As a society, we are ill equipped to handle grief and loss. Even people who are genuinely sorry and want to express their sympathy often don’t know what to say, especially when they don’t understand the profound grief that can result after losing a beloved cat.

It is difficult to know what to say, and as a result, people often, without meaning to, say the wrong things that, rather than providing comfort, only serve to upset the grieving person even more. I wrote this article initially after I lost Amber to a sudden, brief illness. That’s her in the photo at the top of this post.

Dealing with my own grief, I was reminded over and over how much some of the things people say hurt, even though they’re offered with the best intentions. And it’s been that way with every cat I’ve lost before and since.

I’m offering the following not to make anyone feel bad about having said one or more of these two a grieving person. They are almost always said with a loving intention. I’m hoping to raise awareness of how these well meaning phrases may land, and to offer alternatives

Sometimes, the best thing to say is to simply acknowledge the loss – because the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is to not say anything at all.

I know how you feel.

Everybody experiences loss differently.  While we may have lost cats ourselves, we really can’t know how the grieving person feels, because each cat and each relationship is unique.

A better way to get this sentiment across might be to say something like “I, too, have lost a cat, and I remember how awful it feels – my heart goes out to you.”  This acknowledges the griever’s unique grief without being presumptuous.

It will get better, or time heals all wounds.

Grieving people know this on an intellectual level, but they sure don’t feel that way, especially not in the early stages of grief.  Trite phrases like these only serve to minimize the loss and the very real pain the grieving person is feeling now.

Acknowledge the grieving person’s sadness and pain without diminishing their emotions by suggesting that they’re only temporary.

She’s in a better place now. It was probably for the best. It was God’s will.

Any variation of this will not be helpful to someone who’s grieving. Even if their belief system supports this, they’re not going to find comfort in these words, and they may, in fact, serve to emphasize their pain. Any of these phrases, offered in the middle of profound sadness, invalidate the very real pain of missing the lost cat’s physical presence.

Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

This is a classic, and natural, response to grief – we feel helpless, and we want to help the grieving person.  However, people who are grieving don’t think straight, and usually don’t know what they need help with, and reaching out or asking for help often requires more of an effort than they can handle.

Offer to do something concrete instead, such as bringing a prepared meal to the grieving person, or running errands for them. If you know the person very well and you think it would be acceptable, stop by to check on them. Otherwise, call them, but accept that they may not want to answer the phone. Leave a supportive message, and check back again a few days later.

It was only a cat.

I really find it hard to believe that some people are still saying this. It goes without saying that this is callous and uncaring, even coming from someone who’s not an animal person.  Thankfully, the vast majority of people in my life are animal people, so I’ve not had to hear this one personally, but I’m being told that it still happens more than you would think.

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When are you going to get another one? 

Not quite as shocking as the one above, but equally inappropriate.  Grieving cat parents know that getting a new cat can never replace the lost one, but getting a new cat after a loss is a very individual decision.  – everyone’s schedule is going to be different. Just like grief is an individual journey, so is opening your heart to another cat. Don’t judge others, or yourself, if you’re not ready, or if you’re ready before others may feel that it’s appropriate.

Don’t cry.

Most people are uncomfortable in the presence of others who are crying. It is painful to see someone you care about cry, but tears are a necessary and often healing part of the natural grieving process. One of the best things you can do for someone who is grieving is to let them cry in your presence. Hold the space for them and offer comfort.

There is no “cure” or “solution” for grief – it’s an individual journey.  Navigating through the grieving process is difficult not just for the person who is mourning a loss, but also for those around the person. The best thing any of us can do for someone who is grieving the loss of a cat is to set aside our own discomfort with death and loss and gently support them in their grief.

94 Comments on What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Grieving The Loss of a Cat

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. There are a rare few veterinarians, and human doctors and nurses as well who could take a step back and take time to really see the people who are losing a loved one, see how devastating that loss can be, learn to empathize, be less cavalier and a bit more caring.

  2. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. We have all received some thoughtless comments and probably even made them ourselves; though, we may have meant well at the time. Thankfully, all my friends are pet parents and we tend to grieve just as much as the parent when one of us loses a furry family member.

  3. This is perfect. I will try to remember it when one of my friends losses a pet.
    “I, too, have lost a cat, and I remember how awful it feels – my heart goes out to you.”

  4. I lost my best friend nearly two summers back now. Bella was a beautiful tortoiseshell, and my world. My heart aches for her every day, and I only cope with this life by having the hope of seeing her in the next life. I was totally shocked at the comments put my way, when I lost her. If it were not for the support from understanding people on a pet grief forum, I don’t know how I would have carried on. I also discovered very helpful articles by Ingrid on pet grief, especially the one she wrote as a result of losing Amber (thank you Ingrid). I really do think pet grief is not widely acknowledged nor understood.

    • I believe 100% that we will see them again! LIke you, it is that belief that keeps me going. Best wishes to you.

    • It helps to have a place to go to where people understand. I’m glad my articles were helpful for you, Giselle. I, too, find the thought comforting that I’ll see Ruby and all the others I’ve lost again some day. I really don’t know how people who don’t believe in some sort of afterlife ever cope with death.

