My cat died at home. What do I do?
May 8, 2020 4:16 AM   Subscribe

I’ve never had a cat die at home. I don’t know what I should be doing- I’ve never been sentimental about a pet after death, opting for group cremation at the vet. But this is different.

I woke up this morning because she wasn’t in bed. Not unusual for short periods of time but it felt like it had been a while. I found her a few feet from the bed, and she had already passed. Was still warm. Even tho I think she hadn’t been in bed for a while, it seemed like it had just happened. She was still warm, i honestly wasn’t positive she had died, although some part of me thought I should make sure she hadn’t died so something knew. I must have heard it or something, I’m not usually up this early.

She’s older 18 or 19, she wasn’t doing so great yesterday but didn’t seem to be about to die. Just more tired and seemed to have a cough/hair ball. I was pondering taking her to the vet (and how I’d pay for it) if she didn’t improve or got worse by today. But I didn’t expect this.

In a way it’s what I wanted, I just knew for the last year our time together was growing short and I hoped it would be quick and at home.

(I feel like the worlds worst monster too because I pushed her off me last night. She was standing on me and it hurt- and while this is not an unusual ritual, it seems so much worse now that this happened.)

I’m just kinda not sure what to do. I feel like disposing her in the trash is not right. I don’t have money to take to the vet for cremation. And this feels different than the other times. Maybe because unexpected but also she was my late husband’s cat.

I’m also just feeling lost. I live alone, went through a breakup on Sunday that wasn’t good, am dead broke, am supposed to work today (wfh, part time job), I feel like I have to work- outside of money issues, I feel if I don’t, I’ll fall into a funk I won’t get out of- As is I’ve been a modest amount of depression between coronavirus and then this breakup, has a couple “sick days” that were just me sobbing. So I’m feeling a lot of feels and not sure how to deal with her body OR with myself. She was the one thing that seemed to be making it okay.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Pets & Animals (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your local rescue may have contacts and resources for this situation, it would be worth calling and asking.

Take gentle care of yourself and I'm sorry for your loss this is not your failt.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:30 AM on May 8, 2020 [8 favorites]

Oh, this is hard. There’s no escaping some real grief here. It’s okay to feel that.

Do you have, by chance, a yard and a shovel? I’ve buried a number of pets, with a bit of ceremony. It helps.
posted by jon1270 at 4:31 AM on May 8, 2020 [14 favorites]

Some vets and shelters do "communal cremation", where they dispose of many dead animals at once. It's often free-of-charge, you just don't get back any ashes. Worth checking.

I am very sorry for the loss of your good old kitty.
posted by briank at 4:34 AM on May 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

This is going to seem weird, but you can wrap her in a little cloth and a bag and put her in the freezer while you figure something out. I'm so sorry for your loss! I bet she was a wonderful kitty.
posted by 8603 at 4:43 AM on May 8, 2020 [33 favorites]

We buried ours in the back garden, in his favourite spot at the top of the garden, then a bit later planted some nice irises on the spot. There is a guide to burying your cat at home here.

Don't underestimate the work it takes to dig down three feet, which is the depth that is recommended. Also, that it will take a wider area to go down that far. We were at the edge of the lawn up against foliage and we cleared some foliage, started to dig, realised we needed to take out more foliage to get space to keep digging, etc. So for 2 years after we looked like we had built a grotto to our cat and the neighbours probably think we are weirdos.

We had wrapped him in a towel to bring him back from the vet where he was put to sleep and just wrapped him up then put him in a shoe box to bury. If you go down this route doing something like this might be a bit easier on you than putting your cat in to the ground uncovered.
posted by biffa at 4:45 AM on May 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Find an old blanket or rug that she used to like - wrap her up in it and if you have a yard - bury her.

If you can afford a nice plant - plant it on the spot - and when you go to water the plant, it will allow you to remember her. If you can't afford to buy a plant - find a tree or bush that seems to be doing well - cut off a branch - and try and strike a sapling from the branch to plant on the spot.

