Top Reasons Dogs Run Away To Die [BEHAVIOR EXPLAINED]

The depressing thing about owning a dog is knowing that he will likely die before you.

Dogs do not actually run away to die. The notion that dogs drift away to die peacefully is quite romantic. This myth confuses symptoms such as blindness and lack of orientation with the desire to die alone. Even though the myth has persisted for a long time, the fact is that dogs do not run away to die. Don’t assume that just because your older dog goes missing that it ran off to die alone.

Dogs are escape artists, explorers and sometimes they get lost. There are many reasons why they don’t return. At times, if your dog ran away and did not come back, you may never know the reason. But you can be sure that your dog did not run off to die alone. 

  • The sad truth is that dogs get lost. Older dogs suffer illnesses like dementia just like we do. They can experience confusion caused by dementia. They wander off and are unable to find their way back home. They often lose the ability to know where they are and how to get home.
  • Sometimes they wander away from home and get fatally injured by cars or by predators.
  • Sometimes they wander away from home and become dehydrated and weak and sadly pass away.
  • Some lost dogs are found by others and taken in or turned over to shelters to live new lives, never returning home.

While younger dogs that run away usually find their way back home, an older dog is not able to. Dogs that are old, sick, and debilitated are already suffering and in need of care to mitigate their discomfort. 

If your old dog runs away, it is never a sign that it wants to die alone. Rather, you need to confine your dog to a safe and secure area from which it cannot escape. Your dog is likely not strong enough to survive several nights away from home.

dog running away with blurry background

Related Reading: Why Dog Dogs Get Hyper Before Bed?

Do dogs distance themselves when they are dying?

If dogs want to distance themselves, if they don’t want to be touched, go for walks or play in their last days, respect that. You must ensure that everyone in the family does the same. Instead of cuddling or lots of play sessions, you can show you are still there for them. Support your dog by giving them treats, talking to them softly, praising them, offering a comfortable area to relax, and keeping the environment safe and quiet. 

Why does my dog like to run away?

Here’s a look at why your dog might be heading out and how you can help keep them home.

1. Frustration

Your dog might figure out a way to take off if they are bored or frustrated. To prevent frustration, you should 

  • Play with or walk your dog every day.
  • Give them interactive toys while you’re gone to keep them busy.
  • Keep your dog inside when you can’t watch them.
  • Teach them commands or tricks and practice them often. You can also teach your dog to play fetch or frisbee toss.

2. Separation anxiety

Your dog might run away because it stresses them out to be apart from you. If they have separation anxiety, you should

  • Enrich their environment by giving interactive toys like puzzles.
  • Don’t make a big deal when you leave or return.
  • Give them a special treat each time you leave.

3. Fear

Some dogs might hit the road because they’re scared. Common triggers for fear include thunderstorms and fireworks. If they are afraid, you should

  • Keep them inside in a quiet room when they are likely to hear the trigger sound like thunder or fireworks.
  • Give them a safe place to get away.
  • You can play calming music inside your house.
  • Consider anti-anxiety medicines

4. Sex drive

A dog that isn’t fixed may escape in search of a mate. Their drive is so high that it can be hard to keep them confined. If it’s a sexual issue, have your dog spayed or neutered as soon as possible.

What causes a dog to randomly die?

Losing a dog is a painful experience for pet parents but it can be even tougher to cope with when the death is unexpected.

Fortunately, owners can prevent some of the causes of sudden death in dogs. General causes of sudden death can be grouped according to the organ system involved:

  • Heart diseases
  • Internal bleeding due to traumatic injuries
  • Respiratory failure
  • Heartworms
  • Bloat
  • Poisoning with the most common culprits are prescription medications, over-the-counter products, and certain foods, like chocolate, grapes, onions, garlic, xylitol, and alcoholic beverages.

If you have any questions about your dog’s health, you should talk to your veterinarian. They are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your dogs.

