in memory of Pixie

‘Although grief in animals is not well understood currently, you may recognise changes in behaviour in your cats, which may be attributed to grief.’

Cats Protection

So a little while ago, my cat’s best-friend, my lop-eared Lionhead bunny; Pixie, was put to sleep (you can read about her death here). Since losing her, Emmy – my cat – has become more and more upset and distressed. I wanted to take this horribly painful situation and somehow turn it into something that was – in some way – positive. So, I thought that talking about what happened might help others to feel less alone and that collaborating with Cats Protection, could provide professional advice for anyone confronted with a similar instance…

A taste of life without Pixie…

It started almost as soon as Pixie was first admitted to Critical Care on the weekend; at night-time Emmy sat outside the door to the room (the Kitchen) Pixie slept in, meowing over and over again until I called on her to come lay with me in bed.

When Pixie was allowed home, the Vet recommended keeping her and Emmy apart, but I explained how upset Emmy had gotten and voiced my belief that if anything, it would distress each of them further if they hadn’t seen one another. The Vet agreed it would be ok to just show them one another so that they knew they were sort of together again. So, I put Pixie in her carrier onto the bed where Emmy was lying, and they sniffed each other before I quickly put Pixie back into the Kitchen.

It ended up being quite challenging to get into the Kitchen without Emmy either already being sat there meowing at the door or her hearing me open the Kitchen door and coming running to it! There was one time where I’d gone in and hadn’t shut the door behind me, so I had turned around to see Emmy edging gradually and gently toward Pixie who was huddled in a corner under the dining table. I got the immediate impression that Emmy wanted to say ‘hi,’ but that she also knew that Pixie was poorly, so she was being cautious.

The absence of goodbye…

When Pixie became poorly again on her third day at home, I called the Critical Care unit and they recommended giving her that night and then ringing our Vet the next day if she hadn’t improved. Of course, she didn’t and so the Vets made her an urgent appointment and with the assumption that she’d either be given more/different medication or re-admitted for a little while, I didn’t make a huge fuss of her leaving the house and saying goodbye to Emmy – honestly? I wish I’d known then what was going to happen to Pixie so that they could’ve had one special, final interaction.

How I said goodbye…

Since the day Pixie was put to sleep, I was aware of how lucky I was in that I was given the chance to say goodbye to her and living with the fact that Emmy really had that opportunity is painful.

With the social distancing regulations in place, it meant that I couldn’t go into the veterinary practice, so the Vet took Pixie from me in the carpark and then came out without her to tell me the ‘options.’ I thought that would mean I couldn’t say goodbye, but they agreed to bring her back out and give me some time with her before going ahead with the euthanasia. Whilst it meant that my goodbye with Pixie was in the middle of a car park with a ton of people watching as they waited with their own pets, I still appreciated the opportunity.

When my first cat; Dolly was put to sleep (you can read about her death here), my mental health was very poorly and so even though I was with her, when my mental health stabilised there were a ton of thoughts and feelings around the belief that I hadn’t really said goodbye. I seemed to think of a lot of things that I began to wish I’d said to her and knowing this – and with my mental health being so well now – meant that I said everything I could think of to Pixie while I hugged her in that car park.

Everything I said in the goodbye...

I debated telling others (especially all of you!) what I had said to Pixie in those moments… The blogger part of me seems to kind of have a natural urge to share details and it almost needs for me to force myself to take a step back from the situation to really, sensibly and reasonably, decide whether or not to share something. In doing that with this, I’ve come to the decision that I will tell you all what I said to Pixie. And I made the decision to do that based on the hope that it would give two things: The first, is that it will illustrate how loved Pixie was (in case you didn’t already know). And secondly, I hope that it might inspire thoughts for you about things you might want to tell your pet so that similarly to me losing Dolly, you won’t be left thinking of so much you wish you’d said. 

So… I told Pixie how much I loved her. I told her how special she was and how much she had meant to my life. I said that she’d saved me and told her that I’d made the decision to try to help her in return. I reassured her that she’d be with Dolly soon. I promised her that I would stay safe through my grief for her. I told her I would take care of Emmy and that we would get through it together. I told her that she wouldn’t be in any more pain. I told her that she was irreplaceable. I said that she would be missed more than she knew and that I hoped she would watch over Emmy and me. I told her that everything I achieved would be for her. And then I said goodbye, squeezed her tight, and put her back in the carrier for the vet to take her away.