If you don't have a yard - is there a community garden? nature strip?
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:47 AM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

When my dear old man died, here’s what I did. I lined a large shoe box with tissue paper and put him in it with a couple small things. I called a friend and she helped me dig a hole in the backyard. (Im glad I ended up being a bigger hole than I had imagined). Once the hole was refilled with dirt I put a cinder block on top of it, to keep jerk vermin out.

I am really sorry for your loss.
posted by wearyaswater at 4:49 AM on May 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

If your location is correct, the Humane Society will do the communual cremation for $35 and there's a campus in your city. If that's too much but you can get her there, I'll cover it. If group cremation isn't the correct choice for you for this pet, however, no pressure.
posted by teremala at 4:49 AM on May 8, 2020 [60 favorites]

Response by poster: I don’t have a yard. I live in an apartment.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:50 AM on May 8, 2020

Response by poster: I also don’t have freezer space; I’ve stocked up and filled it full because of the virus. I do have fridge space, which may sound gross, idk. It seems less sanitary but I don’t know how/why.

Teremala, thank you for your offer. I may need to take you up on that. I’m still reeling so I just don’t know yet.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:54 AM on May 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

We took our beloved kitty down to the river and gave her a Viking funeral -- set her adrift wrapped in a cotton sheet shroud on a little wooden boat, with singing and kaddish, and let the current carry her to the sea. If there's a river or creek nearby this might be an option.
posted by shadygrove at 4:58 AM on May 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

An apartment is pretty rough. I've been there, and I'm currently in an apt. with two guinea pigs. I think you're totally fine putting her in the fridge.
posted by 8603 at 5:03 AM on May 8, 2020

Your City/County might have an animal control department that also does things like pick up the animals that get hit by cars and left on the street. They might drop by and pick her up. That's what we did for the doberman because digging that big of a hole in the backyard would have been really hard. They (or anybody you call) might be understanding about the lack of funds and waive any fee or at least delay it for a long time. They don't want you to throw her in the trash or just leave her in the street and call in to report a dead animal in the street.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:03 AM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

When my cat died at home, I called our vet. They said I could bring her in, and they took her body, free of charge. I didn’t get her ashes back, but that’s not something that was important to me.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:31 AM on May 8, 2020 [13 favorites]

I live in the city and when our beloved kitty passed late last year, before her time and suddenly, I called the vet and asked what to do. I was using Banfield and it was $35 for them to give her a communal cremation.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:50 AM on May 8, 2020

If that's too much but you can get her there, I'll cover it.

If it turns out there are any additional costs, I would help cover those.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:04 AM on May 8, 2020 [15 favorites]

Sorry about your friend! You gave her a good long life and she got to die at home, not many of us can hope for better than that.

I can add some $$ to teremala's offer if you want to consider private cremation. I can't cover the whole difference but maybe it's possible to crowdsource the amount? MeMail me if you're interested.

Finding space in the freezer (or a friend's freezer? I'd feel weird about making this request but would absolutely be happy to fulfill it) will buy you extra time to figure out what feels right for you. Can food move from the freezer to the fridge, to be used soon?

When I was a kid I used to cut a lock of fur from my cats that died. I saved them in little special tins or boxes. This might be an option for a small remembrance if you go with the communal cremation. (And you can always use that for a ceremonial disposal later, if you don't want to hang onto it forever.)
posted by hilatron at 6:05 AM on May 8, 2020 [7 favorites]

Sympathies for your loss.

I recently lost my pet Shi-Tzu. We'd had a wonderful day of playing in the park; last of the nice warm and wet snow that can be Colorado at it's best. Later that day; on the way back to the car; she fell off a small cliff and yeah; very sad ending to what was a nice day for both of us.

Pushing her off of you would be akin to a love shrug. Nothing bad about it; more of a playful act between two friends.

I've been a mess at times because of it; but as others have written, some things happen at times; and it just isn't our fault.

