Helping a Grieving, Elderly Cat Adjust to a New Home

05/13/13 - by TheCatCoach
My mom's shoes

My mom's shoes

I recently inherited Pillow when my mom died. He’s a large, declawed* Maine Coon Cat who spent 13 of his 16 years either decorating a chair in my mom’s kitchen or sleeping in the dog’s bed in the art studio. Pillow, a lovely cat, was always a source of comfort for my mom by just being near her—especially during the last month of her life. Pillow is one of those cats who through the art of non-action, elicits quiet smiles from everyone who meets him. My mom chose right when she named him Pillow.

Before my mom died, we spent hours searching for a perfect home for Pillow’s buddy, Abby the dog. Lynn, A family friend, who adores Abby was thrilled to be chosen as her new mother. Abby and Lynn are a great match—they go everywhere together. We could not have found a better home for Abby.

My mom thought that even though I have my own menagerie of felines, Pillow would be best off with me. I eagerly agreed. My mom left us, knowing that her two beloved companions will always be loved and well cared for.

My resident cats

My cats’ activity levels are 180 degrees away from Pillow’s. I live with four active Bengals and a busy Savannah. Stillness and the Zen of Inaction are not part of their life styles. My cats are always on the move, talkative and active.

Integrating them with Pillow will be interesting.

Grieving cat

Pillow misses my mother. He also misses the kitchen and the art studio where my mom spent most of her waking hours painting. He had grown accustomed to the smells of the paint, the radio tuned to my mom’s favorite talk program, the sound of her footsteps, her voice and smell. He knew where the sun’s rays hit the floor of the studio and where to catch the summer breeze as it wafted through the screen door. Pillow spent 13 happy, comfortable years with my mom, living in her art studio and kitchen.

Pillow is grieving for my mom

Pillow is grieving for my mom

Generally, cats do not easily adjust to change. It is common for cats to stress when they are relocated and when there are changes to their household. Older cats often have more problems than younger ones adjusting to new situations. In addition to a change in venue, Pillow had lost his favorite person. This is a lot for a cat to adapt to in a short time.

Cats display grief in different ways. Pillow became more lethargic than usual. Normally a foodie, he did not show much interest in eating. He ate, but just not as enthusiastically or as much. Some cats walk from room to room yowling, others won’t eat when they are grieving. Pillow showed his feelings by sleeping more and eating less.

Preparing the home for Pillow

Before bringing Pillow home, I prepared an area for him that would help him transition with a minimum of stress to his new digs. His area had to be inaccessible to the other cats while simultaneously located where I spend a lot of time.  Because Pillow had spent 13 years as a kitchen cat, I chose the sunroom and the kitchen as his private suite.

To help Pillow adjust, I outfitted both rooms with the objects he had grown accustomed too. I brought over his favorite dog beds, blankets and chairs and his scratching posts. I bought him a new, large cat carrier and placed a towel in it that had my mom’s scent on it. I kept it at my mom’s house, open for him to go in and out of as he wished. It quickly became his favorite sleeping place.  I placed a few items with my mom’s scent on them in zip lock bags and brought them home. When it is time for Pillow to come to my house, an item with my mom’s scent will be placed where he naps. It will be replaced every day with other scented items from the zip lock bags.

In addition, familiar sounds can help reduce anxieties. Since Pillow had spent 13 years relaxing to my mother’s favorite talk radio show, I made sure the sunroom had a radio, tuned to the Ronn Owen’s show on KGO Radio.

I hoped to make the transition to my home as stress free as possible by bringing in the objects, scents and sounds that he had grown accustomed to in my mom’s house.

One small detail

Baby gates

Baby gates used to keep the cat within specific areas

The kitchen and sunroom were perfect locations for him—but there was one problem. The kitchen has a doorway without a door and it opens into the dining room. Although the other cats don’t hang out in the dining room, I still needed to limit Pillow to a couple of rooms for awhile.

Baby gates are a wonderful invention—especially when used to keep cats in specific areas. I ordered two inexpensive baby gates, placed them on top of each other and wired them together and to a couple of nails I hammered in the door frame. Perfect!

It was time to bring Pillow home.

*He came that way.

