What to say when someone’s cat dies? That is the all-important question. After all, your sympathy response becomes a measure of who you are as a colleague, friend, partner or family member.
Giving a pet sympathy card, along with expressing condolences, is a lovely gesture for a work colleague. Yet, for a heartbroken spouse, friend or family member, it won’t be enough.
Understanding the person-cat relationship
So what is enough sympathy when offering pet loss condolences—given grief reactions vary so much between people? The answer lies in understanding the person-cat relationship and what drives pet loss sorrow.
Pet loss sorrow
For many pet owners, the ‘affection’ felt for a cherished cat parallels the bond shared with a child, sibling, best friend or spouse. And often the person-pet bond takes precedent over other human relationships.
If you come from a functional loving family and enjoy supportive friendships, loving your cat more than people might be hard to understand. Yet, research shows those closely bonded with their cat report feeling loved, valued and appreciated. On a deeper level, four support mechanisms are in play for the cat owner.
1. Emotional support
Cats are a constant and reliable companion in the home whose presence reduces loneliness and stress.
2. Esteem support
Unlike human relationships, cats remain constant, predictable and attentive. Cat’s don’t measure out affection according to the owner’s financial standing, physical appearance or social status. Because of this, cats make their owners feel confident and loved for who they are.
3. Functional support
While few domestic cats hunt mice to earn their keep in modern households, many still have a functional role. Predictable and timely behaviors like the soft pawing of the bedclothes when its time to get up or loud mewing when it’s time for food can form an integral part of the owner’s daily routine. This functional support gives the owner a sense of purpose.
4. Companionship support
From recreation, relaxation, to entertainment, a cat’s companionship is central to supporting their owner’s lifestyle and social networks. One look at the ‘petfluencers’ on Instagram, and it is self-evident the dominant role cats play in their owner’s life.
Disruption felt after a cat dies
Overall, pets play an important role as companions. Apart from relaxation cats provide a sense of purpose in addition to being a source of humor and comfort. So it’s no surprise a recent Animal Medicine Australia survey (2019) shows many cat owners spend at least six hours a day with their pet. Consequently, when a cherished cat dies the level of disruption to the pet owner’s emotional, social and physical routine can be significant enough to cause heartbreaking grief.
After my cat Molly died, the apartment felt empty. My motivation to get out of bed in the morning was gone.
The outpouring of condolences from Facebook was the hardest to deal with. So many people loved my cat even though they only knew her from my posts.
After I left the vet, I sat in my car and cried. “What had I done?” Sooty trusted me, yet it was me who signed the form euthanase her.
Cause of pet death can add to grief
The circumstance leading to a cat’s passing also adds to the sense of loss. Pet death as a result of an accident, prolonged illness or euthanasia can cause feelings of guilt and blame. By understanding the circumstances, your kind words can help ease the burden of pet loss sorrow.
Mourning and pet loss
Most significant losses in life are marked by culturally defined and accepted rituals of mourning, but not pet loss.
All too often people dismiss candid expressions of pet grief as immature or weak. What’s more, bereaved cat owners sometimes find family unwilling or unable to understand the emotional depth of their loss. Even pet owners wishing to engage in the ritualization of their cat’s death, such as cremation or writing an obituary, can face ridicule. This lack of understanding usually results in cat owners feeling alone and too embarrassed to express their grief openly.
Best pet loss grief support
Even if you don’t understand or can’t relate to the level of pet loss grief, you can offer sympathy by:
- encouraging a conversation about the loss,
- suggesting a pet mourning ritual that promotes healthy grief recovery, and
- drawing on joyful cat memories to ease sorrow.
Words of sympathy for cat loss
Whether you write your cat loss condolences or deliver them in person, speak from the heart. That way you never have to worry about sounding like a cliche.
The best way to avoid pet condolence clichés is by using the cat’s name and adding context to your message. These two considerations show the depth of your kindness and understanding. For some inspiration, read through our list of unique pet loss condolences.
Our hands are on our hearts. The kids and I will miss [Felix] too. [She/he] was purr-fect cat. Sending love and healing thoughts your way.
[Felix] held a special place in all our hearts. Sorry to hear of her/his passing. How can we help you?
While your heart is aching, think of [Felix] in pet heaven. [She/he] will be purring healing love your way forever.
If [Felix] could speak now [she/he] would meow, ‘You made the right decision’. So, don’t let guilt add to your sorrow. Instead, draw on my love and support. I’m here for you.
Once you understand the person-cat relationship, it’s easier to empathize with the degree of pet loss sorrow. After that, composing the perfect condolence message is just a matter of showing kindness and compassion.