If you would like to co-miserate about shared experiences, or even share a cry over the phone; feel free to memail me. These are not the best of times; and losing close pets doesn't lighten the burden.
posted by Afghan Stan at 6:12 AM on May 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

Oh, I am so sorry. My heart hurts for you.

I had the same thing happen about 5 years ago. I found some comfort in knowing that my cat died at home in familiar surroundings. He was 18 and it was his time.

I went to work the next day and it was hard but I was glad for something to keep me busy.

I was fortunate to have an animal crematorium not too far away. I took him there and they were so kind and respectful. I did a communal cremation that was much less expensive than private.

I am happy to help cover costs if that’s what you decide. Feel free to Memail me with details.
posted by bookmammal at 6:36 AM on May 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss, especially in what is already a hard time.

MADACC charges $25 for per cremation. I'm not sure about their current operating hours / status but they have always been very pleasant to communicate with. Social media implies that they remain open.

If I can help with costs at all please don't hesitate to message me.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:39 AM on May 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you want to do group cremation, but want a souvenir, now is a good time to color her toe beans with a regular marker, and make a little kitty paw stamp on a piece of paper
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:59 AM on May 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

oh I'm so sorry - our youngest cat died suddenly at the beginning of this isolation and I have been missing him so much while at home. He was slow coming into the bedroom for treats the night before (probably because he wasn't feeling well) and I crowed "too slow!" at him and didn't give him a treat and I have felt so much guilt about it. I think we just have to remember that while not every moment of pet ownership was glowing by itself, it's the overall good, great, amazing life you provided them that really counts.

If you live near any vets, even if it's not yours, they will usually take the body of the cat to dispose of for you. Our city says to bring the deceased cat to a landfill and the staff can help you dispose of it properly. Your city (if your description is still right) says:

Dead animals, including road kill, are picked up by DPW Sanitation either at the curb, in street or wrapped in plastic and placed in cart (s. 78-21). Call the Cityof Milwaukee Call Center at (414) 286-CITY (2489)

I know it doesn't seem right to treat your sweet baby the same way you'd treat a roadkill animal, but if you're not too sentimental, that might be the easiest. The city asked us to wrap the bird that got killed in our yard in two layers of plastic.

ymmv of course, but the first few days after Boba died, the times I felt the best was during work - it gave me something other than my sadness to focus on, and was kind of a respite from my grief for a few moments when I managed to focus. Good luck, lots of love and good vibes your way, losing a pet is so hard. <3
posted by euphoria066 at 8:11 AM on May 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Our vet actually sent out an email to clients with older pets about end-of-life care, palliative care, etc. during coronavirus, and let everyone know that if a pet died peacefully at home they would be able to accept a drop off. Just wrap the deceased pet in a towel, call to schedule a time, and someone would meet us in the parking lot. It was a huge relief to know that it was an option - your vet might have the same option. I am also willing to help with the cost if that's a barrier to service.

Very sorry for your loss.
posted by juniperesque at 8:19 AM on May 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Here's a short video of Caitlyn Doughty from The Order of the Good Death doing a wake for her kitty. She lives in an apartment and you may find some useful ideas here: x

I hope it is helpful.
posted by effluvia at 8:52 AM on May 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I was growing up in a built-up neighborhood with no yards, my parents buried our deceased cats in the park, under cover of night.

Your city may have a dead-animal collection service, probably run by solid waste services. [edit] Looks like someone already posted the relevant info.
posted by adamrice at 8:58 AM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Shroud her when you are ready. Wrap her in something. You will probably feel better if you use something dear to her and meaningful to you, such as an old sweater of yours she used to lie on. You will want to shroud her before she stiffens as the point is to lessen your trauma from looking at her and seeing her change.

You may want to come up with formal things to do to observe her death, sing to her, say a prayer, talk to her and tell her how you loved her, include some toys in her shroud, make a grave offering of something precious to you, write a letter to go with her, get flowers.

You may want to cover her up and not look at her and not touch her, to get her out of the apartment as soon as you can. That is okay too.

