Cats are an important part of our families, so it’s natural we’d want to protect them at all costs. So, when they disappear from home to die on their own, it can feel like we’ve let them down or that they no longer love us.
Some cats wander off to die because of their instincts. In the wild, dying cats are weak and make easy prey for predators. Therefore, cats hide to protect themselves from harm. As a result, some domestic cats have retained these instincts. When it’s time for them to die, they leave home to find a quiet, secluded spot to let nature take hold.
Not all cats run away from home to die. Some pets prefer to be by their owners’ side, where they can be comforted in their final hours. But for some cats, death is something they feel that they must deal with alone.
Do House Cats Run Away To Die?
Many cats are intuitive. While cats may not know they’re about to die, they know something’s wrong with them.
Not all cats prefer to die alone, but those that do will look for a secluded spot where they can slip away peacefully and quietly. As heartbreaking as it is for owners, there’s nothing you can do to stop them from doing so unless you know for sure their time has come.
Even then, preventing cats from carrying out their natural behavior can be stressful. It could even speed up their death.
When ready to die, cats living in warm climates search for cool, shaded areas where they can be comfortable. Cats that live in colder regions look for warm, cozy hiding spots. These include:
- Under bushes
- Under vehicles
- Inside garages or sheds
- In dense woodland areas
- Inside boxes or other containers
- Within abandoned buildings
Cats don’t tend to go too far away from their home, but they may hide beyond the boundaries of their house so that they can’t be found.
This is a stressful experience for cat owners who don’t know where their pet has disappeared to. Before cats run away to die, you might notice the following things:
Dying cats often exhibit personality changes. Many cats become reclusive and withdrawn, especially if they’re in pain.
Once-affectionate cats start to lash out and no longer want to be touched by their owners. Similarly, cats that are usually aloof sometimes become more affectionate, enjoying company in their final days.
Cats sometimes become quieter and louder, too, depending on their vocalizations as healthy animals. Changes in the sounds your cat makes are usually more noticeable than subtle personality changes.
Cat owners are best placed to notice any differences in their cat’s personality. Depending on where the feline is at in its life cycle, it might be time to say goodbye.
During the last few hours of a cat’s life, its breathing begins to change. How much so depends on whether the cat is succumbing to sickness or old age. Cats suffering from an illness are likely to be in pain, so they may roll around and meow during their final hours.
Some cats will pant like they’re trying to catch their breath. Others will gasp and wheeze as they struggle to breathe. And when the respiratory system starts to shut down, cats begin to gurgle. This indicates that it’s time for the cat to go.
However, when cats run away to die by themselves, many cat owners don’t experience the system shutting down. Some owners even believe that their pets are sparing them from having to witness this process, which isn’t a pleasant thing for owners to watch.
Some dying cats have seizures. Cats that experience these fits throw their heads back and twist their bodies into an awkward shape. While they’re still conscious, they’ll yowl – most likely because they don’t understand what’s happening to them. They might even feel pain. Symptoms of a seizure include:
- Strange movements
- Excessive vocalizations
- Tail chasing
- Strange or unusual movements
- Aggressive behavior
Before dying, some cats have several seizures as their body begins to shut down. You may have noticed your pet is having regular attacks in the months immediately leading to its death.
Cats that hide away go through these seizures by themselves, eventually succumbing to them as their body gives up. It’s a peaceful death in the end, as the cat becomes unresponsive and unaware of its surroundings.
Cats in the final stages of their life commonly refuse to eat or drink. They have no interest in food and turn their noses up at their favorite treats. This is one of the signs owners first notice when they realize their cat is no longer well.
Cats don’t drink much water when they’re healthy, so it’s hard to tell when they haven’t hydrated themselves. But older or unwell cats that haven’t eaten for three days or more may be nearing the end of their life.
While a lack of appetite isn’t always a symptom of dying, consider your cat’s age and health because this can help you determine whether your cat needs to see a vet or should be left alone to die.
Cats appear messy and unkempt right before their death. They stop grooming and taking care of themselves. Very sick or weak cats lose tufts of fur and develop mats and knots where they can’t keep themselves tidy.
In the worst cases, weak cats urinate and defecate on themselves, becoming noticeably smelly. As clean animals, this is one of the more obvious signs that the cat is dying because they can’t bear to be dirty.
Sick cats also lose weight quickly as they stop eating, resulting in a skeletal appearance. Pupils become dilated while the eyes become sunken in – a sign that the cat’s dehydrated.
Do Cats Prefer To Die Alone?
Whether cats prefer to die alone is not really about preference. It’s dependant on how strong a cat’s wild instincts are.
As complex beings with a range of thoughts and feelings, we romanticize death. This extends to our pets, which we consider as a part of our family. However, cats don’t have the same range of emotions as us. Death is a natural part of life, and cats deal with it as a process. We’re lucky enough to live amongst tame cats, but death is simply part of the lifecycle in the wild.
When cats choose to go away to die, they’re not able to consider how it affects us. They know that something is happening to their bodies and wander off to let nature take hold.
Why Do Cats Isolate Themselves To Die?
Understandably, when cats run away from home, owners wonder why their cat has chosen to die alone instead of at home surrounded by the people that love them.