  5. Grief at the loss of a beloved pet can be devastating. When I lost my precious Katie suddenly in September, my heart was broken. It still is. I have her ashes in a curio cabinet and I go in and talk to her every day. I can’t help but cry when I do so. Of all of my three kitties, Katie truly owned my heart and we were inseparable. For someone to say “it was only a cat” has never known that special love of a pet. I keep Katie in my heart all the time. I hope the pain eases as more time passes. I will always love her and I pray she and I will be together again one day. I believe that our pets go to Heaven too. It has to be that way. Blessings to all of you who have been through this same pain and grief.

      • Thank you, Janine. She developed asthma and our county insists that all pets have annual rabies shots or we get fined. I should never have let the vet give it to her. Two weeks later, she became very ill and had to be euthanized. The fact that a vet would give an immune-compromised animal this poisonous shot is appalling! I have vowed that my totally indoor cats will never get this poison again!

          • Thank you, Janine. This is so true. When I got the notice from the county saying Katie was due for her annual rabies shot, I cringed. I discussed it with the vet and she assured me that even with Katie’s asthma, there would not be a problem. I reluctantly agreed to let them give it to her. She immediately went downhill and ended up with something called Evan’s Syndrome which means she had zero platelets and was weak and struggling to breathe. Later, I talked to this vet group which is three women, and the head vet said they would “have a meeting about this.” Big whoop. I made a vow then and there that none of my cats would ever again receive a rabies vaccine. Another vet I used to take them too confided in me that she had several indoor cats and never gave them any of this stuff that is being pushed into our precious pets. A very sad thing for which my beloved Katie paid the ultimate price. I would love to see some consideration done about this but it won’t happen because these vaccines are a huge moneymaker for the pharmaceuticals and vets alike.

      • Thank you, Ingrid. I am so heartened to see others truly believe we will see them again one day. I promise Katie that all the time.

          • I can see it now! I want to pick her up and kiss her like I did before. Holding my precious little girl again will be the best thing ever!

  6. I have had so many cats in my life at one time my family and me got up to 11 cats, 3 dogs and some chickens and other misc. First off A cat is not just a cat My my kids always knew my darkest secret and I learned alot from them I know when I was going through depression time one of my cats would attack me for at that point he was the alpha cat but he taught me alot My Mr. Toot passed away 10/22/15 he was 13 yrs old and I did I adopted him from a neighbor as a kitten. He was my watch cat for if he didn’t like you he would try too attack them. But all my cats were very special and I miss every single one. But as I say too people he is still in my heart and memories no one can take that away from me.

    • So true. I went thru all of the above with my friends with my late dog. “She has cancer, she is 15, why are you spending so much money on her. She is only a dog, you can get another. It is not like she is a human being, etc.” I stopped speaking to many of my friends because of their insincere remarks. My pets are my family, my only family, my children. I had my dig cremated so she can be buried with me. My mother did the same thing with my late dog that she and my dad had kept when I did my college internship and refused to give her back. She was now their one and only first grandchild. It is hard to know exactly what to say. Some people just think of their pets as pets and don’t really mourn. I think things have changed some since more people have included pets as family members. I guess I will never understand the insincerity of some people.

  7. I’ve had seven cats since I was 17 – each one was so special. I grieved differently for each one. I felt comforted by knowing that I gave them the best possible life they could have, because I doted on them, played with them, had healthy food & snacks, drank filtered water, made sure they were healthy and had vet care, had toys, and always a cat companion. My husband and I never had kids…we had ‘kits”. I tell my two cats now that they are the best boy and best girl – and come from a line of best boys and best girls.

  8. I had to put down my 11-year-old cat last December. One thing I hate is when people tell me “well now you can get a new one”. First of all I have another one and I don’t know how she would react to a nee cat. Second of all my cat was irreplaceable and I’m not saying I will never get another cat but for now I’m not ready.

  9. My cats are my best family…they say hi to me (in cat meow)…they know their names…theyre blessed for sure…always giving love,no matter what…way more than just a thing, they are EVERYTHING

    • Absolutely. I feel the same way. I recently had a loss and I feel like I lost a best friend and a daughter at the same time .

      • Same here. I lost a dog who was my canine soulmate in Feb. of ’21. I felt like I lost a human family member and I still miss her terribly every day. Very, very few people understand the depth of my feelings for her and some even think it’s wrong to love a pet that much. One is expected to just carry on, after all, it was “only” a dog or cat. My precious kitty is getting older now, she and I are inseparable, and I just dread the day we must part.

  10. «It was only a pet.» — I actually heard worse: «He’s just a farm cat, not a pet.» A farm cat who purred and slept in my lap. A farm cat who I talked to after I locked the gate at sunset while he chased bugs. A farm cat who would have been a house cat had he lived a few months longer. A farm cat I had neutered.

    • Gosh
      I don’t know anyone who loves their barn cats like this, I have nine and I’ve loved them my entire life and nobody could care less when one of them dies still mourning my “shoulder cat” who rode on my shoulder while doing all the chores…

  11. Ingrid, thank you for pointing me to this section, I think it will help us. As for people saying things like “it was only a pet,” I am floored that anyone would say this to a grieving pet parent without expecting an immediate punch in the mouth. I just cannot get it register why someone would say this. To me it’s along the same lines as “why are you upset your grandmother died? She was really old.”

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