How can I find my dead cat?
June 3, 2009 8:27 AM   Subscribe

How can I find my dead cat?

My 15-year-old cat had been pretty sick for a month, on thyroid medicine and antibiotics for breathing problems, when she suddenly became really lethargic, barely eating and even sneezing blood once or twice. For fiscal (and other) reasons we'd decided not to seek tons of expensive treatment, though we planned on having her put to sleep before she was in lots of real pain. On the third day of not eating much, she went outside and never came back.

This was three or four days ago, and by now I'm certain that she went to lay down somewhere quiet to die. But where? Under the porch? Under a shrub? In a tree? In someone else's untended backyard? Far away? Will we not know until her body begins to (ew!) rot? We'd really like to find her sometime soon, so we can give her a semi-dignified burial.

Should we try to recruit a dog with a strong sense of smell to track her down? Are there telltale places to look, where cats tend to go to die? Any other thoughts or experiences to share on this matter? Thanks!

And yes, this is a very sad matter for my family, and we feel awful that we didn't look after her more closely at the end. Still, 15 years is a long life for a cat, and I think she had a pretty good one with us. And to the extent that I think I understand cats, she didn't seem to be in pain -- just very tired and resigned.
posted by the_arbiter to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Cats have a tendency to run off to die. My family had a cat very, very long ago (as in back when the earth was young and rocks were liquid), and he ran off to die. We never found him.

That shit just happens. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by kldickson at 8:38 AM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would let this go - if it's been a couple of days, it's likely that other creatures have encountered her first. I think kldickson is dead on here - she went out like she wanted, like cats do.
posted by jquinby at 8:41 AM on June 3, 2009

...and, also, very sorry. 15 years is a long time.
posted by jquinby at 8:41 AM on June 3, 2009

Sorry to hear about this. The one time I had a similar situation, we found the cat nearby, but not in a place we'd normally think she'd hang out. I don't think it will be far away. Either way, it's quite sad.
posted by 8k at 8:48 AM on June 3, 2009

They tend to go to places outside where they have some shelter and peace. Under a shrub, under a porch, under a shed, etc... She's probably not in a tree. I wouldn't hold out much hope on finding her though, as hard as that is to hear.

If you're thinking of doing something in her memory, and money is a bit tight now to make a donation anywhere in her name, you might want to volunteer at a cat shelter or even donate some of her things to a cat shelter. If that's not an option, maybe plant a little garden in the yard in her memory.

Sorry for your loss.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:51 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

We had a very old stray who hung around for a summer and then vanished. We never found her, even though we looked. Sorry about your kitty!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:54 AM on June 3, 2009

I'm so sorry for your loss. This happened to my cat about two and a half years ago--he was old (16 or 17) and kind of sick, and he disappeared one day never to be seen again.

While I understand the urge to want to find and give your pet a dignified burial, it comforted me to know that he was able to go out the way that his instinct urged him--alone, quietly, without disturbing his people.

I wouldn't go looking--what you find (if you find anything) will be a worse memory than what you have now (this is from my experience with my cat's sibling...who had been hit by a car). Sometimes it's better not to know.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:56 AM on June 3, 2009

Sadly, the only way you will find her is by smell. I found one of my cats like that, pretty much the same situation. She was under one of our bushes, out of sight. Another time, during winter, we found a neighbor's cat under the same bush, when it thawed.

I understand the need for closure on this. Good luck.
posted by Danf at 9:06 AM on June 3, 2009

I was just at a BBQ this weekend where I was told a story that may help you.

Apparently, the folks who train search and rescue dogs (at least in the Portland, OR area-- can't speak for other areas) often use them to help locate missing pets in order to keep them "fresh" for when they need to locate missing humans. The guy I was talking to said that when one of his cats went missing, he contacted one of the local S&R teams, and they sent over a handler and dog, who sniffed around the house.

With a few false starts (the guy I was talking to had 2 other cats and a dog, so it took a bit to find the proper trail), the dog found the missing cat's trail, and tracked it across the neighborhood until they found where the cat was hiding under an inaccessible (to humans) deck. From the dog's behavior, the handler was able to tell them that the cat was under there, alive, but injured.

