Why do cats disappear when they are about to die?

This question is very close to my heart.  I will tell you the story of my cat Ninja.
Niiiinja, Niiiiinja!  I called out in the way that Ninja knew was only for him.  He had disappeared in the early hours of the morning.  At 4am, I had suddenly woken up in a panic and raced downstairs and pulled back the curtain to check his “man cave,” his latest hiding place under the stairs.  He was gone.  Only hours before, when I had last seen him, he could barely walk, so I knew he had left on his final death march.  Like a lover leaving no note and no forwarding address, the darkness shrouded his disappearance with mystery.
When the darkness had seeped away, I could go about outside. I called him….
Two weeks before, my ginger Ninja had been taken to the vet and after several days, many tests, I was sent home with the diagnosis, most likely terminal. People may have questioned why I didn’t have him put down, but if you had just seen his cute face poking out of the carry bag at the vet. clinic and how much he hated it there (see photo).  I could not take him back and watch his life taken on a cold, steel table.  I was going to love him until the end. 

After he became ill, I looked up every detail about dying cats.  He followed the pattern: he had stopped eating and started hiding in strange places.  I was told eventually he would secretly just go off somewhere to die.
The morning he disappeared, I looked for him everywhere inside and out.  He had vanished into thin air.  My husband said most likely he had been attacked by a fox – being an easy target.  Ninja could barely walk at this point.  I became hysterical at the thought of his last moments were at the mercy of a fox; my poor Ninja.  Visions of him being carried away in a fox’s mouth tormented me.
 That morning of his disappearance, I packed up Ninja’s stuff.  I could not bear to see his empty bed, his water bowl, his dirt box (which he had been given once we knew it was too difficult for him to go outside). I put it all away.  I wanted to stay around home to continue looking, but my husband, who was tired of the melodrama, said we needed to go out somewhere. A tractor began a loud buzzing in the yellowed vineyard down below us.
My husband jumped in the car, and I hurried to catch up with him. Then I stood still.  I couldn’t believe my eyes: a bedraggled, wet Ninja hobbled down the drive way. He looked like a returned veteran, ready to give up. He walked very slowly, one step at a time. He was having trouble moving his back legs that were very stiff.
My heart pounded in joy and sadness at the same time.  The first thought I had was, oh no, he is going back to his man cave and I had packed up all is stuff.  He was walking so slowly, that I managed to run ahead and put all of things back where they were before he came in.  I rubbed him gently in a tea towel. He sat in front of his water bowl in the kitchen, but not drinking, just looking into the water. It is so sad to see a soul slowly die. I put my head up to his forehead; he liked that.

I was so relieved to know that the fox had not eaten him.  I was now also armed with the knowledge of where he had gone: to the dried vineyard below us.  The sound of the tractor probably disturbed him from his final resting spot, so that is why he came home.
I knew what was going to happen that night as I sleep.
He hobbled back to his bed behind the curtains, under the stairs. 
That night, again, I woke up. The sky was still black; I ran downstairs to his bed. He was gone.  When the sun rose on the day, I went down to the long, dry grass around the vineyard and called out Ninja’s name in the way he knew was for him, “Niiiinja!”  But I only did it a couple of times; I didn’t want to disturb him.  I looked and I looked – I looked in all the possible places he could have hidden, pushing aside the long grass. He could hardly walk, so he could not have gone far.
Like a spirt, he had completely disappeared into the afternoon sun to become a mythical legend. I always wonder if one day I will find traces of his body, a small skeleton hidden amongst the dead grass.  And born of a perverse instinct, when the rare mood catches me, I call his name out over the vineyard, Niiinja....  A quiet sadness always follows after my voice has trailed away.

Sick cats do not know they are going to die, but their instinct tells them they are vulnerable.  This is why they seek out places where they will not be found, not disturbed by a predator, so they can be tranquil. They die in peace….



By H Young