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How do Cats React When an Owner Dies?

Cats have special bonds with their owners.
A depressed cat.
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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 16 August 2014
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Many people think that cats are aloof and believe that they do not care about their owners or miss household humans if they die. This is not the case. These animals form bonds with their owners, and when a human in the home dies, they will mourn his or her passing.

At first, it may take a few days for the cat to realize someone is missing. It probably knows something is wrong, since animals tend to pick up on high emotions, but it will not immediately realize the person isn't coming back. Once the pet begins missing the person, it will usually begin looking for him or her.

The animal will look in the places where it is accustomed to seeing that person, such as a favorite chair or a bedroom. Often, it will meow in these places, seemingly calling for the person. It will often anxiously approach other family members, meowing, going to the deceased’s room or place, attempting to understand where the person has gone.

The cat may begin sleeping where the person slept, and will often look all around that favored place, as if to see whether the person has returned to it. This kind of “searching” behavior can be expected to last from two weeks to a month. Even after this time, the pet may wander around, seeming to know that something still isn’t quite right. Most recover their spirits after a time, but some become depressed.

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Depression is a sign of feline mourning. Depressed cats are listless, perhaps with poor appetite and a dull coat. They may seem to lose interest in things that were once exciting — just as humans do. Older animals may even show signs of confusion or dementia when a human companion dies. As with humans, this radical life change seems to throw cats into a tailspin and they are not always able to cope with the loss.

If the animal seems genuinely ill, the owner may need to take it to the veterinarian to rule out any disease. The vet can also prescribe medication to help stimulate the animal’s appetite, which may help encourage a recovery from the depression. Owners should also pay extra attention to their pets, making sure they have plenty of physical activity, and perhaps should also consider another animal companion if the cat is not elderly and has accepted other pets.

Cats like their routines, and an owner can help reduce the mourning period by trying to keep to the same routine. The owner should wait a few months before making any drastic changes, such as remodeling the home, or even doing much interior decorating. These animals typically hate upheaval of this kind, and keeping it to a minimum will help it recover more quickly.

Animals mourn, just as humans do. They do not have the advantage of being able to understand the death or absence, however; they simply know that someone they had bonded with is no longer in the home. This confusion undoubtedly adds to their depression. Fortunately, a loving owner can make all the difference by giving the animal extra love, attention, and activity.

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anon947446
Post 20

I have terminal cancer and I have noted one of my cats is very affectionate. I know cats grieve and pine and when one of my cats has died I have always placed the body where they can "view" it, have a sniff and identify the cat. It works and makes a huge difference.

Once my cats have seen their fellow cat, they get on with their lives pretty much immediately. It is my intention to have my body also placed where the cats can view it so they will be able to move on as well. Hope this helps.

anon352857
Post 17

My cat howled for a month after my husband passed. It's been over six months now, and he started howling again recently. My husband was home with him all day almost every day where I have to work and am gone up to nine hours a day.

anon335847
Post 16

My best friend unexpectedly grew ill and was in ICU, unconscious for nine weeks before passing. He and his fiance had a cat and dog. The night he passed, when we returned to the apartment, it was weird. The cat and dog straight up squabbled like crazy, real loud and kind of violent. You have to realize they never, ever, ever, ever fought. They had grown up together and always been playful with one another. It was really strange and eerie.

anon335460
Post 15

I have always liked Siamese cats, but my parents didn't want a pet. One day, a friend gave me a Siamese kitty and I just brought him home. My family almost immediately grew very fond of him. My kitty got very attached to me. He would greet me at the door, talk to me, sleep in my lap, keep guard while I was taking a shower, lick my face as though he was cleaning me.

A few months later I left for a month-long camp. One night I called my Mom and she was crying on the phone, but she would not tell me why. Once I hung up the phone, I looked at the distance, and there was a cat staring at me. When I came back home, my parents were devastated - the kitty had passed away. I always wonder if he missed me and wanted me to come back?

anon322600
Post 14

I have two cats and we used to have a dog. The dog and the younger cat were fast friends and played all the time. The older cat did not like him at all. When the dog passed from cancer, the younger cat walked to all his usual spots, as though searching. The dog had one corner he loved to sit and sleep in and for almost a year until we moved the cat would just sit in the corner, looking like he was waiting for something. Even the older cat looked confused for a while after the dog passed.

anon296992
Post 13

My mom died last December unexpectedly and the EMS was called and CPR was performed. At this time she and her 17 year old cat lived with me, my son and 14 year old cat. We lived together 14 years. My mom was the one who looked after both cats and they slept with her.

