Our dogs are members of our families, and for many of us, keeping tabs on where they are and what they're doing is just part of our daily routines. Most dogs stick close to their guardians, looking to them as members of their own interspecies pack, but as a dog enters the later years in life, you may notice her seeking out more independence. Sometimes, dogs will go off on their own when it's time for them to pass onto the next phase of life, after death, and their reason for doing so dates back to their early canine ancestors.
Why dogs seek solitude
When your dog isolates himself or slinks off alone in search of a quiet final resting place, he is exhibiting a centuries-old behavior pack animals have relied on to preserve the safety of the group. According to Psychology Today, sickly or aging wild animals who live and travel in packs often lag behind their peers, making them and those around them vulnerable to attacks. As a protective measure, these animals will often wander off on their own when they sense that their time to die is near, allowing the group to move forward without attracting dangerous visitors from behind.
Wild dogs and pack animals still rely on this behavior, and for many domesticated dogs, the trait is so hard-wired that they instinctively do it. Despite the fact that their pack (read: you) isn't in immediate threat of predators in the same way that their wild ancestors would be in the same situation, many dogs are driven to die alone. If your dog is allowed the opportunity to wander about your yard or property, which is common among dogs living outside of large cities, you may see him wander off on his own when the time has come, which they can often sens before we do. Indoor dogs may exhibit this behavior by sleeping alone, spending more time in solitary places like a bathroom, or generally requiring less attention and affection than in their previous years.
Signs of a dying dog
If you suspect that your dog may be responding to her call to die alone, there are some signs to watch out for. Obviously, age is one factor, as is the presence of an illness, be that chronic or recent. VCA Hospitals states that general changes in a dog's regular routine are good things to look out for; like loss of appetite, disinterest in activities that your dog once enjoyed, changes in sleep habits and irritability, or displeasure in being handled. Of course, witnessing any or even all of these signs is no guarantee that your dog is dying. The best way to understand your dog's life process is to stay in touch with your veterinarian, who may be able to spot symptoms of dying, and can also help you measure your dog's quality of life.
End of life care
As your dog reaches the end of his life, there are some things that simply cannot be helped, no matter how much we wish we could. You can, however, make minor changes to keep your dog more comfortable in his final days, weeks, or months, says the ASPCA. Providing a clean, warm, comfortable space for your dog to rest is a great way to improve his quality of life, as is making sure he's able to easily access his food, water, and designated bathroom break spots. Hospice care is an option for anyone with a dog diagnosed with a terminal illness, and should be discussed with your veterinarian if you wish to walk this route.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.