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49 comments on “Helping a Grieving, Elderly Cat Adjust to a New Home”

  1. I am so sorry you lost your mom. What a wonderful and loving way to honor her. This is the sweetest story I have read recently. Best of luck with Pillow!

      1. Beautiful story! You have a heart full of love, I'm sure your mom is so proud of you. And Pillow will happy and grateful for your amazing care and love. Let us know the all good news! God bless you all.

        1. * I'm very sorry for your loss. Your mom, she did a awesome work teaching you about the unconditional love ! Making the difference in this world! Peace.

  2. Really so very sorry for your loss. It's fab that Pillow will be living with you, and you're going to such lengths to ease his transition. You're doing your mother proud x

  3. I'm sorry for your loss. This article was beautiful-Pillow
    will mourn your mom, but is blessed to have such a thoughtful and caring new person.

  4. Sorry for you loss. You are so sweet for bringing pillow home and make him comfortable. I hope the adjustment cheers him up.

  5. In no time at all you will be Pillow's favorite human. You're doing a wonderful job helping ease the pain. I inherited my Dad's cat, SynderElla, when he died and she grieved for weeks. The difference in our stories is I lived with my parents to assist them so the transition was easier with one exception....Synder turned to food and soon I had to put her on a diet. She got so large she reminded me of a hover craft with a little kitty head on top.

  6. I am so sorry for your loss and thankful Pillow had a loving home in place. As a long time volunteer at our local shelter, I see how how the stress of loss dramatically effects cats. A beautiful, petite calico girl arrived at our shelter in January 2010. She came from a vet's office where she had been housed for six months. "Sam's" story was her elderly owner passed away and neighbors took her to the vet's office. With her time expired at the vet's office, she found herself at the Humane Society. I noticed this beautiful lady hiding under her sleeping pad or in her litter box and refusing to eat. She was so sad and depressed the staff and I feared she would not survive. This beautiful lady had lost everything and was literally dying of a broken heart. Sam came home with me to be loved and spoiled for the rest of her days. She's been with me over three years now and is healthy, happy, thriving and best friend to my 10-yr old tabby, Buddy. She loves nothing more than a good long nap in my lap. I can't imagine my life without her.

    1. I adopted 2 cats from our local shelter whose elderly owner could no longer care for them. Their transition was relatively easy, and I am so grateful for that! We have had them over a year now, and I love them so much! Our boy follows me around and pounces in my lap to "make biscuits" and take a nap the moment I sit down. And if our boy goes missing I know I can fidn him curled up on my youngest son's bed (my son is 13 and while allergic, loves those cats more than words can say. I'm so thankful to have walked into that shelter at just the right time AND for these kitties being rehomed. Our lives are so much richer because of them!!

      1. Correction: And if our girl goes missing I know I can find her curled up on my youngest son’s bed - sorry!!!

  7. First, condolences on the loss of your Mom and thank you for taking in her dear companion. I had an elderly friend who left behind his older Maine Coon Cat when he passed on. The cat had been hit by a car and walks on the back of one front paw. My friends family could not find a place for 11 year old Sampson and gave me the responsibility of finding a place for him.

    I already had my own cats, one of which is a Bengal rescue and younger, and a lady Tux who is the same age as Sampson but is not keen on other cats. Sampson had always hated me. He was let outside and kept a wide territory fighting with every other cat and animal in the neighborhood. He was a holy terror and beat up his owner quite frequently. He matted up and had to be shaved every year. Actually, I was a little afraid of Sampson!

    I set up a room with a screen door replacing the regular door and did the exchanging of scent information between the two houses prior to moving Sampson to my house. I added welded wire to the bottom of the screen door so he couldn't claw through it and hurt my cats. There was some growling - mostly from the residents and I added cardboard on occaisions to do sight blocking. When I felt comfortable enough, I parked my cats in another room and let Sampson roam the house for bits of time.

    At one pointduring feeding him, I realized that I had been careless and had food in my fingers that he was going to use his mouth to take and steeled myself for a bad bite. The bite never came as he took the food very, very gently. It was that moment that I fell in love with him.

