Saying goodbye to your best friend is one of the hardest things pet owners have to do. It’s even harder when our four-legged friend tries to be alone. A human desire often is to be surrounded by loved ones at the end, but dogs will go away to hide. He might find a hidden spot under the porch or somewhere in the woods.
Knowing your dog is in pain and sick is upsetting and you want to be there for him through the end. If he hides and you can’t find him, you can’t comfort him or say goodbye. And if you do find him huddled under some steps, what do you do to make him comfortable? Seeing this behavior is very concerning as a pet owner and handling it safely is important.
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The Root of the Behavior
Knowing a dog is hiding because he is close to death is devastating and no one wants to think about it. But dogs are animals of instinct and there are a couple of reasons why dogs try to hide when they die. The more common school of thought is that dogs are hiding instinctively to protect themselves, and the other theory is that dogs do not hide, rather they walk off somewhere and are too sick to return.
Even though dogs are domesticated, they have the natural instincts to survive in the wild. Dogs in the wild did what was necessary to protect themselves and throughout their lives they hunted, roamed, stayed in a pack, and defended themselves against predators. A dog whose body is failing him and who doesn’t have the ability to fight back, sometimes hides. His instinct is to isolate himself for protection.
Dogs listen to their bodies which is one reason he hides when he is dying. He knows he is weakened and unable to protect himself, which makes him incredibly vulnerable to predators. By hiding, he is doing the only thing he can to stay safe and protect himself. This instinct can override the years of love, safety, and warmth you’ve given your best friend. It’s difficult to accept that your dog hides when in pain when you will sit by his side, but it’s not you, it’s his instinct.
If you have an elder dog who has had declining health and has problems such as blindness, deafness, poor coordination, or neurological impairments like stroke, it’s possible your dog might wander off. If he’s easily fatigued in addition to those problems, it might be too hard for him to find his way home. He could have found a spot nearby to hide and protect himself as best he could. When your dog has these issues, he’s already vulnerable and on the street he’s vulnerable to traffic, predators, and weather extremes.
Encouraging the Behavior
Relationships with animals are complicated and who can say exactly what a dog wants or doesn’t want at the end of their life? They don’t give advanced directives or have those necessary but scary conversations like you might with an aging family member. When someone goes into the hospital, their emergency contact gets a call. Your dog might just walk away to hide and there’s no phone call at all.
But you know your dog best. Only a dog can decide when or if he wants to hide before the end, but you can keep an eye out for some warning signs and possibly have the opportunity to provide some comfort.
Some signs a dog is nearing death include lack of coordination, extreme fatigue, no interest in their surroundings, loss of appetite, twitching muscles, or loss of bowel control. If your dog is a senior, stay alert to his health and behaviors. If you notice signs that your dog’s health is declining, call your vet. Your vet can talk to you about his health, if he’s suffering, and his professional opinion about how to handle the situation.
If your dog is blind, deaf, or suffered a neurological trauma like a stroke, talk to the vet about how to best keep your dog in a safe environment so he is less likely to wander off. Make sure you have a secure yard with a fence and you keep the door closed.
Other Solutions and Considerations
The thing to consider when you have a sick or old dog is his suffering. If he goes off to hide, it might take hours or even days for him to die. It might be natural and a defense mechanism, but there is great potential for suffering.
If you notice the signs that your dog is nearing the end, work with your vet. If you want to provide comfort and a safe, warm space for your dog, your vet can guide you how to do that. You know your dog best and like most pet owners, you want to give him everything you can to make him comfortable.
If your dog hides at the end of his life, it’s not because he didn’t love you or consider you his best friend. Even if you would have given him every comfort at the end, he was just following an instinct as a dog to hide for protection. He still loves you.