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.



29 Responses

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. My cat Winnie, a rescue cat did theme last night. She was a 16 year old long hair. She had become ill with high blood pressure and hyperactive thyroid. She was medicated but recently started dropping weight no matter how much she ate. Her rump fur was becoming dry and no matter how much brushing had lost its luster. Yesterday she had trouble standing but kept drinking, seeking affection and me. However, last night she too left via the cat flap. I waited for her to return, as usual to jump up and spend the night at my feet on my bed. She did not come back and I couldn’t find her. I had the cat carrier ready for ‘that trip’ to the Vet. I am devastated today. I know she decided to hide away seeking safety. That saddens me as she was safe here except we do have one other companion cat. Miss you, Winnie.

  11. My Cat Ziggy left us on 29th December 2019.

    For the past two weeks she had been clingy with my husband, and was following him everywhere. the morning before she left, she came and slept on both of our pillows purring ( saying her last goodbyes ) she then ate her breakfast and walked around the garden as her normal routine. We played the cctv and saw her sitting on the path looking back at the house, she then walked off further into the garden and was never to be seen again :0(
    She was a lovley pretty healthy cat, who showered us with love, and was always around us, her absence has left the biggest hole in our hearts.
    House and garden dont feel the same without her. I cant stop crying and miss her so much, what do i now ????????

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. My present cats (4 of them) are in good health, but I have lost many well-loved kitties ober the last 3 decades.. For me–and I suspect many of us–the losses have been devastating because each cat was an individual unto himself. We have a cat cemetary in our yard, but I often wonder what more I can do.
      Recently,while watching the horror of the West Coast fires, i decided to give to several western animal-rescue organiztions in my dead cats names. It doesn’t bring them back, of course, but the effort to contribute something greater than oneself is never a bad idea.

  12. my 14 year old cat has been missing since 8/01/2020. Sometimes he wonders off for a day but he always comes back for food. He hadn’t come back at all. We’ve looked everywhere for him and no signs what so ever 🙁

  13. Our dear Teddy was 8 1/2 years old found on the side of the road this morning. The family are devastated..Children heart broken. He never crosses the road, that’s why we can’t work out if he was hit or sick and leaving us. What ever the reason words cannot describe how I feel right now. Animals bring so much love and yet so much pain. Forever in our heats xx

  14. My Kitt was 16 YO. he would visit each neighbor and say hello, He was my best friend he had a little pain i thought I would take him to the Vet the next day, i let him out before church and he never came back! checked all over the Place 11 Days later A neighbor comes by and said he seem him dragging his back legs, i was devastated, i put food and water if many spots food and water was diapering, every couple hours i would search and call for three days then I found him stuck in a bush i searched that bush just 2 days before, i rushed him to the Vet but he was to far gone they said i could try to save him but we would have to cut his leg off he had a bad infection so i put him Down, I’m heart broke now, thinking maybe I could have saved him, Crying now for 14 days at least i know he’s in no more Pain! God Bless Kitt, I just hope I did the right thing!

  15. Fred has been my friend’s cat for almost 20 yrs, last wednesday when I visited him he cannot move his legs anymore and was really weak. I cried knowing that his time is near. I became close and connected to fred when I stayed with my friend’s house for a couple of months. He would always meow snd would want me to b rush his hair. Last thursday morning he went missing, he have used his last strenght to move away from the house and die alone. We kept on searching for him to give him a decent burial. Finally yesterday his body was found under a tree partially hiding in a big rock few meters away from the house. We buried him beside the tree where we found him with daffodils blooming. I still cry whenever I think of him. The house will never be the same withouth him and his meow.. I miss Fred so much..it breaks my heart thinking that he his gone.

  16. One of our cats didn’t come home a few nights ago. I trained them to stay close to home and come when I call and clink their diner plates. We tried to keep them inside only but they were so unhappy and tried to claw themselves out the windows. A few days ago our Stella girls bugged me until I let her out one more time after dinner. We started calling her shortly after and went out 3 more times. We found her the next morning in the school field right across the house. Just laying there. The vet couldn’t find anything wrong with her. Friends keep on telling me that she might just have died…I had found that she had looked skinnier lately and had been throwing up her wet food or refused to eat it. I thought the brand might have just not sit well with her stomach. I can’t stop crying … she was still little and I pretty much raised her and her sister since they were 7 weeks old, held them when they got shots, celebrated all weight she gained, spent all day with them. I went looking for her at 1 am still and I am heartbroken that I never checked the field. I feel very guilty and terrible for my kids. I wish I would have kept her in and not watched a movie with the kids but looked for her. It makes me sad she was all alone…

  17. My Annie girl has gone missing and I am beyond devastated. She is a perfectly healthy cat, showing no signs whatsoever that something may be wrong. She has never been a cat that wanders. She’s always been content laying on our back porch or chasing bugs in the backyard. I can’t think for the life of me where she could be. I’ve rattled her food dish, her treat bag, asked neighbors, posted on SM, put up signs…..everything I can think of. I am so worried. If anyone has any different ideas of how I may can find her, please let me know!! ♥️

  18. My Jezebel was at least 18 years old. She lost her sight and hearing progressively over the last 6 months. She has always been an indoor/outdoor independent kitty. We let her out yesterday and haven’t seen her since. We live in a cul-de-sac and she has never gone farther than that. I have looked everywhere. I pray that she just instinctively found a quiet safe spot and took an eternal nap… I am heartbroken that I didn’t get to say goodbye or be with her in the end.

  19. My Cody was 18, he had been declining over the past year, but still ate, slept, used the litter box, liked to be close to me. Last week he seemed confused, didn’t eat much on Wednesday, then on Thursday he snuck out when I was going in and out. We called and looked for him Thursday night and Friday after work, and the neighbors a few houses away said they had found a dead cat and called the police. The animal control officer took him. I picked him up Saturday morning and we buried him in a snowstorm. The next day the ground was frozen and we couldn’t have buried him. I miss him so much and feel so sad that he died alone. He hardly ever went out, and never left the yard. The house feels so different without him.

  20. My cat of 17 years ran away about a week ago, now I am losing hope he will turn up. He is a house cat, and ran out 3 or 4 times before, but came back in a couple days. He is not exactly sick, but has become relatively frail. He still likes to sleep next to me and wake me up in the mornings. My desperation to find more about this situation brought me to your web site. it just hit me that I may not see him again. He is my family, nothing else describes it better. I would so much prefer he dies in my arms, but then I have to accept that he has his own mind and I hope he is in the best place, either here adopted by a nice family or wherever he goes.

  21. Our in side cat of 2 years gas went missing for 3 weeks now. Our other cats calls out fore her. We have looked all over for her. I couldn’t wrap my head around why she would leave. But your post makes since . I can see that maybe she was sick and didn’t feel good. She didn’t act sick. But I’m finding places she had want potty outside the litter box.

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