Many cat owners and animal experts believe that cats can experience the emotion of grief. They have probably seen it first hand. These first hand experiences concern the change in behaviour of one family cat when another, towards whom the remaining cat was friendly, dies.
The remaining cat’s behaviour looks like an expression of grief for the loss of a companion. This may be true but it is more likely that the ‘grieving’ cat is actually feeling the emotion of anxiety. The anxiety coming from the need to find the lost cat.
Nowadays we all agree that domestic cats can feel anxious. It is probable that anxiety is a major part of the lives of many cats in unsuitable homes.
The anxiety on the passing of a ‘preferred associate’ (‘friend’ in plain English) disappears when all traces of the missing cat have vanished. There may be some scent left on household items which rekindles the anxiety concerning the missing friend.
That’s the alternative view. Kittens being homed before they are independent of their mother leave the mother searching for them. It’s as if her kittens have been lost prompting a desire to find them because mother cats raise kittens until they are independent. Once the lingering traces of the kittens’ scent have disappeared the mother will forget.
It appears that lions demonstrate a ‘grief-like’ state of behaviour on the passing of their cubs. Lionesses pickup their dead cub in their mouth and place him/her somewhere else before abandoning her. Is this a sign of grief? We don’t know but it is probably sensible to prefer the anxiety hypothesis over grief until we know more.
There is an ongoing discussion on the ability of domestic cats to experience the higher or more complex emotions. We are gradually realising that animals are more intelligent than we have given them credit for in the past.