For most of us who own cats, our cats are our babies, and we want to protect them from harm at all times – especially when they are sick and dying. Why, then, do some cats run away to die, not allowing us to lovingly take care of them when they are at their lowest, weakest point? There are many reasons that have been postulated by animal behaviorists and others on why cats might run away to die:
- Your cat might simply be missing. If you have an outdoor cat and he doesn’t come home for days, naturally you, the loving cat owner, begin to worry. If he is older, you might wonder if he is sick or even if he is dying. When I was a child, my cat Frisky, an outdoor unneutered cat, would go away for days before returning home. My parents and I figured that he had fathered kittens all over the neighborhood, and maybe spent much time at the farm down the hill. Each time he went away, he did, eventually, come back – until the one time he didn’t. We never knew if he just ran away, was taken in by someone else, or died. If it’s in your cat’s nature to wander off for days at a time, try not to worry. If he doesn’t come back, try not to assume the worst.
- Your cat might be injured. Outdoor cats get injured all the time – in fights with other cats, dogs or other animals, or from vehicles hitting them. Sometimes, a kind soul might take your cat into their home to try to nurse him back to health. Putting up signs or notices looking for kitty might spur on a person who has taken him in to release him to you. Because it is impossible to tell when an outdoor cat might get injured, it’s not recommended to keep cats outdoors without some type of boundaries.
- Your cat felt sick and wanted to be alone. Cats, unlike humans, don’t anticipate, understand, realize, or even know about death. Therefore, they usually don’t know when they are dying. Cats may simply run away and hide when they are feeling sick and vulnerable. Instinctually and evolutionarily, this makes sense. When cats are feeling poorly, their instinct is to want to run and hide from predators before they become the prey. Just as pregnant cats will often try to find an out of the way, quiet spot in which to give birth, sickly cats, feeling vulnerable, may go off by themselves before us humans even realize that they are sick. In their minds, they are hiding from any potential dangers while they feel sick.
- Your cat might be sick and tired. A sick cat might also want to be by himself so that he can sleep peacefully. Especially if there are small children or other animals around, it is more common for a sick cat to go off alone just to get a good night (or two, or three…) of sleep.
- Your cat might really sense that his death is near. Although cats don’t anticipate death, they are quite intelligent and have good instincts, and they may know when death is near. If this is true, your cat might prefer to be alone without other animals or humans around to bother him.
- Your cat might associate your home with pain. If your cat began feeling sick inside or just outside of your home, he might take himself away from the place where he started to feel sick and go off alone to a place not associated with the pain.
It’s not just outdoor cats that may run away when sick or dying. Indoor house cats might want to be alone when they feel sick. It is important, then, that we humans check under beds, behind large pieces of furniture, in drawers, and even in cupboards or wardrobes when looking for our kitty who is hiding from us. The bad thing about sick cats running away is that they are often not found by humans in time to save their lives. Cats that suddenly hide and, when found, show signs of being sick, should be taken to the vet for a check-up just to be safe.
Above all else, if you cat does run away to die, remember that he is not intentionally shutting you, his beloved human, out. He is just trying to find peace in his last moments on earth. If you find your sick cat, by all means take him to the vet to see if anything can be done to save him. If nothing can be done, the kindest thing you as a cat owner can do is to allow your cat to pass peacefully, preferably with you by his side.