Social Question

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Have you ever known an animal that killed themselves?

Asked by Simone_De_Beauvoir (39047points) April 18th, 2010

First, I understand that some people don’t believe animals can kill themselves. Others believe it and that it might have something to do with genes, encoded behavior to leave this world if ‘death would be of more value than life’.

Last week, a patient going through depression, HIV, cancer, raising two kids alone spoke of his cat that he’s had for many years but that’s lately changed her behavior and last week jumped out of the window and died, even though she always sat by that window before when it was open. I couldn’t help but wonder about the emotional atmosphere in the apartment and how this cat’s death was a metaphor for what was dying inside of him and how he was expressing it.

Anyway, did you ever know or own an animal that exhibited suicidal tendencies as we define them (putting aside whether or not it’s biological or environmental triggers or both)?

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62 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

I don’t think we can know, insofar as it is so difficult to impute motive to an entity with whom one cannot converse. I can’t imagine why it shouldn’t be possible, though.

malevolentbutticklish's avatar

yes. Mainly people. Animals have less mental problems than people. Consider how simple the brain of a gold-fish is compared to a human and how much less there is to go wrong.

DeanV's avatar


Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@dverhey I thought that was a myth.

buster's avatar

My dad and I were riding down the road in his truck and we came to a bridge. This dog came running down the road toward us from the opposite direction as we started across the bridge. It was a narrow bridge and I think the dog thought he was going to be hit. The dog jumped over the concrete railing and fell about 40 feet to a dried up creek bed and Im sure he died.

gutterpanda's avatar

once i opened the top to a goldfish tank at walmart and a little fish jumped out and we left it there.

rebbel's avatar

The only animals that came straight to mind were these.
Clip, apparently, is only watchable for US citizens.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Animals don’t have that because of their level of awareness.
They are instinctual creatures and their instinct is survival.

Trillian's avatar

I don’t guess she killed herself, but I believe now that she knew she was going to die and went off by herself to do it. March 14, 2010. I felt her push her head under my hand to pet her two nights later, but when I looked around, of course she wasn’t there. She had been crawling into my lap for two days before she took off. I think now that she was just saying goodbye.
I miss her.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@buster That’s terrible
@gutterpanda Why?
@rebbel What a weird distinction. I’ve never seen an episode of South Park.
@Trillian – Yes, I’ve heard of animals going off to die.

malevolentbutticklish's avatar

@rebbel: I also cannot watch the clip because I don’t have flash. You can however download the entire episode at

DeanV's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir You may be right, it was just the first thing that came to mind. They do seem to employ fairly sophisticated population control techniques such as swimming across rivers far too large for them, with many drowning in the process.

But I stand corrected.

lillycoyote's avatar

Maybe not intentionally. One of the worst experiences animal experiences I had was when my teddy bear hamster hung himself on his cage. His mate had died of a bladder infection. Anyway, it was just awful. His head was caught in the bars of the cage, he was just so stuck and I tried everything to get him unstuck without killing him but in the end his neck just snapped. I still remember that. It was so horrible to try to save him only to have him die right in front of me. I still feel bad about it. Spider John was his name. His mate was Diamond Lil. Both named from a Willis Allan Ramsey song. Sad song, sad life for the hamsters.

earthduzt's avatar

Here is a place where dogs love to kill themselves…

Overtoun bridge dog deaths

It is not known exactly when or why dogs began to leap from the bridge, but studies indicate that these deaths might have begun during the 1950s or 1960s, at the rate of about one dog a month.

The long leap from the bridge onto the waterfalls of the Overtoun Estate almost always results in immediate death. Inexplicably, some dogs have actually survived, recuperated, and then returned to the site to jump again. These dogs are known to the locals of Dumbarton as “second timers.” The dogs have mostly jumped from one side of the bridge, during clear weather, and have mostly been breeds with long noses.


shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

Personally, I’ve never seen an animal kill themselves. But I watched The Cove, and Ric O’Grady had story about how one of the dolphins who played Flipper just stopped breathing. Because they’re conscious breathers.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@lillycoyote Oh, I’m so sorry.
@earthduzt How interesting, I wonder why
@py_sue Yea, can you blame him?

MrItty's avatar

Not quite what you’re asking, but our family dog knew she was going to die. She was old and sick, and one day she just walked into the woods behind our house, laid down, and passed away. Prior to that day, she had never ever gone into the woods. My parents and I theorized she didn’t want us or my younger siblings to see her die.

rebbel's avatar

@ those who can not watch the clip:
From South Park.
Meanwhile, all the cows in the town discover the festival’s symbol, a giant Buddha-shaped clock with the head of a cow which moos every hour, and carry it off to start their own cult, where they begin to worship it as a god.
The leaders of the town find the cows and confront them, telling them to go back to their proper places in society. Instead, the cows commit mass suicide in a cult-like fashion; powerless to stop them, the people of the town mourn the cows’ sad action.

