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Cats, too, grieve when loved one dies

Dr. Jeff NicholALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: My sweet little 6-year-old cat, Pepper, had a “boyfriend,” Fluffy, who lived in the home in back of us. They had both yards and 2 acres of open space for frolicking. Fluffy, at 16, was euthanized several weeks ago and Pepper seems to be badly missing him. She goes to Fluffy’s back door each morning to wait for him to come out. As that doesn’t happen, she comes home and cries and whimpers for my attention. She wanders around nearby homes, seemingly searching. When she is indoors she needs picking up and lots of attention and touching. My suspicion is that this may be grief but I can’t get the answer out of her. If so, do you have any suggestions, short of getting her a feline mate of her own, which likely would not work?

Dr. Nichol: I am so sorry for Pepper and for your family and for Fluffy’s. We humans are not alone in forming strong bonds and grieving losses. Cats, some to a greater extent than others, are capable of long-term friendships. Fluffy’s passing has led to significant stress for sweet Pepper.

You have done the right thing by giving Pepper extra attention and cuddling. She is not “just” an animal. Anxiety and tension are everywhere. There seems to be a shortage of empathy and gentle caring in our current society. Your ability to understand the feelings of another creature, whatever the species, extends to everyone you encounter.

I advise adding an anti-anxiety supplement to help Pepper adapt. Anxitane S tablets are chewable; Zylkene 75 mg capsules can be opened and added to food. Try one of them and then switch to the other if you don’t see improvement. Each works somewhat differently; both are safe and available online.

Adopting another cat could quickly lead Pepper down a rabbit hole of stress-related illness, house-soiling, and even aggression toward her new alien housemate. A gentle dog, who’s been raised with cats, may be more likely to develop a healthy friendship with Pepper. She is struggling to cope. Consider adding a pet only after your girl has adjusted to her loss.

Dr. Jeff Nichol, a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist, provides consultations in-person and by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post questions on or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.