Where is she to go? That depends on where you live and other factors. It is, honestly, okay to put her out in the trash. If you are forced to that do it with love. All interments and cremations are just a step on the way to her atoms re-merging with the other atoms of the universe. Being placed with love into a box, and the box into a garbage bag and carried downstairs to the curb with reverence is honestly as respectful and meaningful as anything else you can do, if you make it so.

If you live in an area where there is waste ground around you you can find a place to either bury her or expose her. To expose her you will want a sufficiently wild place with undergrowth where you can carry her out and lay her down where no humans will find her and be made curious enough to handle her. To bury her you will need something to dig with. In an absolute pinch a large kitchen knife and a large spoon can excavate out enough earth to loosely cover a small bundle and then she can be further covered with leaf litter or boughs. She doesn't need to be under the earth unless you know that she will be disturbed by people wherever you might leave her. It may be that there is no place she will not be disturbed in which case not being able to bury her does not say anything wrong about you - it's just another loss, like not being able to take the day off to grieve, or afford a cemetery plot, or having the magical powers that could have given her a life as long as yours.

If you inter her or expose her in waste ground you probably want to pick a spot you can't get back to - you do not want to be drawn back to the spot and then find that her rest was disturbed, as it might be. Again, this hurts. The idea of her being disturbed really hurts, but is part of the process where her atoms are dispersed.

If you make the goodbye ceremonious you are helping yourself process the loss, so that you will be less stunned on it, and will be ending on a better note than if you feel the last thing you did was repulse her. It was not the last thing you did and you were not wrong to repulse her. It hurt and letting her hurt you would not have kept her alive or made her feel so happy enough that it was worth doing. Very likely she was her ordinary self then and it was the same as when she was a three year old cat that you dumped from your lap on a summer day when her claws went through into your legs. That's part of every healthy relationship - boundaries, not being utterly and always submissive to the other. Probably she took a sudden stroke or heart attack. If you had let her stand on you it would not have changed this outcome. You would have found her in the morning the same way.

So make sure that when ever you think about repudiating her you turn your thoughts to remember what you did for her, and how much more you did for her than that one act of making her move. How many cans of cat food do you think you brought home from the store during her lifetime and opened for her? Don't let feeling funny about pushing her away that time make you forget how much love and attention and care you gave her and how she was confident that if you pushed her away you wouldn't hurt her so she kept coming back, and how often you welcomed her because she wasn't getting into a position that hurt you. That's what she experienced. You were the person she could always come to and when you were not unable to right that moment you would welcome her and share your warmth. You both loved sharing warmth with each other. Remember that.

It's okay to grieve a lot, because when we grieve we often fold other sorrows into our grief. So if you cry and think, "Why am I crying over a dumb cat? I knew she was going to die soon!" remember that the loss of your cat stands in for other losses also, and it is not wrong or foolish or weak to be devastated. It is also not cold and shallow if you get over it more suddenly than you expected. Your emotions are never wrong. You can work through this.

My condolences. You would not be grieving so, and now so perplexed what to do if she was not dear to you.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:18 AM on May 8, 2020 [18 favorites]

I'm so sorry about your kitty. It sounds like you had a good life together and that she had a gentle exit. I can also help with private cremation costs if that's what you would like to do.
posted by 4rtemis at 9:22 AM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ohh , my sympathies. But it sounds like your kitty had the absolute best possible old-age death -- at home, cozy, not in distress, after a normal cat day doing cat things, with her human safely sleeping.

In a similar situation living in an apartment, a friend of mine wrapped his cat in a cotton sheet and buried him in wooded public park land, picking a spot that was shielded from passerby but roughly locatable for sentimental purposes (e.g. ten paces north off the path at a distinctive spot.) This was not strictly legal, no, but with such negligible risks to make objections pretty much moot.

