We've all heard the story of the cat who was sick or old and one day just vanished. This has lead to many people to believe that cats will go away to die on their own. But is this true?
According to Desmond Morris in his book Cat World - A Feline Encyclopedia, cats have an advantage over humans in regards to death, they don't actually know what death is. They go away and hide because they are sick and feeling vulnerable. This makes perfect sense from an evolutionary point of view. It's a cruel world out there and cats have larger predators who seek out the weak and the vulnerable as they are easier targets. This also explains why cats can be quite seriously ill before obvious signs appear. They are hardwired to hide signs of sickness and weakness so that they are less vulnerable to predators. It is for this reason that pregnant cats will seek a quiet and often out of the way spot to give birth and care for her young kittens. She, as well as her babies, are vulnerable at this stage in their lives and want to remain hidden from any potential dangers.
Another theory I have as to why cats will often hide when they are dying is because they just want to be alone. They aren't feeling well and would prefer to go somewhere quiet and dark where they can sleep in peace. I know when I'm sick I just want to be left on my own to wallow!
Not all cats will hide when they are dying. We have sadly had enough cats who have died to see this ourselves. They have tended to stick close by when they are dying, spending large amounts of time quietly sleeping. Cats are individuals and may have different preferences when it comes to how they handle being sick. Some will seek out the company of their human companions or pets, others prefer to be alone in a quiet place.
Injured cats also hide:
I recently heard a story of a cat who was accidentally run over by his owner. She caught a view of him running away into the garden next door. After much searching, he was eventually found hiding alone in some vegetation. Luckily for him, he survived with 8 remaining lives. However, had his injuries been bad enough, he would have died alone in that hidden spot. Again, it wasn't that he'd gone there to die, he knew he had been injured and he went and hid somewhere quiet. So it's not just dying cats who do this but injured cats also.
Cats don't always hide in such an out of the way spot that you can't find him. You may find him hiding in a wardrobe or cupboard. If you notice your cat has suddenly started hiding it may be a warning that he is possibly sick. Even if you notice no other symptoms, this is something that should be checked out by a vet.
My cat has gone missing:
Cats go missing for a number of reasons, it is not just because they are sick and unwell. They do have a habit of getting themselves into situations they can't extract themselves from (how often have we heard of a cat stuck up a tree?) However, it may be a sign that he is not well or has been hurt and it is important that while you are looking for your cat, you check under houses, in sheds and garages and ask your neighbours to do the same.