Cats exhibit many behaviors around illness and death that owners struggle to understand. Do cats run away to die, or do they prefer to pass away surrounded by their loving owners? The dying process is unique to every sick animal.
Cat’s don’t run away to die. They hide from predators because they know they’re weak and vulnerable to predation. While cats don’t like to die alone, they isolate themselves to keep their sickness a secret, protecting them from harm. They also do this to conserve their energy and find a quiet, peaceful place to rest.
Cats rarely hide far from home, as they don’t have the strength to travel long distances. Not all cats isolate themselves before death, though. Some prefer to remain by their owner’s side, becoming more affectionate and clingy.
Can Cats Sense Their Own Death Coming?
It’s often said that cats have a sixth sense, noticing things that humans can’t. They’re also highly attuned to their bodies and can perceive senses better than us. There’s not enough research to know for sure whether cats can sense when they’re about to die, but they’re able to tell when they’re sick and weak. This means they can determine when they need to hide from predators to protect themselves.
Cats also pick up on cues. For example, if they begin to smell because they’re sick and unable to groom themselves, then it’s possible they can sense that something’s wrong with them. Cats are sentient beings, so they feel pain. They may not understand they’re able to die, but they can sense that something’s not quite right.
That said, most vets agree that it’s impossible to know for sure whether cats know they’re going to die. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence from owners who claim their pets knew when it was time to go, but whether this is a coincidence or something more spiritual is currently unclear.
Is It True That Cats Run Away To Die?
It certainly seems like cats run away to die, but this behavior stems from the fact that dying cats are usually too sick or weak to defend themselves. This makes them vulnerable to predation, alerting predators that they’re easy to kill.
While domesticated cats don’t have the same problems, the instinct to hide is hard-wired into them, which they do to protect themselves. This need sometimes takes them away from home.
Cats don’t wander away from home to die. When they’re unwell, they’re driven to look for somewhere quiet and peaceful to recover or deal with their illness without environmental stressors.
Most of the time, cats curl up and go to sleep to numb the pain, quietly slipping away in the process. It’s not pre-planned, but it seems like it to grieving owners.
Why Do Cats Isolate Themselves To Die?
Cats isolate themselves for several reasons, and it’s rarely because they’re running away to die. Instead, isolation provides them with the peace and quiet they need to live out their final days.
Dying cats are often in pain or discomfort, so it’s only natural they’d want to protect themselves from further distress. These are the most common reasons your cat’s in isolation:
It’s natural and relatively common for cats to isolate themselves when they’re sick. This doesn’t mean they run away from home to die, but they hide to make themselves feel better. Cats in noisy, busy homes are more likely to isolate themselves, but even cats bonded with their owners do so.
When cats are in the final stages of their lives, they’re fuelled by their basic survival instincts. Preserving their owners’ feelings don’t factor into their reasons for isolationism, which can be sad and confusing. Owners shouldn’t take this to heart as your cat’s unwell and needs to be by itself. Isolation provides:
- Peace and quiet
Cats isolate to conserve their energy before they die. Some health conditions, including failing organs or tumors, cause severe pain and weakness, leaving cats unable to move very far. Isolating themselves somewhere safe and secure allows them to save the last little bit of energy they have.
Unfortunately, because the condition is usually so far advanced by this point, they’re unlikely to leave the spot they’ve chosen to isolate. They also won’t eat, drink, or use the litter tray, which are three clear signs they’re about to die.
Peace and Quiet
Cats pick up on human emotions. According to Animal Cognition, researchers discovered that cats behaved differently when their owners frowned and smiled. Humans that smiled were met with positive behaviors from cats, such as:
- Rubbing against them
- Sitting on their laps
- Spending time with them
This suggests that cats also pick up on negative emotions and are unlikely to want to be around grieving humans during their dying days.
Similarly, if the cat’s in pain and its owner’s stroke and pet it, its final days are bound to be uncomfortable. It requires a large amount of effort to be sociable, which dying cats don’t have. It’s far more comfortable for them to hide when they’re sick.
Do Cats Prefer To Be Alone When Dying?
While it may seem as if cats prefer to die alone when they isolate themselves, most cats prefer to be close to their loved ones when they die. However, this is a complicated topic with a multi-faceted answer that relies on several factors.
As explained, it’s safe to assume that cats don’t always know when they’re nearing death. For that reason, they’re simply hiding because they feel sick and don’t want to be touched or fussed over. The final days and hours are when they’re at their most vulnerable, so they prefer to be alone where predators can’t attack them.
When cats feel something’s wrong, their instincts tell them to hide. This isn’t personal – it’s evolutionary. They’re also hard-wired to keep their illness a secret, which is another reason why they choose to be away from you. From a cat’s point of view, letting its owners know it’s unwell could put it in harm’s way.
However, some cats become more affectionate when dying, wanting to be around their owners as much as possible. Whether this happens or not all comes down to your pet’s personality and what it’s dying from.
Science Daily confirms that pet cats love their owners, forming secure bonds with their human owners. However, when close to death, their solitary instincts kick in.
Where Do Cats Go When They Die?
Dying cats don’t tend to travel far. That’s because they’re too weak and fragile to survive a long journey and don’t have the energy they need to make it. Many cat owners find that their pets have passed away near to the home.
Most cats search for a cool or warm spot (depending on the climate) hidden from potential dangers. The most common hiding spots include:
- Under bushes
- Under vehicles
- Inside garages or sheds
- In dense woodland areas
- Inside boxes or other containers
- Within abandoned buildings
Some cats also hide within the boundaries of their own home but tuck themselves away so well that they’re difficult to find. That’s why it sometimes takes owners a few days to locate their pet.
Where Do Cats Go To Die Inside?
The same requirements apply to cats looking for somewhere to hide inside. They look for warm or cool hiding spots that are dark and offer maximum protection from dangers. The most common places include:
- Under the bed
- Under furniture
- Small cubby holes
- A cellar or basement
- Rooms used for storage
- Inside boxes
As mentioned, dying cats don’t eat, drink, or use their litter trays, so they remain hidden for days.
What Are the Signs of a Dying Cat?
Even though cats hide their illnesses well, there are usually several tell-tale signs that indicate a cat’s in its final days. These include:
Dying cats commonly 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 personalities. 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 with 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 owners don’t experience the system shutting down. Some owners even believe that their pets are sparing them from witnessing this process, which isn’t pleasant 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 has 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.
As mentioned, 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.
Losing a cat is a sad and stressful experience, but don’t fuss your cat when it’s in its dying days. Doing so will cause stress, potentially speeding up the dying process. If you know where your cat’s gone to hide, check in on it every now and then and offer small amounts of food and water.