    After about two weeks he started crying and crying - which broke my heart. Finally I let him out of the cat room and the crying stopped. Three years later, the cats don't sleep together but there isn't, and never was, any blood shed. Sure, Sampson gets grumpy and he whacked the little bengal so hard that his break away collar went flying the other day, but they do get along. The bengal is quick enough and can jump high enought to avoid the grumpy Sampson, and lady Tux hisses at both of the boys and Sampson pay s her respect and I have even seen him come to her aid when the bengal was getting pesty with her.

    I have lots of cat beds and trees in the house and Sampson has his special bags on the floor that he loves to rest on. The bengal goes for walks on a leash and lady Tux gets the furnace in the sun room turn on all year for he comfort. Each one gets something of their own from me and gives me love in their own way. Sampson lets me brush the matts out of his fur and licks me with that huge, sandpaper tongue to show his affection. When he passes I will spread his ashes over my friend's grave and thank him for the loan.

    1. Thank you for sharing the story on Sampson, he seems to have found his sweet spot in life with you and your household. Also thank you for taking him in when your friend passed away.

  8. A lot of these tips can be used for any cat being re-homed, not just grieving or elderly cats. I will use the double baby gate to keep my other cats from eating my elderly, CKD kitty's special food. Just read Gwen Cooper's lovely new book "Love Saves the Day," about a grieving cat who gets re-homed with her former owner's daughter.

    1. We made a door to our kitchen to keep out the 12 kitties...Used lattice to make the door...Worked out great..When we moved we were able to use an old screen door to separate the kitchen area from the cat's area....

  9. I am so sorry for your loss. Your mother would be thrilled to see how thoughtfully you prepared for Pillow's transition. Sounds like he has a good life, and will continue to do so in his new home.

    Hopefully you will each ease each others' pain.

  10. My heart ached to read your post. At the same time, I was so touched to read the many steps that you took to help your mom's beloved companion adjust to your home. You are both grieving, but you are using your grief in a loving way to help Pillow. Wow.

  11. My condolences to you and Pillow....I love how you saved items with your moms comforting that must to that sweet kitty! You are a wonderful person and I hope one day soon he will be happy once again. Bless you for being such an a wonderful person....I know your mom is watching over you and at ease that Pillow is in the best place he can be.

  12. Wow! everyone. Thank you so much for your heart-felt and lovely comments. Yesterday I wrote another entry about how Pillow is adjusting and the preliminary steps I am taking to integrate him with my resident cats. Here's the link: You can also access it from my home page.
    Thank you again, I love your comments. You are all so nice.
    Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

  13. Reading your post reminded me of a cold rainy October day in 2005, when I brought my uncle's cat home shortly before he passed away. I had Dolly for nearly 7 years before she died last summer. She never felt like she really belonged to me. I always felt like I was her guardian until she was reunited with my uncle. But she was so very special in her own way, and I still miss her every day. I was comforted by knowing I'd done the best thing I could for my uncle. My mom told me not long after I brought Dolly home, "You know, you have the best part of Uncle Ed." And so I did....You and Pillow will bring each other much comfort in the months to come. My deepest sympathies go out to you and your family, including Pillow.

  14. I know of a 21yo cat who was separated from his owner because she had to go into a nursing home and couldn't take him w/her. He was put into a free-range rescue with 40+ other cats. He had joy in playing in a dish of water w/ice cubes. He got many pets and love from the staff but I believe he was depressed from the situation because he picked a dark closet out of the way of the hustle/bustle of the center to stay most of his time. He was only there for a month and I believe he died of a broken heart because he was in this situation. Had he been in a quiet house w/just one person, he may still be living on today. But his spirit is still here. It's sad to know he made it for 21 yrs. then to be put into such a situation. PLEASE make arrangements for your pets if such situations come up in your life....

    1. shallee,
      There may be more to this situation than first appears. It is possible that the 21 yr. old cat was waiting for his owner to be settled into the nursing home. Once at the free-range rescue, knowing his owner was cared for, he felt he could allow his spirit to cross over. Most animals will seek out quiet, private places to die. I'd like to think he's waiting for her to join him on the other side....

  15. Sorry for the loss of your Mom. I'm so glad you found a home for her dog and took in Pillow. I'm looking forward to hearing how you integrated him with your other cats. I have a cat that can't get along with my other 3. For now, we're just time sharing.