Pandora's avatar

There have been whales that have been known to beach themselves and they don’t know why. But many large sea animals will beach themselves when they are at the end of their lives.

dpworkin's avatar

I think I watched my dog Lucy plan for her death. It seemed to me that she ended up dying where and when she wanted to.

Dr_C's avatar

Do birds flying into windows count?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Dr_C I don’t know – guess it depends on why they’re doing this.

Dr_C's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir to get to the other side?

Chongalicious's avatar

Squirrels who play in traffic?

snowberry's avatar

I had a chihuahua cross who committed suicide by chocolate…literally. On the one hand, you could say he probably didn’t know what he was doing. But on the other hand, he was very old, he couldn’t see anymore, his hearing was bad, and he was structurally unsound. He knew he was in bad shape, and there’s no better way to go, than to die by chocolate.

ragingloli's avatar

Of course. Humans.

El_Cadejo's avatar

My grammy had two cats. When the male cat died, the female stopped eating and eventually starved to death.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

I read about how when an ant gets a specific contagious disease I can remember what, the sickness takes over their mind and the ant will climb up on a blade of grass to be eaten by a cow so it doesn’t infect the other ants in the village.

The_Inquisitor's avatar

Well, dolphins are now considered persons, but I just thought I’d share that I watched a documentary called “the cove” and in it, someone described a dolphin that was held captive as a show dolphin, and she commited suicide.

Dolphins have to consciously breathe air in, and this dolphin in particular, swam into her friend’s arms (a human), took one last breath, and never took another one. She died and sank to the bottom.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@curiouscat I never knew until someone mentioned above that they were conscious breathers.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Thank you! He was just a teddy bear hamster and it was about thirty years ago but it really was an awful experience. I will never forget it. I still feel bad that I wasn’t able to save him.

ubersiren's avatar

@curiouscat I was going to say the same thing, though I don’t know how much I believe him. As much as I was moved by the film and I think O’Barry is a hero, the man seems two fries short of a Happy Meal. He “claims” that a dolphin died in his arms by simply stopping breathing. I’m not sure, even if she intended to stop breathing, that it’s even possible to do so.

eden2eve's avatar

I think that a dolphin might be capable of self harm, due to their intelligence. Some animals would be incapable of deliberately trying to end their lives.

I really doubt that a hamster would commit suicide. A dog or a cat… not likely but perhaps possible. Certainly not a fish. The creature would have to be intelligent enough and self aware enough to be capable of comprehending the effects of their actions. They might, as in the case of cats and dogs, be depressed, and not acting out of self preservation, but still not be capable of comprehending the end of their lives.

AstroChuck's avatar

I had a cat who ran into traffic and got hit by a car. If that’s not suicide I don’t know what is.

DarkScribe's avatar

Whales often deliberately beach themselves. No one knows why.

Trillian's avatar

@DarkScribe I was under the impression that it was the noise from certain boats that drovw whales out of the water. Something about sonics, or sub-sonics. I think. I’ve seen the efforts to “save” some of these poor beasts, and I often wonder if they are doing the right thing. The whale could be sick, or old.
We really don’t know why but I think that we should respect it’s decision. I could be wrong.

talljasperman's avatar

I had a fighting fish that attacked its reflection in the mirror in the fish tank and died.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

Not exactly, but I had mice for a while and when one of them died (naturally) the other desecrated the dead one by eating its face off. I couldn’t really ever figure out why, but I thought maybe it was trying to get it to get up and move. My cat actually let me know something was amiss as she was acting quite weird…

filmfann's avatar

Other than whales beaching themselves, you have birds flying right in front of your car while you drive on the highway. Are they just thrill flying?

Trillian's avatar

@filmfann I accidentally killed a Cardinal once like that in Gulfport, MS. They all dive-bombed the cars in just one area every day. One of them timed it wrong and hit my grill. There was nothing I could do either, it happened so fast. I hate that I killed a Cardinal.

anartist's avatar

Greyfriars Bobby. He mourned at his master’s grave, but unknown whether he died of grief

desiree333's avatar

@toomuchcoffee911 I learnt about that in biology class. I think it was a fungus or a sort of mold that does that to them. The ant climbs on the grass blade and gets eaten alive throughout a period of time. I’m pretty sure my teacher said that the other ants will bring it there or kill it so it doesn’t infect the colony.

anartist's avatar

Fifty years of inexplicable dog suicides mentioned here. Also Scotland, as was Greyfriars Bobby.

Tink's avatar

My fish did. He was a Guppy, she was a Molly. They were always together, and when Molly died he stopped eating and just hung out in a corner of the fish tank all by himself, there were other fish in the sea but he just wasn’t interested. He eventually died of depression by missing his buddy as well. He let himself die.

:sniff sniff:

WolfFang's avatar

Ii think most animal “suicides” are accidental. Someone already beat me to it, but lemmings are prime examples. @toomuchcoffee911 that is some extremely interesting entomological information!

