Human/Animal Bond

“He Just Went off to Die, Doc”

Dogs and cats don't wander off to die to spare our feelings

Published: March 31, 2014
By Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM


There’s a belief that’s firmly entrenched, at least in my area of the country, that when animals get old and sick they know they’re toast; they instinctively realize that their time on this earth is done. At that point, some inner clock tells them that it’s time to crawl away, find a secluded spot, and then curl up to die.

People tell their children this. “Well, Fluffy was old, she must have gone off somewhere to die.” They tell their friends and family as well, who then spread the word around. “You know Barbara’s old cat Leonard? He was getting pretty old and he was losing weight. She hasn’t seen him for a while. She figures he must have crawled off to die.” Or the one I hear in the exam room that makes me wince every time: “Well, Doc, we brought Old Joe in to see you today because he’s been a little off. No, we really don’t want to do anything for him, we just wanted to see if you thought it was time to put him down. We keep thinking he’ll just go off to die, but he’s still hanging around so we thought we’d ask you.”

As a child, I bought it. Every single adult I knew assured me that old dogs knew when they were supposed to die, then at the appointed they time wandered off to do so in a fashion known only to old dogs who have come to the realization that it was time to meet their maker. No one I knew ever questioned this wisdom, so I never questioned it either.

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about it now if I didn’t think that perhaps it might be time to question this widely held belief.

In a way, it’s comforting to us to think that our old pet wandered away, found a warm, quiet place in the woods, then curled up and passed away peacefully. It certainly jibes with every movie we’ve seen and fairy tale we’ve read. It helps children stop crying when they come to believe that death is peaceful for their old pets. Rover is still gone, but at least it was a gentle death. I’m sure it helps the adults too.

I am going to rain on that parade. Plainly and simply: animals that are old, sick and debilitated are already suffering and in need of care to mitigate their discomfort, in whatever form that has come. While the notion that they drift away to die peacefully is quite romantic, I submit that instead they wander off and are unable to return. Perhaps they stumble over a hillside or into a creek and are physically unable to get out. Perhaps they become disoriented (as senior citizens are often known to do) and cannot find their way home, instead traveling aimlessly looking for a safe haven. Maybe, heaven forbid, they’ve been assaulted by another animal they were too slow to escape and either killed or too badly injured to return. Perhaps they’ve been hit by a motor vehicle.

Older pets can suffer from hearing loss, impaired vision, cognitive dysfunction (the animal version of Alzheimer’s disease), crippling arthritis and muscle weakness, or a myriad of serious, systemic diseases that can make it impossible for them to return home once they’ve gotten too far away. Even those who are not irreparably impaired cannot escape attack, speeding vehicles, or geographical disorientation. If the weather is bad they are even more likely to get in trouble — imagine what it would be like for you if you were lost, wet, cold, and afraid.

Old pets can need as much supervision as puppies and kittens in order to keep them out of trouble. Keep them inside a fence, on a leash, or only let them outside under supervision. If you see an unknown pet wandering your neighborhood, please stop and help! It could be someone’s old friend who has “wandered off to die” and needs you to notice and care.

If a pet’s health is declining, it’s better to make the difficult decision to euthanize rather than wait to let nature take its course, which is rarely peaceful and comforting; more often it is violent and carries great suffering. Dogs and cats rarely “die peacefully in their sleep,” and they do not wander off in order to spare our feelings. That's a fairy tale invented to make us feel better at their expense. At times they are suffering and they need help in dying, and you are the one who must recognize when that is the case. They do not deserve to meet a frightened, bewildering end out there lost and alone.


April 4, 2024

I laughed, I cried, it brought back every memory and every emotion. Tactically, I felt their fur and saw their trusting eyes looking up at me. Because they didn’t know, peace floated over them. And THAT’S  the memory I carry with me. Thank you Doc for reiterating the reason behind that Unforgettable choice.  Extremely well-written and real enough to again bring me to tears.

February 14, 2024

We had a Gooden Retriever from puppy.  At over 11 yrs, he suddenly one morning was not around, I wondered around tge property calling for him,  nothing.  I finally found him in our hay yard, just laying there. I coaxed him to come , come Rolli, let’s go…….. it took a lot of coaxing, but I brought him to the house.  Laying by our back entrance door, he passed.  I believe, he wanted to leave us and die on his own.  He didn’t suffer, he just left us.  We cremated him on our property.  I have had friends seeing him running around the yard and laying on our back step.  Their spirit lives on.  He loved our farm.  Raised and passed on there.  Love you Rolli Polli.❤️🥰

October 21, 2023

Oh dear.  Nearly all the comments illustrate denial.  The biggest act of kindness you can give your pet is to put them peacefully to sleep.  Why let them suffer.

September 25, 2023

I live in Hawaii and have been in the country for 16years leaving the towns i lived in for another 40 years and have had 3 cat's leave the house and fine a place to RIP, plus 2 dogs, so don't tell me they don't, you are wrong.