* Buried deep enough to keep scavenging animals out.
* No toxic chemicals leeching into soil because no embalming, no euthanasia drugs, no fancy pet casket.
* No memorial "stuff" left behind as littering.
* Not near a source of drinking water, no underground utility lines to disturb.
posted by desuetude at 9:24 AM on May 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

My sympathies as well. I also can commit a few buck to cremation costs.
posted by kathrynm at 10:01 AM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Many, many sympathies - I have lost 2 cats in the past 2 years, and it is NEVER easy, and you are always going to second-guess whatever you do, at least for a while. The main piece of advice I would have is to be kind to yourself, and know that your kitty would know you are doing your best. The fact that you are even asking this question demonstrates your respect and love for her.

My elderly cat with cancer died at home, and, honestly, I think given the circumstances, it was the best possible way for her to go. We had basically done "kitty hospice" for her (after the last-resort chemo drug did not work), giving fluids and pain meds to keep her comfortable. She did not suffer and went peacefully in her sleep, and I was kind of grateful we never had to wrestle her into a carrier to spend her last moments at the vet's office (which she hated; she would have likely seen that as a betrayal). We buried her in the back yard the night she died, wrapped in one of her favorite blankets. However, as I see you are in an apartment, this would not be an option for you, and you should not feel bad about that.

If it comes down to it, you could more than likely call Animal Control and have them pick up your cat's body for no charge. This is what we have done here when, for instance, we've found feral cats who had been hit by cars. But it is also very likely your local vet has some sort of free group cremation service, as others have suggested.
posted by aecorwin at 10:40 AM on May 8, 2020

I will also pay/contribute if you need it, and if you want the full deal with her ashes returned and/or the memorial pawprint or whatever, I'll get that for you. I personally would vote for a drop-off at your vet if you have safe transportation to do so, which seems like the least fraught option compared to trying to get help from a service you've never had previous contact with. She'll be okay for some hours without refrigeration, but if you have ice you can put down a layer in a storage container/bathtub/insulated shopping bag, lay a trash bag and a towel or small blanket over the ice, place her on the towel and cover her with the extra fabric.

I'm sorry for your loss. This has to be extra strange and disorienting given current circumstances.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:55 AM on May 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

Nthing that I will help cover this for you. When our cat died unexpectedly we took him to a nearby emergency vet. I don't remember if we called first or not. They were able to take his body and set up cremation service for us.

If you don't feel equipped to handle the body, is there anyone you could call and ask, from a responsible distance? I don't break social distancing lightly. But I would do this for a friend.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:10 AM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

i am so sorry. it is so hard when this happens. when it happened to us in philadelphia, we took her to the emergency vet and they took care of her body. we went to the emergency vet at the vet school, so we donated her body and it was free. it looks like there are a couple of vets in/near milwaukee. i also have some money i can chip in for cab fare or cremation fees. because i know how very hard this is. you're in my thoughts.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:45 AM on May 8, 2020

I will also chip in to pay for private cremation if it would be a comfort to you to have her ashes. I lost my girl three and a half years ago and it is a blow to the heart. Thinking of you.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 12:09 PM on May 8, 2020

I’m so sorry. I lost my girl last spring. Having her ashes is a huge comfort and I would like to contribute to a private cremation if that’s what you choose.
posted by fozzie_bear at 12:20 PM on May 8, 2020

I’m so sorry you are going through this right there anyone you can talk to, have a video chat with, who understands that pet death is real grief? I know after my pets died I didn’t want to be alone. It’s hard now because of social distancing, but a video chat might help.

If a videochat would help, but you can’t think of a suitable person at the moment, Memail me and I will connect with you. I would love to hear about the things that made your cat special.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:21 PM on May 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I’m still trying to decide what to do. I pet her a bunch, called a friend, then I took her body and placed on a towel, and went back to sleep for a little while.

I just needed to shut off for a bit and thought her body would be fine for that time and it would give the other cat time to see her body. I did make the mistake of not positioning her body/limbs in a more sleeping/small, natural manner before rigor mortis set in. It’s funny because I was thinking about rigor mortis, but only in terms of the fact that she must not have been dead for long when I found her as she was still warm/limp.