I remember clutching my chest as I watched them to take her because it felt like my heart was crumbling and breaking and it was so painful.

‘There are some common behaviours that may be seen while a cat adjusts to the death of a housemate: Changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, unsettle, restless, wandering around, increase or decrease in confidence, searching and crying, increased or reduced interest in other activities, loss of confidence or a general sadness, attention seeking…’

Cats Protection

Telling Emmy…

Once I knew Pixie had gone, one of my first thoughts was ‘how do I tell Emmy?’

I recognise that might sound a bit silly – especially for those without a pet – but this post is all about getting help and support, and you can’t do that efficiently if you aren’t honest and open. I just hope that my honesty can reassure someone that they aren’t alone in having a thought like that.

Going home empty handed… it felt as though my shoes were filled with lead because each step to take me further from the Vets and closer to home and Emmy, felt like a very difficult chore. It was almost like a challenge which repeated over and over again for the twenty-minute walk because I didn’t want to move further away from Pixie, and I didn’t want to go home and be faced with Emmy’s little, confused face and all of Pixie’s things dotted around the house.

Obviously, my feet ploughed through the lead and I got into the house to find Emmy lying on the bed and when I walked into the bedroom, the first thing she did was look to my hand as though expecting to see me holding the carrier with Pixie in. I don’t know if it’s possible, but she seemed to almost frown as though confused and I just lay on the bed next to her and burst into tears whilst saying “Pixie’s gone, Emmy. She won’t be coming back but she’s not in pain anymore.” And Emmy sat up and stared at me before moving towards my face and rubbing her cheek against mine as though to say, ‘we’ll be ok.’

Finding the time to begin grieving…

After crying with Emmy for a little while, I needed to log onto my computer for my work and my Carer came so it felt as though I didn’t have a chance to process many thoughts or feelings. And when I’d finished work and the Carer had gone, my support worker popped in and then my Mum came so I didn’t really have the opportunity to really sit back and think about what had just happened. And it felt like the entire time, the situation was battling to be at the forefront of my mind and demolish any concentration I needed for other tasks.

Having gone through what I have with my mental health, I’m very aware and cautious around using other distractions to take my mind off of something difficult because I’ve had to learn the hard way about that becoming avoidance. Learning that, I became a firm believer that long-term; it wasn’t the answer, and it wasn’t helpful. It might make you feel more capable of doing something else at the time, but once that distracting activity was done, what were you left with? I knew that no matter how many times I used a task to distract from losing Pixie, it wasn’t going to take away the fact that Pixie was gone and no mater how long it took to get there; I would always end up back in the place where I needed to accept that loss and begin grieving.

Going into protective mode…

Being at home, I instantly knew that I wanted to get rid of everything Pixie-related in the house – the hutch, her medications, her toys, her cardboard box(!), her hay and sawdust, her food and treats… I knew that firstly, I couldn’t stand to look at those things knowing that they will never be used again, and secondly; I thought that Emmy would get upset or confused to have Pixie’s things still here, but no Pixie.

I think that the main coping mechanism I’ve been using since losing Pixie, has been in taking steps to protect myself and Emmy from as much sadness as possible whilst both being more than fully aware that one of our family members has died. I think it’s maybe like the middle point between the survival instinct of fight or flight. We aren’t running from the loss; we’re just protecting our family of two from suffering any more than is understandable and – in some ways – necessary.

I think that my decision or rationale for doing this is similar to before: that I’ve seen how difficult and dangerous my mental health can become and I don’t want that to happen again so I’m making decisions in order to protect myself and to prevent that from happening all over again. And in doing this, in taking steps to keep myself safe, I’m also protecting Emmy from all the upset and stress my mental health could cause her if I were to relapse and become unsafe.

To be honest, I see all of this as a huge step forward in my mental health recovery because even just one year ago, I’d have been doing the complete opposite to this. I’d have just allowed my thoughts and emotions to become overwhelming and wouldn’t have given a second thought to hurting myself because of them.

