Flying away to die


7 Years
Apr 25, 2012
I've heard of animals leaving home when they know they're going to die. Does anyone have an idea of why they do this?

My sister's parakeet Sunny died today. He had been acting lethargic for a few days, and this afternoon he squeezed out of a small slit in the bottom of his cage, which is something he'd never done before in his ten years. Our mom found him shivering on the bedroom floor, so she wrapped him in some towels and laid him back in the cage with food and water. A couple hours later, he had squeezed out again, and he had passed away on the floor.

I was just curious what might have caused him to want to get out of the cage. The human perspective is that people usually prefer to die at home in their own beds, but animals tend to leave. It makes me sad that he felt the need to force his poor, sick body through a small hole in order to get out, but I guess it's what felt right to him. Hmm.
Rather than being aware of their own mortality (which requires a level of cognition beyond that of virtually -- if not entirely -- all existing animals except for humans), a more likely explanation is that these animals are possibly experiencing anxiety and responding accordingly. This could be due to increasing pain or discomfort associated with age or disease progression. "Fight or flight" are typical responses to these situations, which likely exhaust whatever energy resources remain in animals which are weak or approaching death, and this final "flight" can simply put them over the edge and they soon expire.

We, as humans, often empathize with our pets and assume they assess their situations the same way we would, and thus ascribe human attributes to their behavior. The term for this is "anthropomorphism" and while it might make sense of their actions to satisfy our simple curiosity by stringing together an explanation, it requires the animals in question to be capable of interpreting their environment and having introspection the way we do. And in most instances, that is an unfounded assumption on our part.

I'm sorry for your (and your sister's) loss.

Thank you for the input, and I'm sorry for not writing back sooner. I appreciate the insight. Sunny is gone but not forgotten, and I hope that his last moments on earth here with us were peaceful, regardless of his need to flee the cage. He was such a friendly bird.

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