I don’t have any problems with handling her body; in fact it’s been good for me to say goodbye/have been periodically petting her and talking to her. I couldn’t pick her up and hold her/hug her to me that first hour or so, and wish I had spent more time doing that while I was first crying now that I can’t. She used to let me hold her like a baby, so not thinking of that importance when I was saying goodbye sucks. But it’s okay. I got to talk to her, thank her, and say goodbye which is good, and smell her one last time.

I’ve now wrapped her in a towel and put her in a contractor garbage bag that I was lucky to have laying around, and inside a second garbage bag in the fridge. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do, but it gives me time to think. This feels very different than other cat losses, maybe because it was at home, or maybe because I had this sense she was hanging on until I got to a place where I didn’t need her like I did before. And true enough, while the past couple years have been extremely rough and while covid has taking some things to a new level of suck, I’m not quite so fragile and some things have been getting better. So she did her job.

Thank you for the generous offers, I am leaning towards the cremation and keeping her ashes, and that would help. I’m still just trying to think for the moment. Gonna talk a walk to the hardware store and see what they have for paint that could work for her paw print as I’ve got nothing like that at home.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:29 PM on May 8, 2020 [13 favorites]

Find some land where you can get away with digging a hole. I put my last animal in a park 3 feet down when it was dark. Didn’t mess up a landscaped area or anything.
posted by floam at 2:31 PM on May 8, 2020

I just want to add that you should feel exactly as guilty for pushing her off as she did about standing on you in that painful, extra-heavy, extra-pointy way cats do—which is to say, not at all. It’s the ritual, and cats love rituals.

I’m really sorry!
posted by kapers at 3:06 PM on May 8, 2020 [8 favorites]

I'm glad you're getting paint for a paw print - it meant a lot to me when the vet did that for two of my cats at their passings. I have them framed and kept with my dogs ashes. (I don't know why I kept the dogs ashes. All my other pets have gone the communal cremation way and I never got them back. But my dog was a link to my late former husband, too, and she was just special).

Adding to the others that I would gladly pitch in for a private cremation for her if you'd like. I have a local pet crematory that handled my dog in the most thoughtful, kind, and solemn way but it wasn't cheap. However, she was a big dog, and cats and small dogs are much less expensive. So whatever you need, we are here to support you.

I am so very sorry for your loss and I understand all the feelings. My heart goes out to you.
posted by annieb at 4:13 PM on May 8, 2020

I also don’t have freezer space; I’ve stocked up and filled it full because of the virus. I do have fridge space, which may sound gross, idk. It seems less sanitary but I don’t know how/why.

As an alternative to freezer space you can buy cheapo styrofoam coolers at the grocery store and fill them with a bag of ice.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:10 PM on May 8, 2020

Ask your local friends if anyone has freezer space to keep your cat until you can have her cremated. I don't think this is too weird of a fabor to ask and if it were my friend I would totally make room for them. (Then again, I have a local homeless man's mother's ashes on top of my kitchen cabinet right now so perhaps I am a weirdo wrt to storing other people's loved ones' remains.)
posted by Jacqueline at 12:35 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Or you could also go through everything currently in your freezer and move some of it to the fridge depending on when you plan to eat it. Half-full boxes can be removed and their contents put in a plastic freezer bag back in the freezer etc.

I do strongly urge you to freeze your cat to give yourself plenty of time to get her cremated later because if you've cremated all your other pets and kept their ashes then you will always feel a little sad about not keeping this one.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:39 AM on May 9, 2020

Hello friends - I coordinated with [insert clever name here] to get her the funds so she can get arrangements taken care of rather than have to come hit all of us up and wait to hear back. If you'd like to chip in, memail me, but don't make a hardship for yourself if it's a stretch - I'm okay, I can cover it all if necessary.

(I promise this is not some kind of extremely sad grift.)
posted by Lyn Never at 2:58 PM on May 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

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