Do Cats Try to Hide When They Are Dying?

Do Cats Try to Hide When They Are Dying?

Whether it’s sudden or sadly anticipated, the end of a beloved pet’s life can be a very difficult time. Knowing some of the signs that the end is approaching can give you the opportunity to prepare yourself for that final goodbye. You may not be able to intervene but you might have a precious opportunity to ease your friend’s passing and make their last hours as comfortable as possible.

Do cats try to hide when they are dying? While cats might not truly be able to understand what’s happening, they may well seek out a quiet place to rest and then pass away there. Knowing about this in advance can help you prepare more effectively.

  • Why do cats sometimes seem to hide from their loving owners when the end is near?
  • How can you prevent your sick cat from getting lost?
  • What other signs should you look out for in a cat who might be at risk?
  • What can you do to help your cat at the end?

If your cat is in frail health or behaving oddly, you probably have a lot of concerns. Read on to learn more about what to expect when your cat is dying and how you can make things easier for your pet.

Cats and hiding

Do cats try to hide when they are dying? Yes, sometimes. Depending on the cause of death and how much the cat is impaired cognitively, it’s not unusual for a moribund cat to take themselves off to a secluded location when the end comes. This can happen even with cats who were previously very attached to their special humans and would normally seek comfort when sick or distressed.

It’s not uncommon for severely ill or dying cats to lose touch with reality. They appear to forget their previously trusting relationships and revert to more atavistic behaviours. Some older cats can develop dementia; there are also medical conditions that can affect your cat’s mental state to the extent that they no longer know what they’re doing.

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Cats in this condition often revert to instinctive behaviours that would have been appropriate for their feral ancestors. In the wild, a badly injured or sickly cat might well find a hiding place away from the rest of the colony. This would help protect her colony-mates from the spread of disease, while also helping the cat herself avoid predators. (At least, that’s the theory as expounded by some researchers.)

Another reason a cat might hide from their human caregivers is simply that they’re in pain, suffering from malaise and hypersensitive due to their symptoms. Even being touched and petted can become uncomfortable if the cat has a headache or pain in her joints. Symptoms like this might make them crave a dark, quiet spot where they can lie down in peace. This can be very difficult for you, a loving cat owner.

All you want to do is care for and support your friend as they leave this life; you may feel very confused and even rejected when your cat wants to be alone. Understand that your cat doesn’t hate you and isn’t really rejecting you. She doesn’t really understand what’s going on and is just trying to cope with what’s happening to her.

Although you might not be able to save your cat, there are things you can do to ease her suffering and make the situation as comfortable as possible. In the following sections, we’ll be looking at some of the indications that your cat may be fading and the steps you can take to help. We’ll discuss warning signs that can alert you to an impending disappearing act and talk about what you need to do when you think the end might be near.

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Warning signs

The first sign that something is wrong is often a change in behaviour. As previously mentioned, a once-affectionate pet can become distant and even hostile. In contrast, a cat who’s always been aloof and reluctant to interact may suddenly become clingy and seek comfort from you. A previously playful and active cat may become quiet and lethargic; a low-activity, laid-back cat may become restless and fidgety. One really telling sign is a lack of grooming.

If a previously fastidious cat requires additional brushing and smells bad when you get close to her, she may be suffering from a sudden decline in health. Odd movements such as staggering and stumbling can be a sign that something is wrong. One very serious sign is head pressing; the affected cat sits or stands near a wall or solid object and presses their head against it. This might look comic but it’s actually a very ominous symptom and requires immediate medical attention — if your cat is doing this, you need to get her to the vet without a moment’s delay.

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As a cat’s condition deteriorates, she might stop eating or drinking. It’s very common for a dying cat to want to be near a water dish but refuse to drink; many cats hang their heads over the water and seem comforted by this. The final sign that things are really serious may be the disappearing act. Your cat may quietly leave the home and go to a quiet spot, possibly somewhere they often haunt but frequently somewhere they don’t normally visit. Later in this article, we’ll talk about the kinds of places that a cat may choose to hide and how you can track her down if she’s vanished.

Talk to your vet

If you haven’t already, you should call your vet and describe your cat’s symptoms. Many owners put this off because they’re afraid to hear the bad news, believing that if they just wait it out their cat may recover. This can be a very big mistake. Yes, it’s possible that the diagnosis will be a bad one — even that the vet may recommend euthanasia. It’s possible, however, that by delaying medical treatment you are missing an opportunity to intervene in your pet’s decline.

Many treatable conditions can cause disproportionately severe symptoms; I’ve seen what appeared to be end-of-life feline dementia, complete with confusion, incontinence and a near-total lack of grooming, resolved by the treatment of an underlying UTI. With proper care and a change of diet, that cat lived for several years afterwards; there were relapses but his owner now knew what to look out for and was able to get him treated in a timely manner.

In the event that the condition isn’t treatable, you may be robbing your pet of a peaceful end. Nobody ever wants to say goodbye to a beloved cat but in some cases, the kindest thing to do is let the vet give her a peaceful release. If you think that carrying her to the vet will cause too much distress, you can arrange for home euthanasia.

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The most important thing is to minimise suffering as much as possible. You may need expert help to do that. If your cat is showing any of these signs and your vet doesn’t recommend euthanasia, you may find yourself giving her end-of-life care at home. In the following section, we’ll look at ways to prevent her from running off — and how to find her if she does.

The vanishing act

It’s a good idea to keep a close eye on your sick cat in case she starts to become distressed, begins to show signs of being in pain — or decides to abscond. I advise people to keep their cats indoors as a general policy; when your cat is sick, it’s even more important not to let her out. If she’s insistent about taking a stroll in the garden, you should supervise her closely.

As with kittening, it’s best to provide your terminally ill cat with a quiet, safe place to rest. Ideally, she should have a room to herself: somewhere that’s not too warm or too cold, with dark, shady places to curl up in. Make sure she has something tasty and easily digestible to snack on and plenty of cool, fresh water. Place her litter box nearby as she may not be able to walk far. Don’t let other pets into the room and supervise children if they want to visit her.

Sometimes events may overtake you and your cat may leave without much advance warning. In this case, look carefully in all her favourite places first while calling her name and offering treats (crinkle the package or tap the tin, depending on what she normally eats).

If she isn’t in her normal spots, look everywhere — even in places, she wouldn’t normally enter. I’ve heard many sad stories where a cat went missing and was later found dead close to or even inside the home, often in a crawlspace or cupboard. In most of these instances, the owners were aware that space existed and was accessible to their pet but didn’t check it because “she’d never gone in there before”. When a cat is dying, all bets are off and no possibility should be dismissed. Check everywhere.

Article by Barbara Read
Barbara read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.