They couldn't get at the cat, but the handler told wife of the guy I was talking to (she was more the cat's "mommy," as it were) go back home, grab some dirty socks, and pee in a cup. She left a trail of urine and dirty socks from right outside the deck back to their home.

God only knows what the neighbors thought of this, but sure enough, the cat dragged itself, broken leg and all, out from under the deck, down the block, over an eight-foot fence, and into their back yard, where they found it meowing to get in only a couple of hours later.

So you might want to see if there's a local S&R team (maybe through the fire department, sheriff's department, police, etc.) who can and is willing to help you. You may even discover that your cat's not dead after all.
posted by dersins at 9:23 AM on June 3, 2009 [32 favorites]

I am very sorry about your cat. We had a cat with thyroid problems, and cancer. After three years of living well with daily medication, she suddenly stopped eating. She became thiner and seemed sad over several days. One morning she demanded to be let out, with a tone that I had not heard before. After four or five hours I went looking for her. I found her four houses from ours, a greater distance than I had seen her ramble in the past. She was lying in a corner, on cold wet concrete. A few hours after I brought her home she died.

I should have taken her to the vet to be put down when she stopped eating. I know this now.

However, to your question. You should look under things, in quiet corners, etc. Look a bit further away from your home than your cat has wandered in the past. Talk to your neighbors, and ask if you can look in their yards. Try to think like an animal taking one last walk.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:23 AM on June 3, 2009

I'm sorry for your loss.

My cat did the same thing over ten years ago; we never found him. Our house was in a wooded area, so he likely went off into the woods; whether or not you find your cat probably depends on what your yard/neighborhood is like.

Although I wish I'd had closure, in a way I'm glad I don't know what happened. Sometimes I imagine he just went off and became someone else's kitty and had a second happy life. And to this day, I have dreams that I'm at my parents' house and he appears in our yard or in our kitchen, as if he'd never left. I treasure those dreams.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:23 AM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

When I had a kitty get lost, I went to the local animal shelter. After failing to find him in any of the cages, I skimmed through a clipboard that contained the listings of dead animal pickups. A cat matching his description was picked up a few blocks from my house.

Since your cat probably died hiding and not by a car, it might not work for you, but if a stranger noticed the corpse and called animal services to pick it up, the local pound should have a record of that.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:34 AM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Another anecdote for you ... when my cat died after 15 years, she scooted waaay into the back of an out-of-the-way closet, where (I think) she didn't normally go. The dog found her, and I found the dog, standing outside the closet, whimpering.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:36 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

If a symbolic goodbye would be helpful, perhaps your family could have a burial or bonfire for your cat's bed/blanket? (I presume such used items would be unusable to a shelter.) I am very sorry for your loss. It will get better each day. It's difficult to say farewell to a friend you've loved for 15 years, but the fact that it hurts so much to lose them demonstrates the happiness that good pets bring into our lives.

I disagree with the implication by some posters that letting sick/elderly cats die naturally provides them a more dignified death.

posted by applemeat at 9:38 AM on June 3, 2009

Part of people's urge to find their pets in circumstances like this revolves around worrying about how their pet felt during this time. I grew up in rural Maine... I never really was 'domesticated' due to all the time I was alone and outside while growing up. If I can claim to understand animals in these circumstances, it's from that perspective and something that happened to me then.

I was crossing a road, hadn't looked (sooo stupid... listening isn't enough people!) and got hit by a van doing 54mph. 140 feet down the road I finally stopped. I suffered no permanent damage, so let's get that out of the way, but quite a lot of my body had tar embedded in it, my right heel was basically gone (not the bone thankfully), and I had a massive concussion... in general, I figured that was it. Time to die.

The only thing I dearly wanted to do was crawl up to the curb, nuzzle my face into it, and pass on. It struck me as a comfortable place that I realize now would be just like we feel in front of a fire, sunbathing, or in a nice winter coat. People might be around but only in the periphery (on the other side of the womb, for instance), and our bodies take care of the heat (believe me... the cold curb would have been so nice at the time). It's all about solace.

Your cat found that. It might have found it just as easily in your arms but my thoughts at the time just didn't stray that far from myself, and I doubt others do as well. It doesn't sound like it was in pain, it just found the solace and moved on. Absolutely look everyplace nearby (dersins' story is way cool), just in case, but failing that, it's ok to hold a remembrance ceremony, explain what I've said above plus some of the cycle of life and the spirit moving on, and move on yourselves.