How does a dog behave before dying?

As your dog begins to show signs that he is close to the end of his life, you can help to keep him comfortable until he is ready to pass on.

There are many signs that you can watch for that suggest that your dog’s body is wearing out.

  • Extreme weight loss: Weight loss is very common in senior dogs and will start well before the end of life.
  • Lethargy and fatigue: As your dog nears the end of his life, he will sleep more and more and will tire more easily. He may also opt to stay home on his dog bed instead of going on walks and outings like he used to.
  • Poor coordination: As your dog’s body ages, its muscles and nerves stop functioning as they used to. With the malfunction of proprioceptive nerves, its coordination will decline. Your furry companion may struggle with steps or navigating obstacles. Some dogs have trouble placing their feet correctly when walking.
  • Incontinence: Incontinence is the loss of control of the bladder or bowels. Some dogs may pee or poop in their sleep, while others may dribble urine or even defecate as they walk without seeming to notice. This can occur for a variety of reasons that may be completely treatable. This will often worsen as your dog nears the end of his life.
  • Decreased mobility: It is a common symptom of aging and will steadily get worse. This may be due to pain from arthritis, old injuries, loss of muscle mass, a decrease in strength, or declining vision. Changes in mobility often start off subtly and gradually progress. Your dog may not be able to jump, struggle with stairs, and have trouble getting up.
  • Confusion: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is very similar to dementia. The symptoms include pacing at night, fussiness, and irritability. As Canine Cognitive Dysfunction progresses, your dog may be unable to recognize you or seem to get lost in the house and yard. 
  • Behavior changes: Dogs usually show many behavioural changes when they are dying. Some dogs will become restless, wander the house, seem unable to settle, or get uncomfortable. Dogs’ sleeping patterns may change. They may become cranky, difficult to handle, may even be unresponsive.
  • Stops drinking water: As a dog ages or becomes ill, it may lose interest in its water bowl. This may lead to dehydration.
  • Poor response to treatments: As your dog’s body wears out, it may stop responding to treatments and medications that were previously effective to keep it healthy. 
  • Dull eyes: Dogs near the end of their life often have a change in their eyes. You may notice that your dog’s eyes seem dull. A change in the appearance of one or both eyes alone in conjunction with other signs can indicate the end of a dog’s life.
  • Abnormal odour: A dying dog’s body is no longer functioning properly. Malfunctioning metabolism can cause changes in body odor that will vary depending on the exact cause.
  • Poor temperature regulation: Aging and sick dogs often have trouble regulating their body temperature, and will become hot or cold very easily. If you live in a warm climate, provide your dog with a shady, well-ventilated place to rest. For colder areas, make sure your dog has access to a warm cozy bed to curl up in or a nice warm spot in the sun, or by a radiator to nap.
  • Lack of appetite and not eating: Lack of appetite is common at the end of a dog’s life. Dogs who feel sick often don’t want to eat. Often, some medications may cause dogs to lose their sense of smell or taste, making food less appealing. 
  • Lack of interest or depression: Dogs at the end of their lives frequently lose interest in their favorite things like toys, games, walks, and even their beloved owners. Dogs at the end of their lives no longer do things like greeting you at the door or wagging their tail when you come to play.
  • Abnormal breathing: Your dog may start showing abnormal breathing patterns at the end of their lives. Its respiratory rate fluctuates up and down even when it is at rest. Your dog may stop breathing periodically and then resume again. This is an emergency and should be treated immediately. 
  • Seizures: Some dogs may begin to experience seizures at the end of their lives. This may be due to metabolic imbalances from kidney failure or problems with the brain. A seizure that lasts more than 10 minutes or occurs in clusters one after another are emergencies.

As your dog begins to show signs that he is close to the end of his life, you can help to keep him comfortable until he is ready to pass on.

How to make your dog’s last days comfortable

As a pet parent, it can be so hard to say goodbye to your pet. However, there are things you can do to make sure your dog is as comfortable as possible. Also, show them continuous acts of care and compassion near the end of their life.

