by: Sean Holden
Nearly a month ago, my oldest cat, Capelli was put to sleep. For 15 years, I had lived with him. During our life together, we added a brother, Crank, to the family and, a few years ago, a dog, Salem. Capelli enjoyed playing with his brother and curled up next to Salem to nap. But old age caught up with Capelli, and, with a heavy heart, I had to let him go. And, like any family who suffers from a loss, dynamics and behaviors change.
Salem, my yellow Lab/Basenji mix, would console me by setting her chin on my lap. Her playfulness had decreased and she seemed less eager to go out for her daily walks. She missed her buddy.
Crank, my blue-eyed gray Tabby, seemed to take it harder. He had been Capelli’s brother for 10 years. After his brother passed, he wanted constant attention, meowed and ran at my ankles, nearly tripping me up. He always wanted to be fed. Most unusual, he would sleep in his brother’s favorite spot.
Concerned especially about my cat’s eating habits and behavior, I did some research on how to deal with grief with animals. Thanks to the University of Florida and University of Ohio Veterinary programs, I found some tips that might be helpful for others dealing with similar issues.
1. Behavior changes are natural after a loss.
When a pet dies, it is completely natural for the other pets to show unexpected behavior. Some pets will even reverse their personality. Loud cats will become quiet. Shy dogs will be more forthcoming to people and other animals. It is natural for animals to act like their deceased mate. They might play with the same toy or sleep in the same spot. Vets urge pet owners to never punish animals for odd behavior. Instead, during times of grief, reward them for good behavior.
2. Don’t change routine.
Even though my cat wanted to eat throughout the day, I needed to stick the same feeding schedule: once in the morning and once in the evening. Same with my dog. I continued to walk her once in the morning, followed by a feeding, and then walk her once in the evening, followed by a feeding. Vets recommend routine because it relieves stress. A sudden change of environment adds stress, creating behavior problems.
3. Exercise and Play!
The recommended medicine for stress as a result from grief is exercise. I played with my cat. For him, all I needed was a couple feet of yarn and he was a happy kitty. With my dog, getting her over to the local dog park to throw the ball and run in the summer grass was the perfect diagnosis for the doggie blues. It also helped me with my own grief. It helped me remember how little time I had with my furry family—and how lucky I was to still have them around.
4. Don’t share your grief with your pets.
This was hard for me. Admittedly, I wanted to hold my cat and dog, cry, and share my heartache with them. But animals think something is wrong. The more you show grief, the more the behavior will change. They don’t understand why you are crying. The pet has disappeared and now you are acting strange. This can scare a pet. It was best for me to share my grief with other human friends and family instead.
After a few weeks, order returned to my household. Things are a bit different now. We miss Capelli, but, like any family, we are adjusting to the loss. My dog is joyous with her tail wagging once again. My cat is not as loud and obnoxious as he once was. He is pleasant and purring. But, most importantly, my cat is eating on a regular schedule. Vets say that if behavior problems continue after two or three weeks, especially eating habits, then you should bring them in for a checkup. Otherwise, life goes on. I would never take back those 15 years I had with my wonderful black cat. In turn, I look forward to the joy of spending time with my other furry family members.
Sean has lived most of his life in the Mile High City. After receiving a BA in English and MFA in Writing & Poetics, he taught English to at-risk youth and community college students. He has always lived with animals. Currently, his Labrador/Basenji mix, Salem, and gray tabby, Crank, keep him company while he writes, creates art, and produces audio. Sean hopes to pursue his career as a diverse, content creator in the ever-expanding, multi-platform landscape.