Do Cats Know When Another Cat Dies?

Losing a cat is a sad and difficult experience. It's challenging for the humans in the household, of course, but it's also hard on any other pets that may live with you. Many people wonder: do cats know when another cat dies?

Do cats grieve?

They do! According to the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), cats mourn the loss of humans or other pets in their lives. We don't know that they understand the concept of death, but they definitely notice when a human or pet hasn't been around in some time.

As the VCA points out, a cat's social circle is considerably smaller than ours. For "indoor" cats, it's limited to the world inside your house or apartment. On most days, they probably only interact only with you and the other pets of the household. So when a household member — feline, human or otherwise — dies, it leaves a huge hole in the cat's social structure.

Do cats know when another cat is dying?

Like with so many cat behaviors, the jury is still out on whether cats understand illness in other cats. In some cases, cats seem to understand that the other cat is experiencing pain, acting distressed on their behalf or becoming depressed. However, other cats seem indifferent to fellow cats who are ill. In either case, we don't currently have any evidence that cats can understand if another cat is terminally ill.

Kitten, close-up, high section
credit: David De Lossy/Photodisc/GettyImages

Signs that a cat is mourning the death of another cat.

Following the death of another cat, you may notice your cat exhibiting some of the following behaviors:

  • Listlessness — they may seem depressed, tired, or unmotivated to move.
  • Vocalizations — cats don't cry the way humans do, but they may vocalize or "yowl" more.
  • Decreased appetite — like humans, cats may not be motivated to eat when grieving.
  • Solitude — your cat may hide more than usual.
  • Changes in litter box habits — you might notice different litter box habits than usual. (This can be partially due to grief-induced changes in eating habits).

Grief manifests differently in all cats, so yours may or may not display these symptoms.

How to help a grieving cat.

Helping your cat while she's grieving is somewhat similar to helping humans who are grieving. Here are a few things you can do for your cat during this process:

  • Monitor your cat's routine, and call the vet if her eating or bathroom habits are still drastically different after 1-2 days of grieving.
  • Give her extra love and affection.
  • Talk to her more, even just narrating things as you're doing them; the extra attention can be comforting.
  • Give her access to more toys to encourage mental stimulation. (However, don't be surprised if she doesn't have the energy for play just yet.)
  • Don't rush into getting another cat. Give yourself and your cat enough time to recover from the loss.
  • Remember that everyone grieves at their own pace including cats. Don't get impatient if it takes some time for your cat to seem like her normal self.

What to do when a cat's sibling dies.

When a cat's sibling dies, your course of action should be similar to helping any grieving cat. Just keep in mind that our cat may feel the loss of a sibling — or any cat she's lived with since kittenhood — harder than the loss of a cat she's lived with for a shorter period of time. So be extra kind and attentive toward her, and give her lots of time to mourn.

Do cats really know when another cat dies?

Sort of. We don't know that they really understand death itself. Some cats become more vocal and walk around meowing for their fallen friend (which is heartbreaking). This behavior suggests that the cat believes her companion is still somewhere in this earthly realm.

Some people wonder if they should show their dead cat's body to their living cat, in order to help the living cat understand. Whether this is effective is up for debate. Anecdotally, some people have reported that their cat stopped searching for the deceased cat after being shown the body. Since cats are predators, they might be able to understand that something dead cannot come back to life, but we don't know for sure. Some experts believe that the concept of death simply doesn't register with cats, and thus the act would be pointless.

Whether cats understand death itself is up for debate. However, we know that they feel a sense of loss when a cat or other companion is gone for an extended period of time.

Kitten sitting on sheet
credit: David De Lossy/Photodisc/GettyImages

Conclusion

We're not sure whether cats understand the concept of death, but they definitely feel loss when another cat is gone from their household. Like humans, cats experience grief, which may manifest in a variety of ways. If your cat is grieving, keep a close eye on them, give them some extra love, and above all, be patient with them.