Why Do Cats Go Away To Die?

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Why do cats go away to die?   Do cats know they are dying?    Sick and injured cat hiding   Cat has gone missing

Why do cats go away to die?
Why do cats go away to die?

We’ve all heard the story of a cat who was sick or old and one day just vanished, which has lead many people to believe that cats will go away to die on their own. But is this true?

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 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.

Do cats know they are dying?

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 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 apparent signs appear. Cats are hardwired to hide signs of sickness and weakness making them 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.

And finally, cats hide when they are dying is that they simply want to be alone. A sick cat isn’t feeling well and prefers to be somewhere quiet and dark so they can sleep in peace. 

Sick and 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 eight remaining lives. However, had his injuries been severe 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 veterinarian.

My cat has gone missing

Cats go missing for several 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 is injured. 

Try to think like a cat, where would they go if they were unwell and hiding?  Check under houses, in sheds and garages and ask your neighbours to do the same, post on local  Lost and Found Facebook groups and place flyers around the area. Look closer to home; cats have an amazing ability to vanish in their own home. We pulled our house apart to find a new kitten hiding behind a curtain in one of the bedrooms, a sick cat was found under the bed. Look in drawers, at the back of wardrobes, in cupboards.

18 COMMENTS

  1. My cat of 18 years went out and didn’t come home! I’ve been so sad .. he definitely was ill,he lost a lot of weight and had a bad Odor and was also pooping and peeing out side of the litter box, but he didn’t appear to be in pain and he would sleep beside me on a blanket on the couch and still loved attention. I don’t know why he wouldn’t come home and die in my arms …. he would always stay close to the house and definitely would come in to eat or drink. I hate the thought of his last day or days that he was alone. I looked in all his favorite spots. Under the porch and under the bushes…no tiger. Could I have had him put to sleep… I don’t know which is worse …

    • I am so sorry that happened to you. That happened to us recently too. Just about 7 days ago our oldest cat, 10 years old, got out while we were bringing in groceries and we haven’t seen her since. She did the same thing, started pooping and peeing outside the box, had a bad odor because she couldn’t clean herself well, and I noticed she was eating less. I was going to take her to the vet later this month. We’ve put up signs everywhere, and talked to many people. I guess we will never know.

    • I’m going through the same thing be strong 💪 hopefully he
      Or she will come back as I pray mine will too

    • My old Siamese has been sick he went out today and hasn’t come home. He’s 18. Your story is so similar.
      Thanks.

    • My 15 year old cat was recently diagnosed with diabetes. I had to put her on prescription food and she seemed to be getting better until the last few weeks. She also started peeing outside her box. I had to keep her out more than usual but she has always been an indoor/outdoor cat. I was planning on taking her back to the vet but before I could she came up missing the last few days and I fear she may have gone off to die.

  2. I’m sorry to hear that friend. They really are like family and it hurts so much when they pass. It is important to remember though that your cat lived a good long life. Do not think he was running from you. He was just scared of a problem he could not fight so he fled. It is in their nature as sad as it is.

  3. My indoor old cat just ran out of the house and I didn’t notice for three days because he had a self-feeder and I didn’t ahve to feed him…I had been brushing him aside due to a massive amount of work…I wrote more the first time, but I didn’t do the math problem at the bottom so now it was eraased….It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit which is rather cold but not freezing but it was raining…He was out of 3 days before I noticed he hadn’t been in the house. I feel I could have found him and he would live longer….I feel like I abandoned him…

  4. My indoor old cat just ran out of the house and I didn’t notice for three days because he had a self-feeder and I didn’t ahve to feed him…I had been brushing him aside due to a massive amount of work…I wrote more the first time, but I didn’t do the math problem at the bottom so now it was eraased….It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit which is rather cold but not freezing but it was raining…He was out of 3 days before I noticed he hadn’t been in the house. I feel I could have found him and he would live longer….I feel like I abandoned him…

    • I’m going through the very same ordeal. Boo Is/Was an inside Cat and She was going on 15. Which if you consider Her Start in life was Amazing! I got Her and her siblings when they were barely a week old and the Owners had moved the kittens when the Momma Cat wasn’t there. (Was for fear of their safety from dogs) Owners NEVER went back to check on them until they were almost a week old and they were only a few days old when moved.
      I’m sure you can imagine what my Daughter and Her Friends Brought me in a milk crate. It had started out a HUGE Litter and their were only 4 still barely alive. Vet said NO WAY, THEY WENT TO LONG WITHOUT MILK. THEIR STOMACHS HAVE COLLAPSED.
      And yes, She was Right. EXCEPT ABOUT THE runt of the litter. I had been trying to feed them all kitten formula using the little newborn kitten bottles. And they did eat and luckily I had a lovable dog that helped with the potty stimulation. But, 1 by 1 they just died. ALL EXCEPT the runt Boo. And All these Years She has been Fat and Sassy and a Wonderful part of my Family. But a few months ago I had to go out of town to take care of my Sick Parents. And when I got back, She was Practically skin and Bones. And Sadly? Before I had left, I had noticed on occasion that She would look at Me oddly and wouldn’t come to me. And She would look around the room like she had never seen it before and get scared and go hide. But when I got back from taking care of my parents??? It’s like She didn’t know me at ALL!!! She would hiss at me like I was a stranger. And She had the saddest, Most confused look in Her eyes. I took her to the vet and they said she was (Healthy)
      Just old. So I kept hoping that she would snap out of it.
      Well, The other day. Out of the Blue She wanted to get in my lap and let me pet Her and I Swear I could see it in Her eyes that she knew who I was.
      And also like you mentioned, I have automatic feeders and waters. And She has always had odd hours. So 2 Days passed before I noticed that I hadn’t seen Her get a drink of water or use the potty. And She is an INSIDE ONLY CAT
      I Tore the house apart room from room and She is not here.
      So I Guess Her Loving and Snuggling was Her goodbye.
      It’s sad though, I feel like I failed Her?