The reality is, we’re notorious for putting a human spin on things. While intelligent, cats are creatures of instinct. They recognize us as their caregivers, but their instincts are more powerful than their feelings.
Also, when cats die, they’re likely in too much discomfort to care about anything other than finding a peaceful spot to wander off to. The main reasons why cats isolate themselves to die include:
Domestic cats have retained some of their traits from their time in the wild. When sick, injured, or close to death, they made an easy target for prey. Predator animals include:
- Birds of prey
When weak or dying, cats can’t defend themselves from predators. They don’t have the strength, making them easy to kill. To keep themselves safe, they hide in quiet, secluded spots that are hard to find. This is where they remain until they die.
Sometimes, a cat’s death happens suddenly and without warning. Cats are hard-wired to hide their weakness, so they live like nothing’s wrong, keeping their illnesses a secret. This is also why sick cats are hard to diagnose.
When cats are close to death, they can no longer pretend they’re well, which is when it starts to become evident that something’s wrong. This makes them even more vulnerable to predators.
Cats live alone in the wild. They don’t live in packs like dogs, so they rely on their self-sufficiency to hunt for food, evade predators, and find shelter.
Pet cats love their owners. Science Daily confirms this, describing how pet cats form secure and insecure bonds with their human caretakers. However, when close to death, their solitary instincts kick in.
Cats are clever enough to understand that looking for help is futile, so they isolate themselves and leave home to die. It’s simply part of their DNA.
Should I Leave My Cat Alone To Die?
When cats are at the end of their life, it’s best to respect their space. Dying cats are too weak to put up a fuss but still suffer from stress.
Stress and anxiety only speed up the process and worsen a cat’s symptoms if they’re suffering from an illness or disease.
However, if you can’t bear to leave your cat to die alone or manage to find your cat after it’s run away, here are some ways to comfort a cat when it is dying:
Make Your Cat Feel Comfortable
You can encourage your cat to stay home by making its environment as comfortable and stress-free as possible. Here’s how:
- Reduce noise and activity levels around the home. If you have other pets in the house, restrict their access to your cat
- Let your cat choose where it wants to sleep, even if that’s under the bed
- Provide extra bedding, such as pillows and blankets. Choose items you don’t mind being soiled in case your cat has accidents
- Dim the lighting in the room so that your cat can rest in peace
- Provide food and water near the cat’s resting area to prevent it from having to move far
By providing all of the above, you’re not only reminding your cat of how much you love it, but you’re ensuring the end of its life is spent in comfort. Hopefully, this is enough to keep your cat at home, where it can die with peace and happiness.
However, if your cat still chooses to run away from home to die, try not to blame yourself. Just know that you did everything you could for your pet, right until the end.
Freshly-Prepared Food and Water
Your cat may refuse food and water, but it’s a good idea to keep to the same feeding schedule by providing fresh food a couple of times a day.
Your cat could get hungry at any time. Without food, it’s likely to become even more sick and weak. It’s not easy to know when your cat will attempt to eat again, so leaving food out at its regular times ensures it has fuel and sustenance when your cat needs it.
And even if your cat has stopped drinking, regularly refresh a bowl of water to provide hydration. It’s likely your cat takes small sips of water when you’re not around.
A change to your cat’s routine can be confusing and cause unnecessary stress at this vulnerable time. Keep things as normal as possible to minimize anxiety levels – for both you and your cat.
To encourage your cat to eat, feed it its favorite treats. Over-feeding tasty foods won’t do your cat any harm when it’s at the end of its life.
You may feel that if your cat is dying, taking it to the vet is futile and might make your pet feel worse. While there is an element of truth in this, it’s important that your vet administers pain relief if your cat is suffering from a painful or uncomfortable condition.
Letting nature take its course could make your cat feel worse when, instead, pain relief can help your pet feel more normal during the last few weeks or months of its life.
However, it’s important to remember that a vet can only make your cat feel more comfortable. They won’t be able to offer a treatment that improves or extends its life.
Euthanasia isn’t something that owners want to think about. However, VCA Hospitals explains how a cat’s quality of life should be recognized and respected. Senior cats develop a range of conditions, such as:
- Chronic renal disease
If your cat no longer has a good quality of life, it might be better to let it go with dignity and without pain. Death can be a long and slow process for some cats. When it’s prolonged for too long, there’s a risk that the cat could suffer. When measuring your cat’s quality of life, consider:
- Whether it’s in pain
- Whether it’s hungry and thirsty. Similarly, can it eat and drink for itself?
- Whether the cat is happy and enjoying life
- Can the cat keep itself clean, or is it having accidents more often?
- Can the cat move around on its own?
- Is the cat having more bad days than good days?
No-one can make this decision for you, but euthanasia is something you should seriously consider if you feel like your cat is ready to go. A vet can help and support you in choosing what’s best for your pet.
Losing any pet is one of the worst things people have to go through. We form strong attachments to our cats and letting them go is the worst part of pet ownership. It’s important to remember that cats act out of instinct. If they understood how we felt, they’d die in our arms. Unfortunately, there are times when we have to let them do what’s natural.