When humans know a beloved cat is sick and dying, they can prepare for the inevitable. Coming to terms with illness, death, and ensuing grief is a fact of life. People often also take into consideration how other companion cats in the house deal with a sick and dying cat.
Illness & Dying
Signs a cat may be dying include a change in personality such as acting more or less affectionate, hiding, and changes in eating or drinking. Also, a dying cat may have an unkempt appearance, and his eyes may be dilated or have a sunken appearance. He may have a seizure and yowling or contorting, or his breathing may change, that is he may pant or wheeze, or keep his mouth open with his tongue hanging out.
Possible Behavior of Housemates
In a multi-cat house, healthy cats may behave in various ways toward the sick cat. Some may pick up on their owners' emotional distress and become upset as well. Some may appear withdrawn and depressed, and may even cry out or try to entice the sick cat to engage in activity. Some cats may seem not to care about the sick cat, while others may even seem happy and desire more affection from their owners.
Depression & Grief
Cats can suffer from depression when another member of the family, including a feline companion, gets sick or dies. The clinical diagnosis of "depression" is sadness or despondency for a prolonged period of time. If a feline companion seems to be "not quite himself," he may be depressed. Other signs include lack of grooming, lethargy or changes in personality, aggression, increased sleeping, becoming reclusive for abnormal periods of time, or showing no interest in eating.
What to Do
Some cats are naturally curious toward their sick or dying housemates, so allow them to "say good-bye" if they seem inclined; but don't force it. You may want to engage them in some play as a distraction from their dying companion. If healthy cats don't respond to encouragement, consider seeing a veterinarian who can rule out any hidden illnesses or prescribe antidepressants or behavior modification.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Debra Levy has been writing for more than 30 years. She has had fiction and nonfiction published in various literary journals. Levy holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University and an M.F.A. in creative writing/fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars.