Adopting After Pet Loss
In the interest of transparency, this article is an opinion piece, as as far as I am aware, there is no data on when pet parents should bring a new pet into the home after a loss. We all know the devastation of losing a beloved cat, they leave such a massive hole in our lives, and it is natural for us to feel a sense of loss. Therapists are starting to recognise the depth of grief pet owners experience when faced with the loss of a pet. Cats give us so much; they give us love, attention, warmth, comfort, companionship and a sense of purpose (they rely on us to care for them). No wonder they leave such a hole in our lives when we lose them.
Many people who have lost a beloved want to know when it is the right time to bring a new cat (or pet) into the family. There is no right or wrong answer, but common concerns include the following:
- Is it disloyal to the pet who has passed to get another pet?
- What if I don’t bond with the new pet in the same way I did with the one who I have lost?
- How long should I wait?
- How will my other pets cope?
No timeline exists; we do what we do when the time is right. Some people need to get a new pet as soon as possible; others can’t bear to experience the grief associated with losing a pet and never adopt again. My parents fell into the latter category after the loss of our two Siamese cats over a short period, never adopted another cat because they couldn’t go through that grief.
My own experience
We lost our beloved Singapura cat, Levi, in 2017. He was loved by us all and never played favourites, he adored everyone. His death was sudden and unexpected; it hit us hard. At the time, I told my children that I was not ready to bring a new cat into the home, the right cat(s) would come along when we were ready.
Three weeks later, while browsing Facebook, a local RSPCA advertised two male Tonkinese cats (Calvin and Norman) who were looking for a home together. The following morning my children and I raced down there and adopted them. It was the first day since Levi’s death that any of us had smiled. The hour-long car trip home with the boys was such a happy time. They settled right in from day one.
Levi used to help train assistance dogs all things cat (we also share our home with two dogs, so the cats are dog-friendly). A friend who works in the field sometimes brings a dog or two around to meet Levi. Since Levi’s loss, Norman has taken over the role of dog trainer.
Will I get a cat who is the same as the one I have lost?
Every single cat I have shared my life with has had their own unique personality. Levi loved everyone and was sweet, funny, not overly naughty, and a fantastic cat to have around my toddlers. He would follow us around the house, or get shut up cupboards and sit there until we opened the door (never complaining to get out).
Norman is laid back, but super naughty, he is his own man, not a lap cat, but still friendly. He likes to lie on his back in the middle of the floor and will look you in the eye as he knocks your water off the table, every single morning he jumps on my bed when I am making it, to get belly rubs. Calvin is sweet and friendly but reserved. He is particularly fond of my daughter. Their personalities are vastly different from Levi, and I am glad of that. When we adopted Calvin and Norman we didn’t want to replace Levi, no cat could ever do that. We wanted to fill the hole he had left in our lives.
Is it disrespectful to the cat who I have lost?
I want to make one thing clear when adopting a new cat after loss; you are not replacing the cat. Cats who have passed will always be a part of us and will live forever in our hearts and mind.
Feeling guilty is normal, but please don’t. Animal lovers have such a huge supply of love for their pets; it is natural to want to share that love with another. A new cat won’t take away the love you felt for the cat who has passed away.
I lost my first cats 40 years ago, I still think about them, many cats have followed in their footsteps, but none have replaced those I have lost.
How long should I wait?
That is impossible to answer as we are all different. I don’t get another cat immediately but allow myself to get over the shock and raw grief.
I always feel sad when I think about cats who I have lost, even those from years ago, but it is different, a softer feeling of loss and sadness to those early days where you are completely raw.
Some people are never ready; many others need to have another cat to love and hold as soon as possible. Nobody is right or wrong; we all have our own timeline. I do suggest you wait until you can focus your love and attention on a new addition.
What if you’re not ready or unable to adopt but desperately miss your cat:
Consider volunteering for an animal shelter so that you are still around and engaging with cats, but don’t have the full-time responsibility of a pet in the home. Cats (and dogs) in shelters are desperate for company and socialisation; it is a win-win situation.
What about other pets?
We have to consider resident pets when bringing a new cat into the house. Bear in mind that if the current cat was bonded to the cat you have lost, it will feel grief too. Calvin and Norman are incredibly bonded, and I think Calvin would have an especially hard time if he lost his brother.
Signs of grief in cats who have lost a companion include:
- Looking for the lost cat
- Loss of appetite
- Social withdrawal
If you notice any of the above symptoms, speak to your veterinarian.
Factors to consider include the age of resident pets, their own health status, and how they may respond to a newcomer. It is important to take things slowly when introducing a new cat. Some cats will immediately bond, while others can live alongside each other, but will never bond. Our Oriental cat is his own man and prefers his human family over the cats.
Should I get a cat for my grieving cat?
Sometimes it can help, but not always. A grieving cat can take months to get over the loss of a feline companion, and I would be reluctant in the very early days to bring in a companion for a grieving cat. But, with time and patience, it can in many cases, help.
Should I get a pet that looks like the one I have lost?
That is up to you, I prefer not to, but there is no right or wrong. Just remember that the new cat will have a different personality. I knew I didn’t want another cat who looked like Levi. Our Tonkinese boys look and behave, nothing like Levi, and my love and relationship with them is completely different. Their adoption was a new beginning for our family.
Fear of the pain of losing a cat again
I thought long and hard when I was considering adopting my first cat as an adult, remembering how painful it had been to lose our Siamese cats when I was a child. I had to seriously ask myself if I was prepared to go through that again. In the end, I decided it was worth it. I adopted a beautiful tuxedo girl called Eliot and enjoyed nine happy years with her. Her death to cancer was extremely painful, and I did grieve her loss in the weeks after she had passed away. Fifteen years later, I still think of her often and how happy she made me.
Once I am over the initial grief of the loss of a cat, I try not to focus on the trauma but honour the many happy years we shared. It is the price we pay if we are to enjoy the love and companionship a pet cat brings us. We must accept that we will outlive them, and there will come a time we must say goodbye. But it is important not to let their death shadow their life and the great joy a cat can bring.
- The new cat will not have the same personality as the one you have lost
- You are not dishonouring the memory of the cat you lost by adopting a new one
- There is no set time on when to adopt after a loss; you will know when you are ready
- Consider other family members and pets and how they will react to a new cat in the home
One of the members on our Facebook group and a sweet lady who runs her own pet rescue group said it perfectly.
You can never replace, but you can always and should always love again.