Julie Cresswell
November 10, 2022

I disagree occasionally you can have a pet that doesn't want to die in front of you, most pets you can decide for but recent experience with my rescue cat, he was a bit different than normal pets, give him that, but one night he came and demanded a fuss for over an hour, he wouldn't stop me stroking him and fussing him, even demanded my mobile went in a drawer by pushing my hand to the drawer. And hour later he let out a strange noise which as I went to see he was basically clawing at the front with all his might. He was calm but angry, and  keeping him in would of distressed him - he hadn't dementia, was a very agile cat but he knew and wanted to protect the other rescues, knew he wasn't far away but he knew one place I wouldn't look, under parked cars. He had though taught the other pets bar one how to carry on fill the gap, which might sound crazy unless you saw the changes yourself. Sadly he left a lot of neighbours upset because he was such a friendly cat who cared for others. While I have put many pets down at their time, this cat had it all worked out, never seen anything like it and at 60 I have had so many pets. This truly was one who knew how they would go, and gave so much to all around.  The things people have told me what he had done for them or how he taught other cats his charming ways, he ensured life his way once I sorted him out from previous owners abuse, got his health back. He was maybe one of a kind, he wanted to be remembered for who he was

July 14, 2022

Our old dog has been low in energy the last few days and not eating and last night she didn't come inside. We found her laying outside in the rain so brought her inside by the fire and tried to get her food and water, instead she slowly wandered to her bed in the garage where she doesn't normally leave at night- but this time she left the safety of home and went out into the rain and hasn't come back. We've been looking everywhere for her this morning and no luck.

November 6, 2021

I agree dogs don’t wander off to spare anyone’s feelings but they do have a tendency to wander off before saying whether it be because of unintentionally getting lost, confusion, cognitive decline

October 20, 2021

I was asking this about a feral cat. She had two litters of kittens and she was gone for a couple days and when she came back she just didn’t look right. She nursed three of her kittens from the last batch for about an hour and three of her kittens from the first batch all huddled around her. It’s been a few days since we’ve last seen her.

June 26, 2021

I kinda have to disagree. It’s true that dogs can forget their way or hurt themselves somewhere- just like old people do! And situations like this totally happen from Time to Time, but not always. But have you ever Heard what happens when a Wolf gets old? Usually it’s being „kicked out” of the pack, and spends rest of it’s life moments alone - not for long though, because usually they are too old and/or injured to survive. I was raised very close to sleigh dogs, as it’s a practice in my family to ride them. „Semi-Domesticated” Dogs living in big packs with obvious hierarchy have similar behaviours- when one of them gets older they start to fight with each other- until the older one dies or is being seperated from the rest to spend his last days alone. Humans that own senior dogs aren’t „kicking” their pets from the pack when the Time comes- but dogs stil have an instinct to leave. Sometimes they don’t have to go far; they might go hide in the most peaceful place in your garden or home- but it’s still a form of isolation. I can’t tell if it gives them peace to be alone in their last moments, or are they actually feeling better when there are people surrounding them for company. All I know is that sometimes, even when dog has choosen to be alone, but you find it and call it by it’s name, they might get up and go back to you. I think it is truest sign of love, that they are willing to fight their own instinct, to spend it’s last moments with you.

February 19, 2021

I'm reading through these comments, crying because I see how their are variations to the end of life journey of you commenter's pets...much like I, as a nurse have seen that some people may have their whole family called into the facility, have the chance to day their 'goodbyes' and be by their loved one's side.. and sometimes that loved one will pass quietly in the presence of one person, and other times they will hold off until everyone is away...maybe just for a brief moment to congregate in the hall way or get some rest or a bit eat, then their loved one passes alone. I even had one family member asking us nurses to overdose their mother with the narcotic that was to ease laborous breathing, just so she could be sure to be at her mother's side as she passed away. Of course, we could not and would not do that. Her mother somehow did wait till a moment everyone was away, it was only just 5 minutes and she passed on from her old age and terminal condition. I cry also...because my beautiful dog Phoebe just passed away very early this morning. I found her just after 3am. We got her a bit over a year ago from a local humane society. Already knew she had some medical issues when we picked her up and brought her home. Had to sign a waiver. So I knew she wouldn't necessarily be with me too long, but I'd hoped she would. She was such a sweet and loving dog. And fun! I'd dress her up in sweaters and we would go out to her favorite park and around the neighborhood for walks... When I first got her I was a nurse manage and I'd take her to work and she'd bring a smile to so many residents faces!! Soon I got to mostly stayed home with her .. I knew in the back of my mind she is my Angel too. And she is (probably sent to) seeing to it that I get on my way with a certain goal I am accomplishing. On the rare day mom was away from home,  two neighbor kids checked on her and let her out to go potty. They loved her too!! Family and friends, so many people loved Phoebe in the short time we had her (15 and a half months). I already miss her so much. Even ad an older dog (the shelter guessed her to be 11 years old at the time we adopted her)..we went through their training program (like sit, stay and 'dance'). We didnt always get too hung up on rules and that but we hung on the the important things she and I beamed with pride that we graduated the training program:) I was expecting to reacclemate her to house training bc she was in a shelter and maybe wasn't taken out to go often enough, but never once did she mess in our home. Noy even at the end. I had to carry her the last day of her life outside and she went potty there. She had the laborous breathing and i just knew she wasn't 'herself'.  I did take her in to be seen. I wanted comfort care, no 'heroics' because of her age and chronic conditions. I would not want her to die at the vet's undergoing treatments.  I would've had jet euthanized if needed for her sake. It is hard to make that call and also have the confidence to know 'when' is fair to you and the animal if that is the route taken. Phoebe layed by my side like she normally did, and at some point in the middle of the night, she got up and walked a fee feet away from her bed with was by the side of my bed and she normally did that too. And she passed away there. I got to hold my baby, pray over her (she responded to that by rolling over submissive <3) The candles I always light in the evening were somehow still lit when I found her around 3. What a beautiful girl. All I wanted is for her to know love ..that we loved her,and she was safe with us till the end of her natural life

George Popisil
November 11, 2020

My experience with some 10 dogs, a half dozen cats, cattle and sheep would suggest otherwise.

Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM
November 10, 2020

Hi DB, I'm so sorry for your loss; it's always heartbreaking to lose our old friends.  I am very glad that you were able to find her so that she wasn't alone at the end, but instead was surrounded by her family.  Take care.

November 10, 2020

When my chow/shepard Sugarbear was 12, she disappeared from the house on our farm.  Because of her age, we were very worried; my husbamd repeated the old adage of wandering off to die, but I had a daughter at hime, and we were worried.  We loved Sugi.  It took the three of us in our old, stake-sided farm truck about two hours to find her, out in a pasture.  We brought her home, and made her a bed where we could keep watch over her.  She didnt move all that night, just panted harshly and laid so still.  In the morning my husband and I carried her to the truck and loaded her up.  We went to her vet, and knew it was time, even before he told us that Sugi's organs were shutting down.  She was too big to hold, but very huggable and we stayed with our girl until her last breath.  Afterwards, we loaded her for the trip home, and laid her to rest at the foot of our garden, by the riad she loved to watch.  She was my Good Girl.  Thank you for your article; no one should die alone.

Amy W. Dressler
October 5, 2020

My still beautiful white husky lab mix, my Miss Bella, is 15 this month.  She has outlived most others her breeds/mix. But there has been the decline this year, that has continued.  And now it is after 11pm and she still lays out by the front gate.  As if she is wanting to go somewhere.  She has been doing this now 24/7 for about 2 weeks. She has never slept outside before.  And she has never slept in front of the gate either.  We have coaxed her in several times only to have her walk in and head straight through the house and back out through the doggie door, back around the house and right back to the front gate again.  Tomorrow morning I will move her blankies out to the gate, along with her water and food bowls.  And I am going to pull some outdoor cushions and pillows and see if I can lay down with her without disturbing her.  If she will accept me I will be spending as much time with her as I can.  And I will be guarding that front gate with all I have.  I think I will put a lock on it.  I can't take a chance she might get out.  She is hoping to get out and wander off to die.  I have no doubts.  I can not allow it.  She will have to do that in her dreams.  My beautiful white gorgeous girl.

September 23, 2020

Yes I agree with your article a lady I know let her dog die alone lost somewhere, my heart breaks

September 23, 2020

My Dog (only 6 years old) is getting put to sleep ... so I was googling his behavior. He is trying to leave the yard. What I learned is 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. Although you are correct in “sparing our feelings”, my dog knows his time is near and his instincts are taking over.

Athanasia Edwards
September 6, 2020

I'm still crying. Why did mine leave?

August 27, 2020

A week ago tomorrow my 17 year old pug, Minnie absolutely disappeared. We believe she may have accidentally gotten out of the house as she never ever left.  However, she is blind and if the door was accidentally left open, she may have stumbled out as with no object or door stopping her. It wasn't too long we realized she was gone and had neighbors with a couple Labs searching for her within 2 hours.  She was no where to be found and at her age this was so confusing because being blind she could not have got too far at all.  We spent the entire weekend and better part of this week looking for her little body.  I honestly was hopeful she would be alive, but it has been more of the "not knowing" that is hurting my heart. Some folks have suggested someone picked her up or she got "stolen". Really, if someone picks up a dog in a neighborhood they will come back the next day to seek signage.  And who would "steal" at 17 year old pug?  So I ruled that out, but that is my only hope of her being alive at this point. At this time, being now over 6 days have passed, it is  that she could not  survive without water.  I am having to grapple with the reality of death.  We have done everything from a Pet Psychic (I was very skeptical about that), to having Public Works check the storm drains, to asking neighbors to go through their garages, to pulling the woods behind our house to shreds turning over every branch and bush. I don't know what else we really could do. However, what has been amazing in this experience is the love and support from our neighbors.  It is clear who are "pet people" and who are not. All I can pray that my baby girl is in heaven peacefully without any pain or suffering now. I am not sure what I really believe here as it relates to the instinct of a dog.  The Pet Psychic shared that animals have guardian angels just like we do and they lead them to peace.  Is that hokey?  I don't know - but I have to believe in something and that she is in a better place now and running, jumping and licking and my Mom and Dad are holding her close. .

August 1, 2020

Hi. I have been in all these situations. My Aunt had a 28+ yo wire hair terrier. She was hard of hearing and dint see well. I’d noticed lumps all over her body, skin very oily and smelly. I took her to the vet. Vet said he wouldn’t put her to sleep because she hadn’t in pain, and he’d never seen a dog that old. Said I would find her in her favorite spot. 2 days later I found her under a tree near a pond she would sit on the side of. I’ve had 3 dogs with cancer. 1 I tried to save, after he died I swore I’d never let another animal suffer. I have since put  down 3 dogs. A year ago, I had a Bull Mastiff who collapsed. It took about 5 minutes for him to get his feet under him and get up. Took him to the vet the next day. Vet could not find anything wrong. 10 months later, I noticed that, while he was laying on his dog bed, his chest seemed swollen. I checked him and he seemed ok and when he turned over it didn’t seem so bad.   He was a bull mastiff, labored breathing seemed natural, his energy level was never high. But he seemed ok. He has a stuffed animal that he suckled.  He did start getting on the couch to snuggle with me.   Then one day, he went out to pee, came in and ate. I went out for 11/2 to 2 hours. When I came home he was unresponsive. He would suddenly lift his head like he was gasping for air. Called my neighbor, a vet tech.  He was dead. We turned him over and he had a swollen belly. She said bloat, but I read up on CHF -and that made more sense, in hind sight.

