Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Coping with pet-related grief FAQs

Cats Protection understands just how much your cat means to you and what you may be going through if your pet is missing, had to be rehomed, nearing the end of their life or they have recently passed away.

To support cat owners at this difficult time, Counsellor and Pet Loss Specialist Julia Dando took to our Facebook page to talk to them about their grief. Here are just some of the queries she helped with:

Question: My cat was put to sleep at the weekend, she had kidney disease. I feel so guilty for not noticing the signs sooner – she was a sickly cat normally and I just thought she would get back to normal, but on her last few days I realised she was in pain. I wonder if I had taken her to the vet sooner, whether she would still be here. Could she have had the disease a while or can it appear suddenly and quickly?

Answer: This is such a difficult thing to go through. I can't comment upon the specifics of her disease but perhaps you can follow that up with your veterinary surgery. I can hear how you're feeling guilty around the decision you've made and are having doubts about whether it was the right time and whether you could have done more. These are very natural thoughts and feelings to have after such a difficult thing to go through. Often our cats are very good at covering their symptoms – and it can be especially difficult to see anything different when she is a sickly cat generally. It sounds like you did something as soon as you noticed that she was in pain and took her to the vet. These feelings of doubt and guilt are very painful to bear – if it helps you to enquire further with your vet to the specific of the case then I suggest you do so, although you are likely to find that the pain lessens over time. If you would like to talk through your experience more please do ring the Paws to Listen Grief Support Line and speak with one of our trained volunteers. The number is 0800 024 94 94 and the line is open from 9am-5pm Mon-Fri. Best wishes.

Grief support

Question: My daughter, who is in her twenties, discovered that her cat had been run over a week ago. She is in such a state as he was only 10 months old, he had a tag on saying he was microchipped and another with her phone number on. He died and she is distraught that whoever did it did not stop. He’s now buried in my garden. How can I help her?

Answer: I’m very sorry for your and your daughter's loss. Such a difficult time for everyone, especially when it's a traumatic death such as a road traffic accident. Anger is a very natural response to grief, especially in such circumstances. Your daughter will benefit from having someone to listen – that is often the biggest help for anyone. Let her talk about her anger – hear her anger – be with her in her anger, without trying to fix it for her. If you've buried your daughter's cat in your garden it may be comforting for your daughter to spend some time there. If your daughter (or you) would like to talk through feelings about what has happened please do encourage her to ring our Paws to Listen Grief Support Line on 0800 024 94 94.


Question: Our cat has been missing since October 2015. He was nine and so, so loved. He had an amazing connection with my mum and she's really struggling as we can't move on until we find him. We've searched everywhere, tried all suggestions and even called our local Cats Protection for advice. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that someone stole him from us and moved away. I'm at a loss of what to do as I can't help my mum :(

Answer: Circumstances around ambiguous loss (when you don't know what happened) can be especially difficult to deal with. As you say, there is little closure and often we're left with feelings of guilt and anger and great anxiety about what happened to our beloved pet. Sadly, it is often the case that we never find out what happened and this can be very painful to deal with. It sounds like your mum has your support and this will be very helpful to her. Continue to allow her to talk about him, and about her feelings. You already are helping your mum by being there with her through her pain and distress.


Question: My beloved cat, who was 17, was put to sleep last October due to cancer. Our vet was lovely but I feel it was so quick and I can't feel his spirit or any sign that he understands why I did what I did. I cry a lot and it's affecting me more as the time goes by. The loss has been immense. How do I reconcile myself with what happened? I feel I gave him the best life so why do I feel so sad that I didn't let him suffer?

Answer: Grief is unique and is therefore different for everyone. The bond that you had with your cat sounds like it was very strong and when a bond is that strong, it is such a significant loss when they leave us. It sounds like you have a spiritual belief and I'm wondering whether you've been able to memorialise him? Sometimes, it can be helpful to have a bit of a ceremony – whatever you feel comfortable with – a sort of ceremonial goodbye but also a recognition that the connection between you will always remain. Feeling guilty about making the most difficult decisions for our pets is very natural, though this does usually change over time. There is no time limit on grief – especially when your bond was so strong. If you are worried about your prolonged feelings about your cat, you could approach your GP to see if there is more going on for you – sometimes grief can become complicated and it can help to have professional support through your GP or a counsellor.


Whether you are facing the heartbreak of your cat passing away, want help with difficult issues like euthanasia, a cat who has gone missing or need someone to talk to about your loss: we are here for you.

The Paws to Listen service is a free and confidential phone line, that you can call to talk to one of our trained volunteer listeners. While we are unable to offer counselling, we can provide you with a sympathetic ear at this difficult time. Call us on 0800 024 94 94. The line is open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

As well as the phone line, there are a number of free online guides and leaflets to help owners deal with grief-related issues: www.cats.org.uk/grief

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