  5. Alas, something similar has happened to me as well. Snickers was 14 years old. She had brought us in some fleas years and years ago, she was an outdoor cat who came in periodically. When we bombed the home, she could not be found anywhere. We looked under beds in closet‘s, in the clothes hampers, in every room of the house. We looked for her for at least four hours. But we both had to go to work . We honestly thought she had made it outside when my husband walked in. The house needed bombed because we had gotten infested at the point, completely unaware we even had fleas until we saw one jumping from her fur. She had the collar and she had the drops, but she still got fleas. Here, we found her in a suitcase under one of the beds when we got home. She came running out of the bedroom that she had been locked in while the bomb went off. She was about six at that time. Throughout the years she would cough once in a while, but nothing serious because every time she coughed, she would bring up fur balls. For the past month, the coughing got worse and her breathing got extremely shallow. That’s when she stopped eating. She dropped the weight Pretty quickly. At its most notable weight loss,She then fell off of a bed about 5 feet in the air But we are not sure if she landed on her feet. She just lie there for a few hours. We brought her food over to her along with the water. And we continually showed her that she was loved her very much. I called the vet right after her fall and I had an appointment two days later. But the next day, she walked outside, turned to look at us and went on about her way. We’ve never seen her again. It’s been three weeks now and we know she passed. She had to have .
    I am so sad and my heart is very heavy. We have another cat that grew up with snickers, his name is Ray-Ray and he’s just as heartbroken. So to all of you above me and to those who might write below me, I’m sorry for your losses and I’m sorry for your pain. Hopefully you guys that have hope above , Keep that hope, say prayers, Think positively and, hopefully, you’ll see your beloved animals again! The vet did tell me that we should have brought her in at the first sign of her not wanting to eat. I hope that Tidbit of information helps someone when their pet stops eating.

  6. Our Cubby about 18 yrs just disappeared! So sad she was indoor&outdoor with her own access etc. WE miss her so much!

  7. Hi to all,
    yes even our 18/19 year old cat ‘Snatchy’ just suddenly disappeared last Tuesday on 20 May 2019.
    He was indoor/outdoor cat and we searched EVERYWHERE possible…neighbouring buildings as well as asking trash collectors that just incase they have seen any cat who is looking lost or sick or just lying somewhere..he did have some problem with his teeth but not so bad …
    we searched soooo much But to no avail…its just so mysterious why they do that…?
    still hoping against hope… He was a calm cat and not used to wandering around anywhere like our other Tom cats, other than our building where we live…so its all the more mysterious…such a helpless feeling when despite searching everywhere he is just lost…!

  8. My eighteen year old cat, Beauty was not one that allowed anyone to touch her, until recently. On Thursday past I managed to lift her as she appeared to be ill and she had got very thin recently. She took some food and then wandered off. On Friday morning, she didn’t come for her food and hasn’t been seen since. Sadly, I believe Beauty has passed away. A good friend over the years, one who always came looking for food when I arrived home. If my car wasn’t about, she wouldn’t come near the house. I’m sad at the loss of my friend of eighteen years.

  9. Please don’t feel bad if your kitty wandered off to pass on. It’s painful for us and we take it to heart but for your kitty that’s what it’s feline instinct told it to do. Please don’t beat yourself up thinking it was your fault or that your kitty must have been sad being alone. It was doing what it was right for kitty. Sending love to those of you who are grieving for your furbabies x

  10. My cat is missing he went outside 3 days ago his 13 years old I miss him so much I don’t know what to do I have looked outside everywhere

  11. I found this page because my cat’s done the same thing. I would like to let you all know your stories have been a comfort to me. She is 14, no great age for a cat but she had a very poor start in life and has been ill for some time – I was treating her with prescribed medicine, but it’s hard to tell with a cat whether it’s helping as it should. She seemed to be muddling along okay but, towards the end of last week, she started leaving poop on the floor. She was asking to be stroked but shied away from my touch: I’m pretty sure this must have meant she was in pain, the poor thing.

    I was going to take her back to the vet on Monday. Sunday night, she was desperate to go out for the first time in ages. She hasn’t come back (it’s now Tuesday night). I think she is probably dead. I feel so helpless – there was nothing I could do for her pain or to make her happy, and it’s so distressing to think of her suffering quietly under some bush somewhere, alone.

    Now I understand that she was doing what her instincts dictated, and that my sense of inadequacy is very normal in this situation. I’m not even sure whether to hope she comes back, as this will mean she’s still suffering. At the same time, I am not actually hoping she died! It’s nice to know I’m not alone with these very confusing feelings. Thank you all for sharing.

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