July 28, 2020

It's absolutely an instinct, for dogs in particular, to want to isolate themselves when they know they are dying. Even through years and years of domestication, dogs are inherently pack animals. They inherently understand that the 'pack' is only as strong as its weakest member. If a dog knows that it is dying, it will isolate himself - usually in an atypical (secret/unknown/unfamiliar - to the pack) place, to intentionally hide in order to not be a burden on the pack in their death. It is for protection - but not for themself - for the pack as a whole.

July 2, 2020

My Rosie died July 1, 2020.  She is a 12 yr old shi tzu who had a bad cough. We kept thinking it was allergies.  She was also epileptic and on epilepsy meds for years.  We noticed she was having a hard time breathing so i got her into the vet to find out she was in congenital heart failure. I was devastated .  The vet said with these meds i should notice a considerable difference in 24 hrs.  Thruout the night i kept getting up to check on her.  Her breathing was better but not considerably .  I held her in my arms for a long time  , petting her and talking about all the wonderful times we had and how much i love her.  I could tell she was struggling breathing.  The vet would be open in 3 hrs and i was planning on putting her down so she didnt suffer. As i held her I kissed her and told her it was ok to go.  That i would miss her and always remember her and I would see her again.    About 5 minutes later she died in my arms.  I’m devastated,  but I know i brought her comfort by Holding her and talking to her.  I will miss her greatly.

June 28, 2020

It's stunning a vet would be this far off the mark. My sister's old Cocker Spaniel disappeared one morning. My father's friend, who was the pro at the golf course behind our house, found the dog at the far end of the golf course, underneath the tree where she had gone to die. She didn't fall down a cliff or get trapped in a cave. She could have walked back home. But instead she went somewhere she had never gone before in her life, plopped down underneath a shady tree and went to meet her maker.

June 13, 2020

The form of argumentation here is assertion. I will now ASSERT that I am a cow. Seriously, as a biologist there is overwhelming evidence the wild animals do this. The article refers to animals that wander off. Our cat only wandered off to the backyard to die. You can look into all sorts of things if you look for evidence rather than relying on surmise and reasoning.

April 22, 2020

I am always not surprised to read how us humans think we have a handle on nature when it is absolutely our assumptions. Dogs are instinctive and there is no way we can know what is going on in the mind of our animals, the only thing we know or can observe are behavior patterns because they are creatures of habit until instincts kick in.  Not our instincts their instincts.  We love on our animals and think their life is only about ours.  I believe the environment has a lot to do with how our animal navigates.  But the similar thread here is whether country or suburb changed the instinct.  it was only the actual owner taking their animal to be put down. However I believe what will override our views and a docs view is nature because it is boss. Our thoughts or the assumptions we think can't supersede the natural instincts of animals as humane as we think we are. If a dog disappears acts out of character I agree it is not about protecting us, it is about the animal and their desire to respond to the instinctive call of connection to it's source. So I think all of your experiences have merit I just tend to gravitate to the most natural instinctive outcomes.  And yes non of us wants any animal in undue pain but we don't know if when those instincts kick in there is something in those moments that are humane to our animals. Only the God or creator that made them really knows and I think the creator whatever you want to call this place a blueprint that works.  Our dog just disappeared..poof and this is what comforts me. he received the call but we didn't hear it we were to busy trying to keep him here for us with all the drugs and methods which worked to a point.  i just think we can't stop nature's blueprint.  Thank you I hope for all a heart of peace.

April 15, 2020

This is patently untrue. My family was recently planning on putting our white cat, whom we had taken to the vet and received myriads of medical treatments for his aging ailments. It was his time to go and nothing we did spared him from the pains and strains of old age. One day--very close to the deadline we would have put him down--he went from begging to come inside (he is an outdoor cat) and be fed to suddenly being gone and never returning. You're gonna sit there and tell me that our old cat spontaneously went from sleeping 16-20 hours a day to suddenly desiring to go on an adventure he was unable to return from? Gimme a break!

Eric Holland
March 17, 2020

I had two shih tzu's a girl monna and a boy maze. My family and i went to our new house in Texas so we could get everything ready for our move. My dad came back on Christmas day and went home the next day. December 26th 2019 my dad called my mom and said the dogs are all good and he just feed them.Later that night my dogs dissapeared at 8:00pm when my dad let them out to go pee. He called my mom that same night and said the dogs are missing.... I was worried because my dogs never leave the property at night but my mom was just like oh there come back and my dad said yea they will.Three days pass and they still hadn't come back.... I was so heart broken like how do they just dissapeared from the yard. Then i look at camera footage from the back yard and i seen that they just went to the side of the house and just never came back. Its now March 17 2020 and I still have not found them. Im still heart broken till this day, and it hurts to see that my parents just act like my babies never exsited.

Diane Young
January 25, 2020

Thank you for this article.  So insightful and humane.  I feel better about the decision we made in Dec. with our sixteen year old beautiful Chihuahua.  We could not bare to see her suffer anymore.

Pedro Acosta
January 12, 2020

My rescue chihuahua mix, Wally was diagnosed with benign liver nodules and hipercalcemia  a few months ago. I guess his age is between 10 to 12 YO. The vets ran a battery of tests and couldn’t find the cause. He had stopped eating and sometimes acted as if in distress. And only solution offered  was prednisolone. Last week he had a seizure and lost control. Four days ago his breathing appeared labored and noisy. It became worse at night and I took him to the vet the next day. He was diagnosed with pancreatitis and enlarged liver. The vet had advised me that it could cause liver issues but we felt then, that controlling his calcium should take precedence as it was the most serious. We gave him fluids, Cerenia - two days now - and he doesn’t want to eat. Does drink water. This evening I let him out to pee and he tried to wonder off. I’m with him now, awake all night, waiting to make sure he’s comfortable and isn’t in need my anything. It’s 3:42 AM now and he has another appointment form9:45 AM. I’m troubled by the thought of letting the vet give him more fluids to help his weak state and another day or if it would be kinder and more compassionate to let him go. He’s my best friend. Follows my every move and looks at me as if I were a god. But tragically I’m not and he’s probably wondering why I can’t cure him. I feel all your pain - all of you kind folks who’ve lost your dear friend. God bless you good animal lovers and may your pets memories be a blessing to you. 

December 24, 2019

We had a boy dog and he was 4mons old, he was very sweet. He is my savior, whenever I go he always follow me. His name was baby boy. I just don’t understand things when all of the sudden he was so weak I still can’t forget every detail because it’s just happened today. Yesterday since nobody’s left in the house  we have no idea what’s he really doing if he’s eating or not. Then we came home last night actually he always the one who run at me but last night was so sad. My husband already went around the house to find him then when I’m the one who called him “my baby boy” he showed up with very so sad. That’s what my mind started to think a lot. I feed him but he didn’t even ate even lil bites, I try to put in his mouth because I’m really so worried but he always refuses it. I always talking to him,carrying him,saying a good band that we had. He is my baby and everything. Until we woke up so early this morning 5am he’s not laying beside our bed where he usually slept at. I try to call him, walking around the house even though it’s dark. He’s actually dark , I’m actually the one who’s worried a lot trying to make impossible the possible. I don’t want to think he’s died or what. I just wanted to find him. I really miss him. The day was already passed and I still can’t find him. Hope he was fine wherever he was. I can’t forget this day.

December 21, 2019

This article is great and informative. And I lost a cat recently..he just didn’t come home one day. I know something terrible happened and I let him down by allowing him to go outside. Yes accidents happen, a gate was left opened or the toddler who just figured out how to open doors let the cat out. But I knew Mo was outside and I just assumed he would be fine. A lot of pet owners make that mistake. We are building a catio in our backyard and I’m praying that somebody picked Mo up and that he’s enjoying some kitty treats. Sometimes the truth hurts ...but letting our pets down hurts more

December 7, 2019

Sorry, but I don't fully agree with this article. My family had a Golden Retriever for 9 and half years. We got her when she was 8 weeks old.She was extremely spoiled with love and attention and although we had a fenced yard, she NEVER slept outside but in bed with one of us. She was extremely attached to us and followed us around like a shadow. However, 35 kilo beauty was scared of the dark and one of us always had to go outside with her at night when she wanted to pee. She was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney failure at around 8 years old. We were shocked and least to say devastated, but managed to get through it. Fast forward and year and a half later, her health deteriorated badly. Stopped eating, vomiting constantly regardless of the medication and was going on a downward spiral. All I want to mention is, when our dog went to the darkest corner of yard in the yard to sleep for the 1st time in 9 and half years the furtherest she could get from her family,  to be by herself in the dark, we knew her time was limited. We kept checking on her and begging her to come in, but she refused. We actually brought her in the house in our arms twice but she just went back out again to hide in another dark spot and although we didn't fully understand it and it saddened us, we had to respect it was what she wanted or needed at that time. We put her to sleep the next day. I think it's just a genetic instinct with animals, particularly with dogs. Even so, after 5 months, our hearts are still broken. We miss her more than words can say...

November 25, 2019

My 15 year old dog only went outside when she needed to pee. And even then she would do it next to tge door on the porch and then get back inside. She did that for months, even her last year if I remember correctly. She never left the porch unless someone carried her. But one winter night we let her out to pee and after half an hour she still hadn't come back. So we started looking for her. We found her pee on the porch but the dog was nowhere to be found. Literally. We looked for hours and she was so slow getting down the stairs to the grass would take her at least 10 minutes. So still, I keep thinking. What happened to her? We never found her. She just literally dissapeared. And why? Why would she leave when she never did before. Why? How? These questions haunt me but all I can do is hope she didn't suffer when she fell asleep... Rest in Peace little Stella the lhasa apso.

Sarah Spindler
October 29, 2019

I can agree with this. I had a dog who was more than 13 years old (it was a dog in our neighborhood that no one owned because his owner had died, but he would roam around the neighborhood and we would feed him). He had mostly been around our house the last few years, and he has been in pain and limping the last few years. We did not put him down because he still had a quality of life and would still try to roam around the neighborhood. We have not seen him in over a month, so he is dead. He did have trouble walking and he was known to force himself to be as mobile as he could be, so I believe he either wandered off somewhere no one could find him and died, or he got killed at a hidden place. I no longer find "wandered off to die" comforting, as I'm sure they are actually suffering and unable to get back before they die.

September 13, 2019

I've had a couple cats over the years that got very sick and finally wandered off to die.

Sue Marion
August 25, 2019

Totally disagree. My cat Beatrice had no indications of illness and never disappeared from her territory around our home. She was found in the woods where she never ventured, laid down on a bed of leaves and at peace. She may not have known why she walked into the woods, maybe she didn't know she was going to die, but something drove her away from our home and her security.

August 15, 2019

Malraky. On the final day with my friend's Schnauzer, he stayed with us in the front room ALL day - he had CHF and he was doing poorly. He jumped on the couch and laid down next to me, stayed there for about 5 minutes while I loved on him, then he got down, walked into the hallway where he never went, laid down, and died. He knew. Although I do agree with this article that if they are suffering, they should be sent Home in a dignified manner, surrounded by loved ones, and given peace. Animals are special - humans, not so much...

Douglas DePalma
July 3, 2019

I waited to post these comments hoping to leave my emotions out of it. Our 13 year old Boston Terrier was euthanized last Thursday. I do not want to disrespect the doctor that wrote this article, but I'm convinced our dog did try to run away from home to die, twice. The first time was about two weeks before we put him down. He was let outside to relieve himself about 12:30am. We live in a neighborhood where houses are about 40 feet apart. He was not on a leash but my wife was along side of him as he walked the front yard. I was standing on the porch to keep an eye on him. A short time later, he started running down the block. I went after him and caught him about 3 houses down. Each time I grabbed him, he struggled loose and continued to move further down the block. I was finally able to grab a hold of him and carried him home. We were very surprised by his behavior because the dog has always been a home body. He rarely left the yard and or my wife's side especially at night. The second time he ran from home came about a week later. My wife took him out to relieve himself, this time it was 4:30 am. She was walking with him in the backyard with flashlight in hand. My wife said he looked up at her as if he was saying goodbye, then ran down a hill into the woods behind our house. My wife came in to get(wake) me to help find him. I grabbed my super bright flashlight and headed into the woods after him. I search 45 minutes in the darkness for him before I spotted him walking in a creek bed. He was heading the opposite direction from home with a strange determined look on his face. He was wet and blooded from a 3 foot fall into the creek. I grabbed and wrestled with him all the way back home. I had to carry him because each time I put him down he would head back in the opposite direction. We took him to the vet the next day. The vet said he had many symptoms that indicated a brain tumor. We made one of the hardest decisions we ever made and put him down the next day. I read MapleMels post and felt you were way to hard on yourself. You reacted very quickly to ensure your pet did not suffer. I learned a lot about dogs during those final few weeks. Many dogs have the same symptoms when the end is near. Very few dogs die a pain free naturally death. Do some homework on the internet. It will help you make the very difficult decision in a timely manner when the time comes. It is the best thing you can do for yourself and the pet you love.

Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM
July 2, 2019

It sounds as if you've suffered a loss of your own; I'm so very sorry.  However, you may wish to re-read the article in question more closely.  It was written by a veterinarian whose own elderly dog disappeared, and she has spent some time of her own dealing with the pain of that loss.  Her point was simply that animals do in fact wander off for a number of reasons, often due to memory or cognitive loss; however, they don't generally go off just to die, and that they often need our help in the end.

July 1, 2019

This had to have been one of the most insensitively written articles EVER. Way to retraumatize all the owners whose elderly or sick pets disappeared. 

June 27, 2019

To Janet Raggi - I just wanted to let you know that you aren't alone.  Our dog had congestive heart failure that we were managing with medication, and he was stable.  We were always prepared to put him down when his meds stopped working.  But he was happy and comfortable.  Then two nights ago, at 1 a.m., I woke to him pacing and panting.  He couldn't lay down, he couldn't stand still.  He was panicked and frightened.  I started calling vets -- ours, others nearby, and nobody had an overnight vet who would put him down.  We would have to wait until 8 a.m.  He died at 7 a.m., after six hours of unimaginable discomfort.  He suffered.  And now we must live with the knowledge that after showering him with love and affection and medical care and spoiling him rotten for all these years, we failed him when he needed us the most. It is the worst feeling in the world.

Rob Cunningham
June 24, 2019

I am not sure what to think.  We let our elderly boxer out to relieve himself.  He wander around the end of the house while my wife was watching and disappeared.  He's blind and the back legs aren't what they used to be.  A search started immedaiately and after 34 hours of grief I and my son found him curled up in a small patch of grass next to a creek less than one kilometer from the house.  We almost walked past him he was so quiet.  He was asleep and once awakened, he seemed disinclined to move.  It was a quiet, almost idylic spot but the whole episode is so strange since the dog is such a home body.  All I can say is keep a close watch on your older dog so that they don't wander off in possible confusion.  Whether it was our dog's intent to purposely leave I can not say if he tries again then I may form a stronger opinion.

Janet M Raggi
June 15, 2019

My beloved Puggle was fine in the morning, got sick in the afternoon and simply got worse.  Stopped eating and could not get comfortable. It was late, 11 PM and I decided to take her to the vet first thing in the morning.  She passed around 5 AM.  I am absolutely beside myself.

Cheryl Smith
June 11, 2019

Thanks for your article.  I just found our old dog after an overnight disappearance.  Hubby said she prob went off to die. YA RIGHT!  . . . Facts matter. Thanks from Mom & Poky!

Edward Carlson
May 29, 2019

It's 2:20 AM and I woke to my 17 year old husky was crying. I took him out to urinate. I used to be a CNA so I know that incontinence is common in the elderly. It coourred to me that he might be dying.  I posed the question online and found this forum . I don't have much money and don't know what to do for him. Somebody please help us. I can't quit crying because of this thought.

May 26, 2019

My husband left our poor, 19-year-old cat out when neither of us were going to be home all day. I came home  6 1/2 hours later and she was gone.  I never would have done that and I'm struggling not to blame him. I know he didn't mean for her to suffer. The night was cold and now it's raining. I can't imagine she could survive. She was so frail. I'm heartbroken thinking of how she must be suffering if she survived the night.

Marion Mathis
May 20, 2019

Our Lucy was diagnosed with cancer in her nose four years ago. After radiation treatments she did well until a few months ago. She acted like her mouth was hurting her and she was eating and drinking very little.  We tried pain meds, a dental at the vet, sub q fluids but the more we tried to do the worse she got. Tired of tormenting her with all the painful treatments we stopped so she could live the end of her life more comfortably.   She actually rallied, ate regular food,  drank and went for strolls outside to look at the fish pond. Last night she was sitting by her pond watching the fish. We came back five minutes later and she was gone.We scanned the neighborhood until three in the morning.  She still hasn't come back and we've looked everywhere and put up posters. We're absolutely devastated. We're tortured  thinking she wanted to go off and die on her own . Especially after she had been doing so well.

Another Jackir
May 18, 2019

My greatest love, a 14 yr. old Bichon Frise who I have had since he was 7 weeks old, died early this morning.  He had renal failure.  I just brought him home after spending 2 days in ICU.  The prognosis was not good.  The internist said he would be gone by Sunday.  I wanted him to die in his bed, next to me, so I scheduled for in-home euthanasia today.  I wanted to spend one more evening with him before I let him go.  Then last night around 7 pm, I called the in-home euthanasia vet to see if he could come last night instead because she said earlier in the day that she could.  Her cell phone rang & rang but she didn't answer.  I sent her a text and she didn't answer.  She told me yesterday when we spoke to schedule euthanasia, that she doesn't expect him to die until the euthanasia time we had scheduled.  Throughout the night, he was panting & restless.  I spent the entire night holding him & comforting him, thinking that he would be around until the vet comes around 1:30 pm today.  Around 7 am, he was dead set on getting out of bed (which is my bed).  So I took him to the bathroom where he has a bed under the vanity.  Shortly after, he got out of the bed under the vanity and walked weaklessly, wobbling in the process to go to the toilet room, where he tried his best to fit himself behind the toilet.  He was coughing up little specs of blood.  I coached him to come to me but he was intent on staying where he was behind the toilet bowl.  I finally managed to pull him out and I took him immediately to ER.  At the ER room, just before he breathed his last breathe, the last thing he did was to get up from the exam table and he wanted to walk away.  I tell you, he wanted to find a dark corner and die.  A few seconds later, I felt that he had stopped breathing.  He died on his own, before the ER doctor got a chance to come to the room to put him to sleep.  It was so heartbreaking because I was deadset on comforting him and put him to sleep in his house.  I should have taken him to the ER last night when the in-home euthanasia vet did not respond to my call or text. Around 8:15 this morning, the in-home euthanasia vet texted me with an excuse that her phone was off from 6 - 8 last night.  That's funny because the cell phone just rang & rang & rang before the voice mail came on.  If it was off, my call would have gone immediately to voice mail.  Her text was a bit too late.  My baby was in pain and I let it happen.

Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM
May 7, 2019

Jane, I'm so sorry.  I know that feeling all too well; my husband left a gate open and it was the last time I saw my older dog several years ago now (she had a serious but manageable medical issue).  To this day, the worst part is not knowing what happened.  I don't think that part will ever get better, though I think of it far less often now. Sadness and heartbreak are normal, but please don't allow yourself to feel guilty--accidents do happen, and none of us are perfect.  I hope you are able to find peace.

May 7, 2019

I totally agree with your comment. On the 21April my 17 year old dog went missing. She had a touch of dementia, some cataracts and partially deaf. However, we had h r at the vets two we is or visuals where she had a general anaesthetic and some rotten teeth out. The vet took bloods and said her heart and general health was good. She did her usual run around our farm buildings. On the day she went missing, we were out in the field with a difficult lambing one and a half hours--my husband had left the farm in the car leaving the door open for the dog to go in and out. I am heartbroken because  I think the dog may have felt deserted and gone down the lane towards the road and got disorientated, run over or taken. I cannot accept she just went 'off to die' because she was an old dog.

March 21, 2019

My dog Rylee, who was a golden retriever, died when he was 13 years old. My mom didnt want to put him down she would make him wait. My brother and I were really young at the time and we knew he looked really bad and miserable. He would run away and we would go find him. Then he started digging large holes and lay in them for hours and he wouldnt come out. He wouldnt eat or anything. Then as time became to unbearable my mom xalled the vet to put him down. Sometimes I wish we done it sooner. I will never forget how bad he looked and how miserable he felt. Many dogs run away to die, some make there own grave. I know so many dogs who ran away to die or to be free before they die. My other dog always ran away when he gets sick and he come back once he was better. Even my cats did that, if they got injured from other tom cats they would run away until they feel better. Another theory of mine and many others, some animals heal by themselves and want peace. Once they get better they come home but if they dont get better they die. No one really knows dogs behaviors, dogs are like humans all are so different. Maybe similiar natural personalities but not all are the exact same. You could have a dog die when he ran away, a dog died by making his/her own grave, starvation from depression or sickness. Anything really.

