Whenever we lose one of our TLC Older Cats – as we did Mama Cat a few weeks ago – we inevitably are asked if the surviving cats go into mourning. Since none of them speak English, there’s no way to ask them so we look to their body language for clues. And so far – with about 13 deaths over the last 6 years – we haven’t seen any hard signs of mourning from any remaining cat after any death -- at least not in the human sense of mourning.
Life seems to just go on for the remaining cats except for one thing that was particularly obvious when Mama died. We know that cats are territorial – so territorial that even when living communally with free access to all areas, each cat has his or her own area(s) and/or bed(s) and with 99% certainty that's where you’ll inevitably find them. (The area and bed may change with time of day but they are still “reserved” for a particular cat’s use.) Mama’s areas and beds were strategically located in a hallway leading to the bedrooms – one was under a bench and the other was in a walk-in closet. About a day after her death we started seeing different cats sleeping in her beds like they were trying them on for size. And -- within a week – their “ownership” was transferred – the closet bed to Robin and the under-bench bed to Joyce. Apparently they were next in line for an upgrade and claimed the vacated beds for themselves.
Why don’t we see more signs of mourning in our cats? They certainly have close bonds with each other and enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps because cats – unlike people – live solely in the present and mourning relates to dwelling on the past. It’s not that they don’t care for each other – during Mama’s last few weeks there may have been a group sense of her graveness as she was groomed several times a day by various cats – like they were doing their best to comfort her. But – when she made that last trip to the emergency clinic – she was literally out of their life entirely.
Perhaps in a home with a smaller number of cats there may be differences because the lives of each cat are more intertwined than in a colony setting. For years we were told that cats were solitary animals but that simply isn’t the case. Once they settle in, cats thoroughly enjoy the company of another cat. So when a two-cat home loses a cat the loss may appear more severe for the surviving cat – but what appears to be grieving may actually be loneliness brought on by losing their best friend. In these situations, the best medicine may simply be a new cat to share their home.