One of your housecats dies: here’s why you should get them a new companion
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One of your housecats dies: here’s why you should get them a new companion

Translation: Katherine Martin

Veronica Bielawski’s cat Luna has been yowling constantly since her feline roommate Loki died of bladder stones. Should the Digitec Galaxus translator buy her surviving pet a companion? Or would she be better advised to stick to one house cat? I asked an animal psychologist to weigh in on this controversial question.

What Veronica Bielawski had really always wanted was a dog. Owning one, however, was never really a fit for the Digitec Galaxus translator’s lifestyle. A few years back, this led the 26-year-old to settle on a compromise. She’d buy cats that acted like dogs: a ragdoll and a ragamuffin. Though both breeds are, in fact, known for being affectionate, the description somehow never applied to Luna. When Loki, her furry friend and snuggle enthusiast died, however, everything changed. But let’s start at the beginning.

The ragdoll is one of the largest domestic cats in the world. They’re very sociable, docile and loyal. True to their name, they hang limply like ragdolls when you pick them up. Ragamuffins originated from a cross between the ragdoll and various other cat breeds, done in an attempt to stamp out genetic defects and diseases resulting from dubious breeding. Despite the originally derogatory meaning of the word «ragamuffin», lovers of the breed carried on using the name. Like ragdolls, ragamuffins are large, cuddly domestic cats.

It all started with cat litter

It’s winter 2023 and Veronica keeps noticing cat litter strewn around her apartment. «I had to vacuum five times a day,» she recalls. With neither cat acting differently, she suspects there’s an issue with their litter box and opts to buy a self-cleaning model. In the app, she notices Loki uses the toilet every ten minutes on some days. Growing suspicious,

she raises the issue with the vet at the cat’s annual check-up in the spring. Loki has his blood and urine taken. Aside from a slight decline in his results compared to the previous year’s check-up, the tests don’t reveal anything abnormal. «Since my cat was overweight, we thought it was because of that. So I paid attention to his diet and bought an automatic food dispenser. But none of the high-tech stuff helped,» says Veronica.

A painful goodbye

It’s Saturday morning, 8 July 2023. Veronica’s taking part in the Muddy Angel Run in Zurich, a well-known women’s race that raises awareness for breast cancer. Just as she’s about to head out, she notices Loki seems unusually quiet. She resolves to go to the vet if his behaviour doesn’t change by the afternoon. When she returns home, Loki’s in a bad way. «He was lethargic and making really strange noises and had thrown up. It was terrible,» she says. Veronica contacts the emergency vet and drives Loki to the surgery in Eschenbach, Lucerne. His blood test results are very poor, and it’s revealed that his bladder is overfull. A trip to the X-ray department is followed by some shocking news: countless bladder stones are blocking Loki’s urethra.

Bladder stones alone aren’t life-threatening if they’re detected and removed quickly. Typical symptoms include bladder infections, urinating more frequently, occasionally bloody urine and urinating in smaller quantities than usual, often outside the litter box. Things can get serious if the bladder stones find their way into the urethra. When this happens, it can obstruct the urinary tract, potentially backing urine up into the kidneys. This can cause kidney failure and uraemia, a build-up of toxins in the blood.

Veronica’s told to take Loki to the emergency clinic in Hünenberg, Zug to have his bladder drained and the stones removed. With the operation set to take a while, Veronica heads home for the time being. «I’d only just come home when I got a phone call telling me that Loki hadn’t survived the anaesthesia. His body had been weakened too much,» says Veronica. With a heavy heart, she drives back to the emergency clinic to say goodbye to her cat. «I still blame myself for not noticing sooner that something was up, but unfortunately, that’s the way some cats are. When something’s wrong, they don’t show it. Still, I tried everything. I miss Loki a lot,» she says.

Veronica’s mementos of Loki: his cat-shaped urn and a portrait, drawn by her mother.
Veronica’s mementos of Loki: his cat-shaped urn and a portrait, drawn by her mother.
Source: Darina Schweizer

Here’s another way to remember your dearly departed pet:

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A feline lament begins

Veronica’s not the only one who misses Loki. In the days following the cat’s death, his otherwise unobtrusive roommate Luna all of a suddenstarts loudly meowing noticeably often. «It’s such an insistent sound, sometimes like a crying baby,» says Veronica. Not only that, but the cat constantly wants to be close to her and other people. Veronica points out that while this need for attention is typical of the breed, it’s unusual for Luna herself. In contrast to Loki, she continues, Luna had always been the more reserved of the two cats. «I wonder if she might miss Loki. He was like an annoying little brother who’d chase her around the house – she’d whack him every now and again, too. Even so, maybe she really loved him. I’m not sure whether to get her a new buddy.»

Advice from an animal psychologist

Many cat owners face the same question when a pet dies. Animal psychologist Katharina Aeschimann (website in German) is often asked for her take on this. After all, she’s an authority on the needs of cats.

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The animal psychologist is adamant that domestic cats shouldn’t be kept alone. «Even if there’s always someone home, that’s no substitute for a cat companion,» she says. If one animal dies, the surviving cat mewls in search of their buddy. This is especially true when the vet doesn’t put the cat to sleep in their own home. «In these situations, the surviving animal can’t understand where their friend has gone, so they go looking for them,» Aeschimann says. Some vets euthanise animals at home, allowing owners and other pets in the house time to say goodbye to the deceased pet.

But what characteristics should you focus on when getting a new cat after one passes away? According to Katharina Aeschimann, the most important thing is to choose a four-legged friend:

  • with a similar temperament
  • of roughly the same age
  • of the same sex

In Veronica’s case, it might be tough to find six-year-old Luna a companion of the same age. «Older cats in shelters are often free-rangers, loners who’ve lived by themselves for a long time. But you might get lucky. Otherwise, you can always ask a breeder. They often have slightly older cats to give away that needed to be neutered,» says Aeschimann, herself a breeder of Maine Coon cats.

She adds that if you’re set on buying a young cat as a buddy to an older one, just getting one animal won’t be enough. «You should buy two so that the youngsters can play with each other. You should leave it up to the older cat whether to join in. Either way, you should definitely give the older cat their own space. One way of doing this could be with a microchip cat flap leading to another room.»

The cat’s gender can also be a crucial factor. According to Aeschimann, male cats tend to play rough. Female cats, on the other hand, are often annoyed by this. «When it comes to house cats, I actually always recommend going for animals of the same sex. Unless the male cat is gentler because it was raised with numerous sisters,» says Aeschimann.

What’s next for Luna?

Veronica is still unsure whether she should get a new buddy for sweet-natured Luna. She’s giving herself a little more time to mull it over. In the meantime, she’s being especially attentive to Luna’s needs, scheduling in plenty of cuddles with her pet, who follows her everywhere she goes. In a way, it looks as if Veronica’s got herself a dog after all. At least for now.

What’s your take on house cats? Do you think they should be kept alone or in pairs? Let me know in the comments.

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A city kid who’s returned from the countryside to live the urban life – only to turn her attic flat into a beach house dotted with aloes and lighthouses. She’s an animal lover interested in psychology. Her harmless appearance comes with a dark sense of humour and a criminal taste in books. Someday, she’d like to be able to shoot an arrow like Mulan. 


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