When your cat is your family, you feel their loss as deeply as you would with any other loved one. They were with you every day, for both the good and the bad. Your cat was your sounding board when you were upset, your cuddle buddy on cozy nights, and your best friend no matter what. They were an important part of your life, and it’s natural for their death to be a heartbreaking, and even traumatic, experience.
Coping with those intense feelings of grief can put life at a standstill. It will always be difficult, but these tips from grief support professionals will help.
Let it Out
It’s normal for people to feel like they need to hold in their emotions. We do it to protect ourselves from the people who don’t understand our grief, and we think that by ignoring the pain, it will go away. But the truth is, holding back will not help. Grief is something that will fester and grow. It’s necessary to acknowledge those feelings before you can start the process of moving on.
To acknowledge your grief about the death of your cat, start with a single conversation. Choose a person who will not judge you or dismiss your feelings. They don’t need to say anything back, all they need to do is listen. Talk to them about your fondest memories of your cat since the first day you met until the day you said goodbye. If you don’t have anyone you’re comfortable talking with, there are support groups and hotlines meant for this exact purpose. And when you’re done talking, let yourself cry, scream, or pound a pillow. Do whatever you need to do to let your emotions out.
Here are a few grief support resources:
- ASPCA Pet Loss Hotline: 877-474-3310
- Cornell University Pet Loss Support Hotline: 607-253-3932
- Tufts University Pet Loss Support Hotline: 508-839-7966
- Ohio State University also has a resource guide for support groups, online chats, and hotlines. You can find it here.
Address Feelings Of Guilt
Since we can’t have our pets live forever, we settle for the hope that they’ll pass peacefully in their sleep after a long and happy life. But for many pet owners, this isn’t how it works. So many cat owners are faced with the difficult decision of euthanasia. And while euthanasia is an act of love meant to prevent pain and suffering, it’s never easy. Many cat owners face feelings of guilt along with their grief.
Instead of viewing euthanasia as ending your cat’s life, you need to see it as a gift. As hard as it is, it’s a decision that spares your beloved cat from suffering during their final days. If you’re feeling guilty, it helps to talk it out and face those feelings head on.
When a human family member passes away, people come together to recognize the loss and grieve together. There are funerals, memorial services, and special ceremonies dedicated to the deceased, but they also help the living find much-needed closure. Consider doing the same thing for your cat.
Many people find it helpful to have a small gathering where people can come together to celebrate a pet’s life. It can happen after a pet’s death, before a scheduled euthanasia, or even during the euthanasia procedure. If that doesn’t feel right, there are also other ways to recognize your loss. You could have a memorial made for your cat or make a donation to an animal shelter in their name. These types of acts can be extremely cathartic and help bring peace and understanding during a difficult time.
Don’t Feel Pressured to Move On
You might feel like you need to be “back to normal” within a few days after the death of your cat. Or maybe your friends and family were supportive at first, but now they’re pressuring you to move on. It’s important to remember that there is no timeline to grief. Grief is an individual process, and everyone must take it at their own pace.
Seek Help When You Need It
If the death of your cat starts to affect your long-term emotional health, you’re encouraged to reach out to a mental health professional. It is possible to develop symptoms of PTSD after the death of a beloved cat. Losing sleep, unexplained irritability, obsessive thoughts, panic attacks, and consistent nightmares are signs you need professional help. Talking to a trained professional can offer a way forward.
There will always be people that will say things like, “It was just a cat.” While these comments are hurtful, you have to know that they simply aren’t true. Psychologists say grieving a beloved pet can be just as painful (and even more so) than that of a human family member. It’s important to acknowledge those emotions and work through your feelings. There’s no doubting that it will be difficult. But take it one breath at a time and incorporate these strategies into your everyday life.