As it happens, my babysitter's daughter Nancy was a paramedic and in the small convenience store outside of where I was hit. She barraged me into staying awake with her and got me through it, quite literally standing on the line between life and death and blocking me from death. Very annoying at the time, but she kept it up all the way to the ER. Absolutely awesome.
posted by jwells at 10:01 AM on June 3, 2009 [12 favorites]

Sorry for your loss.
The best tribute to her memory would be to adopt another adult cat. There are so many homeless cats in the animal shelters.
Wishing you comfort.
posted by valannc at 10:37 AM on June 3, 2009

applemeat: "If a symbolic goodbye would be helpful, perhaps your family could have a burial or bonfire for your cat's bed/blanket? (I presume such used items would be unusable to a shelter.) I am very sorry for your loss. It will get better each day. It's difficult to say farewell to a friend you've loved for 15 years, but the fact that it hurts so much to lose them demonstrates the happiness that good pets bring into our lives.

I disagree with the implication by some posters that letting sick/elderly cats die naturally provides them a more dignified death.

Well I'm going to agree with the first part of this but not the second. I think a symbolic burial is a good idea. Maybe a memorial headstone. And/or a donation to an animal charity in memory of your kitty.

The "best" way for an animal to die varies by situation. I agree that it's not fair to an animal for the owner to prolong an painful life just because the owner can't let go. But the OP wasn't doing this, she was planning on putting the kitty down, but the kitty's life ended on its own. I think the OP did all the right things. It's awful when an animal dies, and the owner often feels guilty afterwards. But the cat lived 15 wonderful years by someone who obviously cared a great deal. And she sick only three short days at the end of her life, and died peacefully in a comfortable place. what more could you ask for?
posted by radioamy at 10:40 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

what more could you ask for?

We're on the same page, radioamy; I agree completely about the OP's cat, who was old and apparently well cared for. My objection was to earlier suggestions upthread to the effect that a natural death (as opposed to euthanasia) is "how a cat wants to go." Mother Nature can be exceptionally cruel, and many dying/elderly cats do not meet as mercifully quick a decline as did the OP's.
posted by applemeat at 12:03 PM on June 3, 2009

My sympathies for your loss. Our cat of almost 20 years of age (far too old and frail to be let outside) crawled into a nitch in the bathroom of our house (well, my Mom's - I had since moved away to college) to die. The exact same place she fled to when brought to our home as a kitten, unsure and afraid. And the day before I was to come back and have her put to sleep because she was in so much pain. They like remote and comfortable places as far as I can tell. As it appears your cat was an outdoor pet, that may be difficult to determine. Again, you have my sincere sympathies.
posted by elendil71 at 2:56 PM on June 3, 2009

Very sorry for your loss.

Think low, dark, hidden; where nothing else would be likely to go. This of places where you know there are dark quiet places low to or in the ground, even if you think it's not a place your cat could get into (they can). Think of a PoV close to the ground, and think about where you would go to get away from everything.
posted by Billegible at 3:28 PM on June 3, 2009

I used to work for an SPCA shelter.

It's a good idea to get in touch with your local shelter, she may have been scooped up by a well meaning neighbour "O No, sick kitty!" and taken in. We saw a lot of this, and were always thrilled to see the owners. I agree that she may have found a quiet spot to lie down in, but do check just in case.

The shelter will also be able to give you tips on finding her, for example, in our town the local street cleaning gang kept a record of deceased cats they found, and we were able to give owners the contact details.
posted by Catch at 6:46 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

One day I found a very aged, obviously ill siamese cat on my front porch. So I brought it inside, took care of it and it got better. After a day or two, it left out the back door and I saw it climb the rear fence into the (really obnoxious, litigious) neighbor Nina's yard, which I thought was pretty impressive for a hundred-year-old cat.

A month later, I went out the front door and there was the same cat, dead. Now I knew whose cat it was, so I boxed it up and took it over to Nina and explained what had happened. Nina was convinced I had killed her cat, but fortunately I was able to move out soon after that.

So yeah, cats go off somewhere else to die.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 2:46 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

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