At Just Cats Clinic, we know that the cat-owner bond is incredibly deep and beautiful, and the heartache after the loss of a beloved cat resonates long after the final goodbye. Honoring the lives of cats who are no longer with us through tributes and memorials can help heal the heart. In recognition of Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day on August 28, we offer this guide to understanding cat loss and grief, as well as ways to memorialize the cats who are no longer a physical part of our lives. 

Cats at the rainbow bridge

The rainbow bridge emerged in the 1980s to early nineties in several poems about a pastoral passageway between Earth and, presumably, heaven, where deceased pets wait for their owners. When owners arrive at the bridge, they are reunited with every pet they’ve loved, and they all cross into the afterlife together. The rainbow bridge concept has become a gentle way to refer to a pet’s passing, giving hope and comfort to pet owners that they will see their friends again someday.

Grieving the loss of your cat

Family and friends may dismiss or trivialize your cat’s death and the depth of your sadness. However, grieving a pet’s loss is natural, normal, and challenging. Some cat owners report that their grief over their cat was more intense than the loss of a person, possibly because their cat was a steady, reliable, everyday presence, and because of their incomparable, unconditional love. 

Every person grieves in their own unique way. They may progress through the “five stages of grief” in neat order, or feel chaotic and nonlinear. Initial grief may feel violent, unfair, and raw, as you experience many firsts—the first time you see their empty bowl, bed, or favorite sunny spot—and then ebb and flow in unpredictable waves. Let yourself feel what you feel. Seek the comfort and counsel of fellow cat lovers, supportive family members, online pet resources, or professional pet grief counselors, who can provide compassion and understanding of your pain, and help you replace your heartache with fond memories.

Special considerations—grief in children and surviving cats

Children and surviving cats, who cannot rationalize the events and emotions of loss, can present an emotional challenge. They may express their grief with temporary behavior changes that are their normal expressions of grief. 

  • Children and loss
    • It’s OK to be sad Let children see examples of healthy grief from family members.
    • Speak honestly Address your cat’s death in honest terms, rather than euphemisms like “gone to the farm” or “went to sleep.”
    • Child friendly resources — Books, journals, and coloring books can be a great help.
  • Grieving cats
    • Social interactions Surviving cats may temporarily show anxious or clingy behavior, or withdraw, after the loss of a housemate.
    • Changes in appetite Cats often eat less after losing a companion. A grieving cat who stops eating can quickly become a veterinary emergency.  
    • Maintain routine As much as possible, keep your surviving cat’s normal routine, which can benefit you and the pet. 
    • Learn to adapt The healing process can take two weeks to six months, but if your cat continues to struggle after several weeks, you should schedule an appointment at our clinic.  

Children and pets will need time to adjust to the absence, but patience, support, and unequivocal love can help them through the transition.

Honoring your cat—a celebration of life

Your cat’s memory should not be their declining health, or their final moments. Instead, reflect back over the many joys and wonderful times spent in their company. After the grieving stage, no matter how long, move on to the memorialization process, which uses your happy memories to provide appropriate closure, and gives you control over the end of your pet’s earthly story. Some options to consider for remembering your cat:

  • A living tribute Bring life from loss by planting a tree or garden in their memory.
  • Photo collage Assemble a collection of images that summarize your cat’s personality.
  • Memory box Fill a decorated box with your cat’s dish, toys, collar, and other items that spark good memories.
  • Digital tribute — Post an album of photos or video with descriptions of the memories on social media that, in the years ahead, will remind you of all those beautiful moments. 
  • Keep memories close with jewelry — Pendants can be made from your cat’s ashes or a tuft of hair. A bracelet engraved with your cat’s name is a great visual reminder.

Spend some time considering your cat’s characteristics, and select the options that best celebrate their unique personality.

Is it time? When to open up your heart to a new cat

Filling the void left by your deceased cat is tempting, but take time to completely process their loss. Welcoming a new cat should be a family decision, and other household pets, who may experience stress and social disorder from a new cat’s arrival, should be considered. 

Cats may be diminutive, but they can play an enormous role in our lives. Honoring your shared bond with a lasting tribute may be the best way to move forward. Are you continuing to struggle with grief from the loss of your cat? Reach out to Just Cats Clinic for more guidance, and helpful resources.