent closure: your child might wait for them to wake up or come home. 

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Don’t Forget about your Other Pets
Pets grieve like people do.  If your dog and cat have lived together for several years and one of them dies, the other will go through a period of mourning and sometimes depression (yes, even if they didn’t seem to like each other much).  Be sure to give your surviving pet plenty of love and attention to help them adjust. This might be a good time to introduce new toys and create some special play time just for him or her.

Remembering Your Pet
There are several things that you can do in remembrance of your pet.  You could take all of the photos that your cat posed for over the years and make a collage to frame.  You might also choose to remember your pet as thousands of other people across the country remember theirs, on the second Sunday in September, or “National Pet Memorial Day.”

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Getting a New Pet
Grieving for your lost pet is different for each person.  If you choose to get a new kitten, don’t feel as if you are replacing your old pet – just realize that you are once again expanding your family.  Your new cat will have his or her own personality, quirky behaviors, and special place in your household and your heart.

Losing a pet is a painful and difficult ordeal, but not impossible to get through.  Admit to yourself that it is okay to grieve your pet’s loss in the same way you would a beloved family member’s, and with time and patience, you’ll soon realize your heart’s capacity to love and accept a new friend and family member.

   The right words are often hard to express when a beloved pet has been lost.   
We hope you find a small amount of comfort in the words of Irving Townsend.

Photos taken at Rocky Mountain National Park

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