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 leads 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 them. 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.

Why cats run away from home

Cats running away from home is very common: 15% of cat owners will lose their cat at some point in any given 5-year period. If your is often running away, read our article:  9 Reasons Cats Run Away From Home – And What to Do.


  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio