Thursday, September 17, 2015

Do cats grieve? Maybe, but it's a little complicated

Maggie the senior cat is recovering from the loss of her pack mate
When senior cat Eamon died earlier this week, I immediately started worrying about my other two cats. Little Maggie, shown here, is 11 years old, and she doesn't deal well with changes of any sort. This is the girl that attacked my other cats for simply going to the vet, and it took her more than a year to learn to live with Boston terrier Sinead. She dislikes disorder. And, she and Eamon grew up together. He was her parent figure and her best friend. I expected her to feel the loss.

And Lucy here also struggles with change due to her blindness. I wondered if she'd look for Eamon endlessly, or if she'd simply hide and wonder where he went and when he'd come back to rescue her. She is a sensitive girl, and she and Maggie don't have the tightest of bonds. I thought she'd be a little lost at sea without her kitty pack leader.

Lucy the blind cat is processing the death of a senior cat

As it turns out, cat grief is a lot more complicated and subtle than I ever thought possible.

In the 48 hours following Eamon's death, I didn't see any overt signs of mourning or grief in either Maggie or Lucy. They were both affectionate, playful, active and hungry. They didn't seem any more lonesome or mournful than they were in the days leading up to the loss of their friend. If anything, they seemed a little happier.

Lucy quickly claimed all of the top sleeping spots (which Eamon once dominated) as her own, and she took over chief affection-grabbing techniques, too. And Lucy spent a lot less time hiding under her favorite chair downstairs and a lot more time out in the open upstairs. These two even got into some play sessions. I have proof!

So they're not showing classic signs of loss or grief at all. But I'm wondering if they were showing me signs before Eamon left us.

Eamon had a long struggle with pain, and he wasn't the best roommate in the world during the final weeks of his life. He no longer wanted to cuddle with his girl cats, as their subtle shifts in position hurt him. And any play sessions they tried to initiate went south in a hurry, as he'd attack them when they got even just a little rough.

So these cats have been tip-toeing around the cat they once loved for months, and they may have missed the way he once was. No wonder they seem relieved. They've probably been mourning him in their own way for quite some time.

Now, I know a lot of people say that cats are incapable of higher feelings like loss and mourning because they're animals and they live in the moment. That might very well be true, and it could explain why I don't see signs of mourning. These cats might not be able to experience that emotion. But, I am definitely seeing changes in their behavior. And that might be the last gift Eamon gives to me. It's wonderful to see my girls so happy, and I'm thankful they're coping so well. Now I just need to do the same, right?


  1. I'm so sorry for your loss. I agree with you that cats have feelings, they just have their own way of expressing those feelings.

  2. we believe that just maybe they know before people do...and therefore the final moments are really an ending but moving forward

    1. That's a wonderful way to think about it. Thank you.

  3. So sorry about your loss. Glad your other kitties have you and eachother to cuddle ~RascalandRocco