This is maybe the wrong website for this type of question, but I'll try it anyway.

I've somehow experienced this patterns mostly in cats (not scientifically proven, but pretty common also talking to other people):

  • sometimes cats or dogs feel pain about their sons/loved ones losses. They feel depressed and tend to sleep more after a beloved loss.

  • when the death is coming: they tend to isolate themselves and reach a quite place, like if they know they are going to die within an hour or so.

  • cats seems to know if something is wrong with another cat in the same house (one of my cat decided out of nowhere to never eat from the food that was sharing with the other cat and felt forced to go out and hunt birds instead; later that month we discovered that the other cat had a terrible contagious disease pretty similar to human HIV and died in a week; after that the other cat simply began to eat the cat food again).

So here's my final question: Do animals know that they are going to grow old and die? Is there some philosopher who talked about the awareness of death in animals and the difference with us? How do they possibly live their life in case the answer is no?

  • 'gods feel pain', I'm glad its not just us mortal ones that do :). Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 4:12
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    Great primates, dolphins and elephants have selfawareness. Great primates and elephants feel the death of comrades and family. This feeling more fear of hurting and more selfawareness, is too close of the concept of death of itself. Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 12:04
  • One possible way of trying to prove animals have a concept of death as humans do (or very alike), would be to look for the prevalence of suicidal behavior in the animal kingdom.
    – user20071
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 12:13
  • @Ricardo Not only do elephants mourn their dead, they have been shown to return to the grave sites of their dead kin. This at least implies that they may have a grasp of both the concept and permanence of death. Combine that with self-awareness and it's certainly possible they understand it's their own eventual fate.
    – arkon
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 7:52
  • Animals might miss a companion that has died, but that doesn't indicate that they themselves are aware of their own impending death. Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 1:57

4 Answers 4


Actually, if you are interested in an answer to this question, Arthur Schopenhauer addresses it in a chapter of his book titled "Essays and Aphorisms"/or "parerga e paralipomena", under the name "On the Suffering of the World". Actually, that was the reason I came to this forum. See Page 45 of the book.

In it, he argues that animals have a privilege over humankind in not being able to foresee their own death. The human ability of reflecting within past or future tenses tends to exacerbate our own suffering, prolonging emotional expenditure whereas the animal only suffers within the moment. Hope this helps.

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    While I respect Schopenhauer, this is almost certainly wrong. I studied ethology in college; there are many higher-order animals which understand death and have an understanding it is coming, both in themselves when they are dying and in others. Perhaps not as early as we humans understand it, and perhaps not as far in advance as we humans do, but it is clear from the past several years of research that many animals understand the concept of death, and when faced with it imminently, understand it. Schopenhauer died in 1860; he was simply not privy to the knowledge we have today on the subject.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 17:41

Side note: This could be thought of a philosophy of mind question but as it reads, it seems more like an ethology question, or (animal) psychology question which may or may not be fit for CogSci. That is, it seems you are asking for scientific evidence/research that indicates animals display the same kind of behaviors humans do which indicate an understanding of death. As a philosophy question, it is even more challenging than doing a few research experiments, specifically because it's unclear what it means "to have an understanding of something", let alone an understanding that we are going to die one day.

E.G., Does knowing that when you (or a cat) touch an electric fence that you will get shocked equate with an "understanding of electric fences"? Sure, you understand that fencey = shocky, but nothing about electricity, thermal conduction, grounding, etc. But let's say you believe that such a basic understanding counts as "understanding electric fences". Does it then seem to you that a cat seeing many other cats grow up and die would then understand the concept of death? Does this cat really know that the cat's heart ceased pumping blood to its body for one reason or another? That these final moments of other cats' lives is not just a super long sleep from which it cannot be awoken?

You can see very quickly the difficulty here with your question, and the real philosophical problem behind it:

What does it mean to understand something?

Some notes I have on this subject to get you started, which I wrote down in my initial preparations to write a sentient computer program (that would ultimately be able to understand concepts):

In logic, the comprehension of an object is the totality of intentions, that is, attributes, characters, marks, properties, or qualities, that the object possesses, or else the totality of intentions that are pertinent to the context of a given discussion. This is the correct technical term for the whole collection of intentions of an object, but it is common in less technical usage to see 'intention' used for both the composite and the primitive ideas.

To understand something is to have conceptualized it to a given measure. The use of concepts is necessary to cognitive processes such as categorization, memory, decision making, learning and inference.

  • Concepts as mental representations, where concepts are entities that exist in the brain.
  • Concepts as abilities, where concepts are abilities peculiar to cognitive agents.
  • Concepts as abstract objects, where objects are the constituents of propositions that mediate between thought, language, and referents.

–Mostly from wikipedia and other internet sources

Personal addendum: As a physicalist, I believe that "what it means to understand something (as a human)" can be so precisely described that it could be quantified (written in a mathematical formula or computer program), but we are not definitively there yet (at any rate, I don't have the answer yet, but maybe someone else does).

  • Your question is more "philosophically" interesting.The concept "causality" can be in the future to be quantified? To some physicists, an interpretation is nothing more than a formal equivalence between sets of rules for operating on experimental data, thereby interpretation is unnecessary, such as in quantum physics. An instrumentalist description relates the mathematical formalism to experimental practice and prediction. By abuse of language, an instrumentalist description is referred to as an interpretation, although this usage is misleading since explicitly avoids any "explanatory"role.Wkp Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 11:34

I believe that animals like us most certainly know they are going to die , from birth the instinctively know they have to outsmart predators , if they did not know that they can die why run from a lion , or a bare ,

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    Instinct does not require, and therefore not imply knowledge. For example humans choose their mate partly by the smell. It's a part of the smell we are unaware of, but conveys information about the immune-system of a potential mate. Instinctively we find someone attractive or not, while we know nothing about him/her, and couldn't answer any question on the resistances of that person. It's pure instinct without knowledge. So why do you think with animals, instinctive behavior implies knowledge?
    – Einer
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 12:50

I think the moment an animal sees another lifeless being, it understands that it can happen to them. Puppies appear to be fearless, but then somehow dogs develop fears over time, just like we do. The fears are because they don't want to die. I have had my dog since she was a puppy, she has never been hit or hurt in any way, yet, she is afraid of going out during lightning, or if she sees something she does not recognize. She knows.

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