  • Keep your dog warm and cosy: Provide a comfortable bed, blanket, and a cozy resting spot.
  • Offer soft and delicious food: Make sure your dog has soft and palatable food to eat. You can feed canned food or some plain cooked chicken mixed in with your dog’s kibble. If your dog is experiencing a loss of appetite, try to make their food delicious and appealing.
  • Follow the schedule: Stick to your usual routines as much as possible. Dogs prefer to stay on a schedule that they are familiar with and enjoy. 
  • Talk to your vet about your dog’s health: Consult with your vet about medications to ease your dog’s pain and discomfort. These medications could range from pain relief drugs to appetite stimulants and beyond. At this stage, maximum comfort is more important than the risk of long-term side effects.
  • Respect your dog’s preference: Give your dog company or leave it alone depending on its preferences. If walks are no longer an option, spend that time sitting together instead.
  • Make a plan for your dog’s end-of-life care: If you opt for euthanasia, discuss with your vet the details and make an appointment. Most vet clinics try to schedule euthanasia appointments at the beginning or end of the day so that you can have more privacy. If your dog hates going to the vet, check options for at-home pet euthanasia services. Ask about an oral sedative to make the process less stressful. Decide whether you want to bury your furry companion or have it cremated.
  • Tell your fur buddy it is okay to go: Let your dog know that it is loved and that it has been your best friend, and that it can go when it’s ready.

Tips to keep your dog from running away

Let’s have a look at some steps to keep your dog from running away and to help find them if they do take off.

  • No matter where you’re keeping your four-legged friend, make sure their ID collar is on and updated.
  • Keep an eye on your dog while they’re in the yard. Keep your dog inside when you can’t watch them.
  • Check that all possible escape exits, like windows and doors, are secure. Check gates and doors anytime a visitor comes to your home.
  • Make sure your dog is microchipped with your current contact information and address. In case your fur buddy gets lost, this information will help you to reunite with your dog.
  • Teach your dog a solid “stay” command.
  • If you’ll be outside with your pet, keep him on the leash and be prepared for sudden attempts to run and escape.
  • Always reward your dog when it returns to you. Never punish them when they return. They will link it with bad things and may not come.

Grieving the loss of your dog

Grieving the loss of your furry child is completely normal and natural. Our dogs are a beloved part of our family that offers constant companionship. You can take that day off from work if you need to. Talk to your friends and family about your grief and feelings. 

If you have other pets in the household, the routine of caring for them can be a source of normalcy. You also need to comfort them as well. Every pet is special in their own way and brings their own gifts to our lives. Look through photos and videos of your dog and remember him at his best.

Continue Reading: How To Painlessly Euthanize A Dog At Home? [ANSWERED]

Final thoughts

Old dogs do not run away on purpose because they want to die alone. They do however become disoriented and often are unable to find their way home after leaving their property. You need to make sure that your old dog is in a fenced, secure area at all times. 

Old pets need as much supervision as puppies to keep them out of trouble. Keep them inside a fence, on a leash, or only let them outside under supervision. They do not deserve to meet a frightened, bewildering end out there lost and alone.

If your dog does run away, you need to go and find your furry friend. Do not simply assume it will die peacefully, it won’t! If your dog is lost, it will probably die from exhaustion and dehydration, perhaps paired with heat stroke or hypothermia. This is not humane. Your dog deserves to go peacefully, surrounded by its family, and in a comfortable environment.

stuart and his dog

Family Dog Expert Author

Hi there! I’m Stuart, a devoted dog lover and family dog expert with over a decade of experience working with our furry companions. My passion for dogs drives me to share my knowledge and expertise, helping families build strong, loving bonds with their four-legged friends. When I’m not writing for SirDoggie, you’ll find me hiking, playing with my beautiful dog, or studying music.