Why Do Dogs Run Away When They Are Dying?

By Lisa McQuerrey

When your dog nears the end of his life, he may exhibit a number of different or unusual behaviors. Many things, such as hiding or secluding himself or even running away, may be instinctual and self-protective. To be the best advocate for your pet during this stage, consult with your vet to map out the most compassionate way to help your companion stay safe, comfortable and stress-free in his final days.

Natural Instinct

Many animals have a natural instinct to hide when they are sick, injured or weak as a way to stay safe from predators. Animals who are in pain may feel vulnerable; running off is an inherent way to hide their condition. Any serious changes in behavior should be discussed with a vet, as your dog may have pain that can be treated or even a cognitive impairment that can be addressed.

Keep Your Dog Safe

Elderly dogs with hearing or vision problems can be frightened by loud noise, chaotic environments and unexpected changes. Provide your dog with a safe haven, such as a kennel or doghouse in a relatively quiet place in or around your home. If your dog is primarily outside, consider bringing him indoors if he’s aged or frail to protect him from the elements and to prevent him from running away and getting hurt.

Relieve Pain

If your dog is running off or hiding, see your vet for a complete physical to determine if there’s an illness or disorder that requires treatment. Your dog can’t tell you when he’s in pain, so pay attention to outward signs that something is “off.” A change in appetite or activity level, distress when getting up or laying down, labored breathing, limping or whining when touched are all indications something is wrong.

End-of-Life Care

Your vet can be a good resource for helping you understand what to expect as your dog nears the end of his life. If you care for an elderly dog at home, consider employing the use of a veterinary hospice that can help you learn how to keep your dog comfortable. Dying dogs need special attention and may have special dietary needs, as well as help with things like grooming, incontinence and pain management. If pain cannot be effectively managed or your dog has a diminished quality of life, your vet may recommend other compassionate choices, such as euthanasia.