  16. My sympathies to both you and Pillow. It is hard for both of you to adjust after such a loss. My best to both of you for having eachother.
    I was a Hospice nurse for many years. The first year I had a patient I was going to see that was terminal. One day I saw a cat in her hallway that I thought was my Maine Coon. I was wondering how he found me until I looked closer and found it was not mine. The lady said this cat lays with her except to eat and use the bathroom. She was afraid of what would happen after she died. I told her I would make sure the cat was ok. The day came when she died. Her daughter came but would be unable to take her back with her. She asked if I knew of any place that would take her. I did, and for the next 15 years she lived with me and my other cats. She didn't have a name, so I named her Dorothy after her former owner. She died at age 20 after traveling over 10,000 miles in our motorhome visiting many places over the western US and surviving 5 moves.

  17. So sorry to hear about your mom.

    I never knew cats stressed out over change (I've always had "found" kittens) until I adopted my "free" 5 year old Leo at Petco. His family had moved away and left him and his brother behind (taking two other cats with them). Unfortunately his brother had been adopted leaving Leo alone for the first time. The very next evening after bringing Leo home, I had to take him to the emergency vet when he started throwing up blood. $400 later, they found nothing. All seemed well until we left him overnight about a month later. Again he started throwing up blood, and again he vet could find nothing. From then on we had a pet sitter stay with him and he has been fine these last 4 years. I would have never guessed cats feel stressed and depressed and need special care when adapting to a new environment - this is the first I've read about this issue. Thanks for this information-it's really something all humane societies should be aware of and pass on to new cat parents.

  18. I had a similar situation with my cat, Dolly. She was a Maincoon mix Tortie. I also had an American short-haired tortie named Cassie. Cassie and Dolly were almost inseparable. Cassie got out of the house the day after her sixth birthday and was killed. Cassie's death took it's toll on Dolly! I tried to keep things as normal as possible but Dolly was inconsolable! She wandered around the house for many months and cried and called for Cassie! After about 8 months, Dolly got sick. I took her to the vet and the vet thought she had a bladder infection and put her on antibiotics. I made sure she took it on schedule. She was fine for a little while. But about 13 months after Cassie passed, Dolly got sick again. I took her to a different vet and he did blood tests on her. But, before we got the results back, Dolly had passed away. She had a severe infection in her Pancreas!
    Cassie died on November 27, 2011 and Dolly died on December 27, 2012! Their birthdays were like that too! Cassie's Bday was November 26, 2005 and Dolly's Bday was March 26, 2006!
    I miss them both very much and still finding myself crying for their loss and putting the blame on myself when I know that nothing could of been done.
    I am very sorry for the loss of your mother and I hope for the best in Pillow's recovery from the loss of his momma.
    I know, from experience, that animals grieve just like humans!

  19. I have a cat that is about 16 now, She is mine, but she really adopted my brother. When he passed unexpectedly at the age of 39 I got her back. When we moved back into the family home, she would run from room to room, looking for him. She has adopted my 8 year old son as hers. When it is her time, I'm sure she will indeed be looking for my brother when she gets across that bridge.

  20. What a wonderful story! I've never owned cats due to extreme allergies in my family, but I can see how your methods would translate well to dogs. I can only hope that my kids would take such care in comforting the animals that I may leave behind one day.

  21. How touching of you to think of Pillow's needs and to make sure that his adjustment while grieving was (is) as easy as possible. He is so very lucky to have you as his new human. I am very sorry for your loss and am sure that having Pillow there with you is helping you as much as you are helping him.

  22. You have a heart of gold. I know that your mother is watching over both you and Pillow, loving both of you and helping with all of the changes.

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  24. I think it's wonder what you have done
    God bless you for looking after your mom's cat
    And one of Gods creatures.

  25. I'll just repeat a previous comment, it says it all Good Human! Ive recently adopted an 11 yr old kitty who's mom was elderly and is in hospital not expected to live 🙁 I think he's doing ok, trying to keep things nice and quiet as he's used to Im told. I did not meet the previous owner, nor can I at this point.My new kitty is clearly struggling, hides under the bed when he hears every new sound. To compound that, I have to leave him 12 hrs aday to work. Im sure my new friend must be grieving for the loss pof his person and home 🙁 I'll not worry too much tonite howver as in writing this...Ive discovered my new kitty is a very load snore-er! Wow! how cute.

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