Pet Friendly House

Why Do Cats Run Away to Die?

Picture of a cat hiding under furniture

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.

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Jenn October 19, 2018 at 4:07 pm

I’m not a fan of “outdoor” cats. It’s too dangerous for them. They are prey to other animals. They can be hit by cars. And, some people are just plain cruel, don’t like cats, and they hurt them. I’ve owned two kitties. My Shadow I had for 18 years. I had to put him down in September 2017. I have Sheba who is 15. I would never let them go outside for the reasons above. I’ve taken them for walks on the leash. I love my cats and would never risk them getting hurt. They stay inside with me. I love and play with them daily but most of all, I protect them from harm.

Marje May 28, 2019 at 11:38 am

My cat was 18 yrs. he went “ walk about” last Saturday and I didn’t notice he was gone. He always stayed on my property. I thought he was sleeping inside.
Thank you to the kind person who called the bylaw to pick him up three communities away. I now realize that he was using up his final energies. After collecting him I took him to the vet and was able to comfort him and soothe him. He was a loyal companion. I loved him he was a beautiful flame point Siamese with a loving gentle temperament. Goodbye Brumas you are missed.

Joy June 10, 2019 at 10:16 am

I’m so sorry for losing your baby. My cat Ziya has gone missing since last night and I fear he went off to die without me. I’m devastated.

H a p p y v i b e s June 18, 2019 at 6:40 am

My kitten just went away today too, idk why she left, and if she ‘ll comeback, someone plz help me

Faith June 20, 2019 at 10:34 pm

I’m sorry same w my beloved tortie keekee, I belive she did it because she knew its break my children’s hearts

mary beth wilke June 28, 2019 at 8:19 am

Gracie girl left yesterday. I always keep our door open in the summer and for 14 years she’s just basked in the sun. We’ve known she was dying but seemed content and kept eating. She seemed to have taken a turn 2 days ago and we assumed the end was near. Gracie was a feral rescued with a litter of kittens. We adopted her when she was 9 months old. I can only hope she needed to leave this world the way she came in. Out there somewhere. Godspeed baby girl. You are so loved.

Indigo July 31, 2019 at 7:46 am

17 year old ocicat went walkabout a week ago. Most affectionate thing you’d have ever met. Would pet you for attention, and loved kisses. Still leave the light on, just in case, but I suspect he knew it was his time.

Barb August 30, 2019 at 11:27 am

My little Hissee went missing two days ago. He is an inside cat and only goes out in a run that I built. I didn’t realize that he was missing till I was getting ready to go to bed and he wasn’t there. I searched the house and assumed he must have gotten out when I was bringing in groceries earlier that evening.
Hissee is 17 years old. He is my heart!
I can’t figure out why he would do this. I know that he wasn’t feeling well but to just run out and leave?
He has always been a scaredy-cat and it is so unlike him to do this.
I am devastated!

Celia Ramirez September 4, 2019 at 1:37 am

Am very sad, my cat of 13 years was hit by a car; and found his way home after 2 days. Unfortunately his injuries were very severe and i had to lay him down to sleep. Saddest part I couldn’t find one picture of him. The veterinary will be making a ceramic print of his paw. Omg I burst in tears. I couldn’t even bring myself to go see him for the last time. He was sedated due to the injuries and having to examine him. So I put my poor Sasso to sleep. Rest in peace, i pray you are happy in Cat heaven! Love you

Liz September 14, 2019 at 2:18 pm

Tinkerbell, was a feral cat that chose us as her human family about 8 years ago. Over time she got used to us and our other cats and enjoyed her cuddles. She was skin and bone when she turned up but blossomed into a beautiful gentle girl. She had recently started losing weight and last night she slept in our bathroom behind a chair. She didn’t eat all evening which was highly unusual. We had a massive storm in the night and I got up at 5 and checked on her. She had gone out through the cat flap and hasn’t been seen since. Normally she would always stay close to the house. I’m sure she has gone somewhere to die. I am heartbroken!!! We live in the country and I’ve checked all her hiding places. I feel like I let her down. God bless you Tinkerbell, the house will never be the same xx


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