Do Dogs Actually Run Away To Die? (Myth Examined)

by Stuart | Last Updated:   December 19, 2021

We are reader supported and may earn a commission when you purchase after clicking our links. This website does not replace professional advice, always consult a licensed veterinarian to ensure your dog's well-being

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. The fact is that dogs do not run away to die. It’s not always the case that just because your older dog goes missing they have run off to die alone.

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

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 can be prone to 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 dogs can end up far from home and get fatally injured by cars or by predators when lost.
  • 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 to prepare to die

Related Reading: Why Does a Dog With Rabies Die After Biting?

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.


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

  • Play with and/or walk your dog every day.
  • Give them interactive toys while you’re gone to keep them busy.
  • Keep your dog inside if you can’t watch them directly.
  • Teach them commands make sure to practice them often
  • Teach your dog to play fetch or frisbee toss.

Separation anxiety

Your dog might run away in an attempt to find you due to the panic and stress they experience from being separated from you. If they have separation anxiety, you should

  • Enrich their environment by giving interactive toys like puzzles.
  • Try to remain calm when you leave or return.
  • Give them a special treat each time you leave.


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

Sex drive

When dogs aren’t fixed their hormones can cause them to leave 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, pet parents can prevent some of the causes that can cause sudden death in dogs. Here are some common causes of sudden death in dogs, and are 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.

How Does a Dog Behave Before Dying?

As your dog starts to show signs that they are close to the end of their life, you can help to keep them comfortable until they are ready to pass on.

There are many signs that your dog’s body is worn out.

  • Extreme weight loss: Weight loss is common among senior dogs and can start well before the end of life.
  • Lethargy and fatigue: As your dog approaches the end of life, they sleep more and more and get tired faster. Te y may also opt to stay home on their dog bed instead of going for walks and outings like they used to.
  • Poor coordination: As the dog’s body ages, the dog’s muscles and nerves do not function as before. 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 can pee or poop in their sleep, while others may urinate or defecate while walking without seeming to notice. This can occur for a various reasons that may be treatable. This will often worsen as your dog nears the end of his life.
  • Decreased mobility: As the dog’s body ages, the dog’s muscles and nerves do not function as before. 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: Cognitive dysfunction (CCD) in dogs 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 are restless, roaming around the house and seem unable to calm down. 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: 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. Metabolic disturbances can cause changes in body odor, depending on the exact cause.
  • Poor temperature regulation: Aging and sick dogs can often have trouble regulating their body temperature, and can become hot or cold fairly easily. If you live in a warmer climate, ensure your dog has a shady and well-ventilated place to rest. In cold areas, make sure you have access to a warm and comfortable bed for your dog to curl up, or a nice warm place or radiator in the sun for a nap.
  • Lack of appetite and not eating: Lack of appetite is common at the end of a dog’s life. When dogs feel sick they often don’t have an appretite. 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, and this should always been taken seriously and treated as an emergency by contacting a veterinarian or by visiting your nearest animal hospital. 
  • Seizures: Some dogs can begin to experience seizures when they are nearing 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 they are close to the end of their life, you can help to keep them comfortable until they are ready to pass on.

How to Make Your Dog’s Last Days as Comfortable as Possible

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.

  • Always make sure their ID collar is on and updated.
  • Don’t let your dog out of sight while they’re in the yard.
  • Keep your dog inside if you can’t watch them.
  • Ensure all possible escape exits, like doors and windows, 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.
  • Keep your dog leashed if your outside and be prepared for sudden attempts to run.
  • Always reward your dog when they return. Never punish them when they return. They will link it with bad things and may not come.
Old dog staring into distance with mountains and lake in background scenery

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 its own way and brings its own gifts to our lives. Look through photos and videos of your dog with an emphasis on remembering them at their best.

Final Thoughts

It’s a myth that old dogs run away on purpose because they want to die alone. It’s more likely for them to become disoriented and find themselves unable to find their way home after leaving their property. You need to make sure your old dog is always in a safe place surrounded by a fence. 

Old pets need as much supervision as puppies to keep them out of trouble. Make sure there is a fence or are at least on a leash, and only let them outside under supervision.

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, he will die of fatigue and dehydration, probably associated 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 loves blogging about his hobbies and passions. Sir Doggie is a place for him to share what he learns while being a pet parent. Click here to read more.
Welcome to SirDoggie x
Welcome to SirDoggie