My mom's cat didn't seem to mourn; he became more social with me and my son. It was like he needed reassurance we were not leaving. My cat died two months later to the day. My mom's cat has adjusted well, but lately we find him in the dark sitting and staring at my mom's urn in the morning. We will turn on the light and he doesn't even notice.

anon283874
Post 12

The cat I just got had an owner that slit their own throat in an enclosed room away from the cats but the cats were still in the house with the smell of the body for about a month. What are the psychological effects that will have taken place?

anon282824
Post 11

My 93 year-old grandmother - a very independent lady - collapsed last evening and spent the night on the floor of her kitchen where she was discovered by a neighbour this morning. She suffered a major stroke and currently lies unconscious in hospital. The prognosis is grim. She lives with her 12-year old female cat in a bungalow with a large garden on a quiet country lane. The cat has the run of the house and garden, though of late has been less active due to a paw injury. Otherwise she is apparently healthy.

Tonight my uncle, the family member who lives closest to my grandmother, reports that the cat has collapsed and died. Is this type of scenario common?

anon268354
Post 10

I think there's nothing sadder than reading all these stories. I have two cats that I adopted a year apart. I love them more than anything in this world. It brakes my heart that at some point in my life I will have to deal with their loss. I am trying to read and prepare myself mentally for that. I think I'm going to go bananas when that happens. Poor babies, if they could only understand.

anon246231
Post 8

The reason I was looking on this site is because last year my girlfriend died suddenly and for no known reason. Obviously I was in a lot of distress, but after about eight hours I couldn't find her male cat. I looked but he was know where to be seen. The evening after that horrible day, I decided to look under the bed and there he was but he was also dead.

A few months later I spoke to my mum (a friend of my girlfriend) and she told me my girlfriend had said if she died, her cat would die and if her cat died, she knew she would die.

I personally think he cat found her dead and just couldn't live without her. He had always seemed very active and healthy.

Has anyone heard of cats dying after the death of an owner?

anon221783
Post 7

Cats do recognize death. I am a pet sitter and yesterday, I found one of my clients dead in his home. His cat knew he was dead because she would not jump on the bed with him like she usually did. She was very anxious and vocal; she also had not eaten much of her food since the day before. I brought her home with me so she wasn't displaced.

She is very upset, but I think that she is better off with me than she would be with a stranger because she knows me and she knows that I always came to see her. Please arrange to take care of your pets with your will. I think that it is sad that this happens all the time, and there is not always someone willing to take the pet.

anon174435
Post 6

When possible, I always show my cats the deceased body of another cat. They would have what I call wakes. They would go to the deceased look and then eat. This saved them from despair. Cats grieve.

Also, when cats are mates and the female becomes ill, the male will leave her. He will check on her, and visit her, however, he will not stay with her. However, the female will not leave the male.

Sometimes, they will pile on the deceased body. I could never figure that out. And then it dawned on me: as kittens, when the mother left, they would pile on top of each other to keep warm. When a cat dies their body temperature obviously drops. Apparently they were trying to warm the deceased body.

Some cats are simply people cats. They do not like other cats. These are the cats that usually have been raised alone on the streets and had to fend for themselves and perhaps a human fed them. My cat is now going through human loss. He became very attached to my boyfriend and the relationship ended. He has been despondent, depressed, clingy, picking fights with my other cats more than usual and he sleeps with me. At first he waited and watched out the window all day. I let him hear voice mails I saved. It used to perk him up, however now he hangs his head and pulls away.

He is pulling his hair out and not much interested in food. I can't sit down and explain it to him. It breaks my already broken heart. He too, senses that. I have seen cats die from grief. I have 20-plus years of experience. I managed a feral cat colony in a controlled environment.

anon169644
Post 5

A few years back me and my partner got two lovely little kittens who were sisters. one night one of them never returned as we called them in like we always did, and found out the next day as she had been microchipped that she had been hit by a car. we were all devastated as we loved her so much. she was such a lovely character. Her sister, nearly two years on still sits on the top of the landing where they use to sleep together just staring. you can see the wonder in her eyes as she looks at me and then straight back at where milly use to sleep. It's so very sad. I loved that cat more than some humans.

anon55797
Post 4

My older cat was feeling a bit grieving when his older friend cat died. It was quite sad. He died of age as it was a very old cat. The other cat just stood there licking him until the other died. After week or so, my older cat started to look for him. Meowing everywhere actually. A few weeks later, it died too.

anon49641
Post 3

my cat keeps rubbing herself on my deceased husband's urn. it's kinda freakish. it makes me wonder if there's something pulling her that way. can anyone explain this?

anon43597
Post 2

My grandmother had a cat that was mostly an outside cat. It didn't sleep inside overnight or anything, but was inside during the day. When my grandmother was ill and in the hospital, we would go over and make sure the cat was fed. But the day my grandmother passed, the cat didn't show up. It's been 10 months and we have yet to see that cat. We were wondering if it had passed along with my grandmother?

anon18398
Post 1

I do not believe cats do not recognize death. They definitely do and react on that too. Of course, if the deceased is not in the house and not seen by them, the above is probably very true. But if they have seen the deceased, they really understand very well and go into stress immediately.

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