My mental health one week since Pixie’s death…

It’s so strange – sometimes it feels as though it happened yesterday; and other times it’s as though Pixie has been gone forever. 

Things are definitely becoming more and more difficult because I feel as though maybe there’s been a bit of delayed shock around Pixie’s death and that it feels as though everything is really just starting to ‘hit’ me. And I think that the main affect it’s having on me is anxiety, because even though the hallucinations aren’t back and I don’t want to self-harm, I’m completely terrified that will change and everything will go back to how it was with me ending up on life support or needing plastic surgery.

When I talked to my Mum about this, she sort of prompted me to realise that perhaps this was happening because I have been in such a good, happy, and healthy place in my mental health for so long (249 days without self-harm or hallucinations) that I haven’t been used to having to put more effort in to cope with something. And it’s not as though nothing upsetting has happened in that time, it’s just that there’s been nothing on this level. I think it’s sort of ironic that a death when my mental health is finally stable and well, has a bigger knock than one during a time when I was at my most unsafe!

Last night, I felt so anxious and panicked that I called my local Crisis Team and they reassured me that all my thoughts and feelings – the ones from grief and those around the worry things will go backwards – were completely ‘normal’ and healthy. They explained that with my risk history, it’s understandable that I’d be so afraid and a big reason why, if those thoughts came back, I should ring the Team straight away. They encouraged me to utilise my Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) skills by doing self-soothing and distracting activities, and mindfulness exercises; and recommended that I speak with my GP to discuss having a short course of medication to help my anxiety, fear, and worry.

‘Helping pets cope with death can be tricky – their grief is as individual as it would be for you, or any other family member.’

Cats Protection

Emmy one week since Pixie’s death…

Unfortunately – whilst I’m so so so grateful to still have Emmy – seeing her distress and upset feels like another break in my heart… Initially, Emmy was wandering around the house aimlessly and literally just looking all around herself and all around every room she walked into. She was also quite lethargic – which is so unlike Emmy because she’s usually highly energetic and playful.

The past day or two she has taken to desperately crying and scraping at the door to the room Pixie’s sawdust and hay and things used to be in. It was so sad to watch her distress that I’ve ended up leaving the door to the room open slightly so that she can go in whenever she wants to see that Pixie actually isn’t there.

Having Emmy has meant that I feel less alone and when all these different people are saying things about Pixie and about how I must be feeling and what I must be thinking. I know that Emmy is there and that she’s the only one to really understand because she’s the only one who lived with Pixie too. And knowing that there’s nothing I can do to help Emmy in so far as bringing Pixie back, is so frustrating and heart breaking.

Do I get another pet?

I was initially really worried about life without Pixie because I always felt that she and I had a really special and important connection that – whilst I obviously love her – I just didn’t have with Emmy. It turns out though, that losing Pixie and grieving together has really bonded us already. To the point where I’m starting to be able to predict her movements and my worries about becoming unsafe again are totally mitigated by the thought that without me, Emmy will have no one.

Building that relationship with Emmy has also meant that she’s my priority and that if I don’t think she’ll cope will with another pet – no matter how much I may want one – I will put her feelings first. I think that at the moment, whilst she’s missing Pixie, it just isn’t the right time. I feel like she needs to adjust to Pixie not being here before I potentially turn things on their hand and add some stress to her life in warming to a new pet.

With Pixie meaning what she did to me around my hallucinations, I did feel like I really wanted another rabbit but having sought advice, it seems that another cat will make things easier… It’s not that I think Emmy wouldn’t warm to a new rabbit; it’s more about the rabbit not having the same personality as Pixie and it being fearful of, and intimidated by Emmy, where Pixie would had just ignored her or been very complacent and placid…

There’s also the fact that no other pet will be able to replace Pixie and would it be fair to get one with the hope that they’d fill the gaping hole in our little family?

Finally, a thank you to Cats Protection…

Obviously this isn’t the first time I’ve collaborated with the charity, but this post still means as much to me as though it were our first collaboration – maybe even more! Having their support and their trust in me and I’m NOT Disordered to give a good representation of them, is special. And for that to happen during a difficult time, and for them to recognise and support the idea that pets grieve, is really powerful for me.

For more information on this subject from Cats Protection:


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