When a family member dies, people grieve, even when that family member is a pet. But humans are not the only ones in the family who grieve the loss.
Things have been a little sad around our house recently. Our oldest cat Rufus died unexpectedly several weeks ago, from complications due to a heart problem. Heart disease is difficult to diagnose in cats, but Rufus struggled with several health issues (including diabetes). While we have been grieving, we noticed some changes in our other cats. We realize that they’re also experiencing grief.
In 1996, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted the Companion Animal Mourning Project, a study about grief and mourning in pets. They found that dogs and cats often grieve the loss when another animal in their household dies. Just as in humans, grief in pets can take different forms. It may show up as a change in eating or sleeping habits, interactions with other animals and with humans, even vocalizations – maybe more barking or meowing. In the ASPCA study, more than half of the pets showed four or more changes in their behavior after the loss of an animal housemate.
Our sweet little calico, Lacey, lived the longest time with Rufus. After he died, she started spending more time with us in the evening, but avoided any contact – no petting or snuggling. Sasha became more sociable, almost “clingy” at times. And Oscar, our ambassador, misses his playmate. Because of Rufus’s size, the girls were never inclined to play with him. Oscar weighed only about half as much as Rufus, but they would play and wrestle and never seemed to hurt each other.
For pets, like humans, it takes time to get past the grief. We won’t forget Rufus but we will all move on and enjoy life again. In the meantime, we’re giving Lacey some space, and she’s beginning to be more interactive with us again. Sasha – well, Sasha needed to be a little more social anyway. And Oscar just needs a playmate, but lately we have seen him playing a little bit with Lacey.
Rufus was not only a large cat, he had a big personality. We all miss you, my friend, and we will never forget you, when we’re speaking of pets.