DarkScribe's avatar

To actually commit suicide and not simply die, an animal would have to understand cause and effect. For instance I really doubt that a dog jumping off a bridge would realise that it would be fatal. It takes an adult human to really understand the concept of mortality.

Dr_C's avatar

@DarkScribe “It takes an adult human to really understand the concept of mortality”
And even then sometimse you can’t be sure how deep the comprehension goes.

WolfFang's avatar

@DarkScribe “an adult human” you are saying I don’t understand the concept of mortality? just because I am not an adult?

YoH's avatar

My parrot stops eating and broods if I am gone for a few days. It didn’t seriously concern me until a friend told me her elderly neighbor was suddenly hopitalized for a few days and his parrot stopped eating and died on the 4th day. Some parrots are territorial and bond with one person and they can’t understand separation. I take no chances. I phone home to talk and whistle through the phone to my Rudy bird and my husband babies him and is extra attentive when I’m gone. It helps.

Theby's avatar

@DarkScribe – I have heard about the “subsonics” as well. Apparently it especially happens near naval bases. There was a programme on TV about it but I do not remember the details.

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

@YoH I know what you mean about birds. My mother’s got a parrot and it squawks like crazy when it can’t see or find her.

DarkScribe's avatar

@WolfFang “an adult human” you are saying I don’t understand the concept of mortality? just because I am not an adult?

Not at all, but “generally” it requires maturity. I was a wunderkind” and so was one of my daughters – I am the last person to suggest that age always has the final say. I was reading and appreciating adult literature before I was old enough for kindergarten. My eldest daughter was programming and producing functioning games at age eight. We are not average – possibly if you truly are a child – you are not average either.

malevolentbutticklish's avatar

@dverhey @Simone_De_Beauvoir: It is a myth. They experience population explosions which cause all the Lemmings to run out of food. Once this happens they all start leaving but they are so dumb that many of them die as a result of actions which were obviously a bad idea to any observing human.

Sophief's avatar

That is such a sad story, but yes, I believe animals can kill themselves. They have a mind as well as we do.

malevolentbutticklish's avatar

Disney pushes real lemmings off a cliff and into the ocean and wins a prize for it. You can watch it on video here:

Steve_A's avatar

I asked for the most part same question not too long ago.

It is hard to say honestly….

But there are important distinctions people need to realize

-What level of awareness do other animals have?
-Do they understand death?
-It is important to separate what you think is an animal killing itself and an animal that indeed truly killed itself.
-It is important to also notice, did the animal kill itself on purpose?

The definition of suicide or least I am pretty sure is basically“Suicide is the intentional killing of oneself.” Intentional

The examples of birds flying in cars , whales beaching them self , lemmings ,etc…..
The bigger problem I see here is that as humans and yes we are animals but there is one important difference in my opinion.

We have been taught and have come to learn about not doing dangerous,stupid, and otherwise death threatening things.

If a human were to walk across the street and not see a car , get hit and die? Did he/she kill himself?

or a young human, child goes into water too deep and drowns.

A group of people in panic on a hillside from some disaster one falls off in the fray of things.

Are we going to say they killed them self, you might say a lack of knowledge, a mistake, stupidity even maybe. But intentionally I would say no in those cases.

Another problem I have with different animals is how much is based off instinct which is basically “Instinct is the inherent inclination of a living organism toward a particular behavior” for example the lemmings myth is in my opinion an unfortunate back fire of evolutions conditioning and instinct to lemmings.

Anyways I suppose I’m going off topic now, but to your main question do I believe animals can kill themselves? Sure I believe so.

But do they understand,aware, or realize that by doing these actions results in death the end of your existence as the animal and we know it….

Now that is a real mystery,least for me, that seems rather impossible to answer I think….For now anyways.

OpryLeigh's avatar

I don’t know if this counts but years ago we had two dogs, Baxter and Tramp. Tramp died first and Baxter went into a state of, what can only be likened to depression. He stopped eating. The vet told us that there was nothing physically wrong with Baxter and this was the closest he had ever seen to an animal suffering from a broken heart. He suggested that we considered getting another dog as a companion for Baxter, which we did (enter Max) and gradually he started to get better. If he had died due to refusing to eat, would that be considered suicide? I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.

anartist's avatar

I do not know for sure about killing themselves, but I do know that cats, like people “turn their faces to the wall” when they are ready to go. They find a dark place to hide and do turn their faces to the wall. I was so upset about one elderly cat dying that i kept her next to me on the bed and i think that was hard for her. she had gone outside to the darkest part of the garden and lain facing the wooden fence. Another cat that was dying went into her ‘little house’ and faced the wall.
my guess is so they can die in peace. my poisoned baby boy was eventually found under a bush facing a wall.

flo's avatar

I think it was a dolphin I heard about, that just went down and stayed there. They believe it was tired of performing tricks .

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