March 10, 2019

Dogs do go off to die. I love my babies more than anything and they love me. They love to be held and loved/cuddled. When it's time for them to do die, they go off by themselves. My last baby woke up not acting right. She was wheezing. We took her to the vet. She was given lasix and a heart medication. She was 13 1/2 years old. She was laying with me on the floor in her baby bed. I was gently rubbing her. She always loved that. Out of nowhere, she stood up, looked me in the eyes, and went under the bed. I knew what she was doing from previous experiences with my babies going off to die. I got her out from under the bed and put her back on her bed and begged her not to go back under the bed. I told her I loved her and that we would just lay there, that I wouldn't touch her. She layed there for a few minutes, then got up and started heading back to the bed. I called her by her name. She stopped, turned around and looked at me. I told her that I loved her and to please come back to me. She looked at me for a few seconds and then went back under the bed and died. My babies are inside pets so they are not wandering off and being killed by other animals, getting hurt, or getting lost. Everybody that I know say their babies do the same thing. So why would babies that love to be cuddled with, and insist on it, go off by themselves rather than being in their owner's loving embrace? My vets have told me it's a natural response/instinct that animals have. Why do they do this? I don't know. I would like to think that they don't want their owners to see them die. That they try to spare us. They know we will be devastated and try to do everything that we can to save them. Even yanking them up and rushing them to the vet. They want to die in peace and spare us at the same time.

December 2, 2018

I'm aware this article is a few years old now, but I would just like to say that I couldn't agree more with it. My old family cat, a 17 year old with slight kidney issues, was still living with my ill mother when she disappeared. My mother (partially due to being unwell) was determined that she must have 'gone off somewhere to die,', and hadn't even informed me that she had disappeared, feeling that was the end of the matter. Despite fearing the worst because of the age she was and the time that had passed, I was determined to look for her and posted messages around for a missing cat. About four weeks after she first disappeared she was found by a wonderful woman out in her garden about five minutes away from my mother's house, who had taken her in and gave her food and water. She was malnourished, but otherwise remarkably well for a cat her age who had spent the month as a stray in the height of summer. I took her back with me to my house where, feeling my mother wasn't up for looking after an elderly cat who needed extra TLC, me and my partner continued to look after her. We kept her as an indoor cat for her remaining year, taking her out for gentle walks on a lead with our two dogs that she adored, as she was obviously was a little confused at times in her old age. She recovered well and we got to spend another whole year and a bit with a wonderful old lady, full of character and life, and be with her in her final hours when her kidneys finally did gave in so that she could be put down at the vets peacefully. Please, don't just assume your pet has gone off to die, or you may miss the chance to save their life and lose out on precious years spent with them.

Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM
November 26, 2018

It's impossible for anyone to know what's going on with your old guy without a proper exam, but based on your description of his changes in behavior, I'd recommend having your veterinarian take a look at him to make sure he isn't experiencing a new condition or worsening of a current one.  There are a lot of factors in old age that we can't change, but some, such as arthritic pain can definitely be managed so that they are less of a problem for the pet.

November 22, 2018

We have an 12 year old American bulldog mix. He has some health issues and I’ve noticed lately he’s isolating himself from the other dogs in the house. He goes outside. And lays in a corner of the yard. He’s eating well goes for shorts walks only due to bad arthritis. He stands in the yard at times and just stares and won’t come on. We have to go out outside to bring him in. Can he possibly being going blind.?

November 3, 2018

A few years ago, my dog was suffering from severe illness. She had diarrhea, issues moving, and wouldn’t eat much. She ended up passing a few days later as we were discussing putting her down. Was this a peaceful death? I don’t think it was, she was laying on her dog bed, seemed no worse than the day before, and when we came back five minutes later, she was dead. Eyes open, no breathing. Did she suffer until and through her death? She wasn’t sleeping I assume as her eyes were open. I just want to know for when I have a dog in the future when we should put her down.

May 3, 2018

I thought it was an instinctive thing pack animals do since they can't dig graves or build flaming pyres to cremate the body. In nature a carcass is smelly, disgusting and usually attracts unsavory scavenging types.

Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM
February 22, 2018

Hi Arianna, You're right--it wouldn't be impossible, but it certainly would be unusual for a dog this young to be seriously ill enough to die.  Knowing absolutely nothing about her, my knee-jerk reaction would be to think that this could be more of a behavioral symptom than a sign of a serious illness.  A lot of dogs with anxiety will hide or otherwise isolate themselves, so it could be that she's trying to get away from something that she perceives as intimidating or frightening.  If there are other dogs in the yard with her, she might be trying for some privacy or quiet time (whether the others scare her or simply annoy her). My second (less likely) guess is that she could simply be really interested in observing or exploring the neighborhood, which of course could be a very bad situation if you have much traffic or if someone else thinks she's been lost or abandoned! The best thing to do would be to consult her veterinarian.  If she gets a clean bill of health, the two of you will need to look into the reason behind her behavior.  Obviously you've only given us a couple of sentences here, but with that limited amount of information, anxiety really did jump to the top of my list. Best wishes to you and your pal!

February 22, 2018

My dog is doing this but she is 1 and a half... She disappears in our back yard and curls up by our gate. It would devastate me for her to die this young. Please tell me it's not true...

February 17, 2018

My sister-in-law's cat went missing. They let the cat outside and thought "she liked it" so when I suggested that was not a good idea, I was met with the "she likes it" answer. Now the poor cat is gone and my sister-in-law said she thought she had gone somewhere to die. Of course, I do not believe that. Either she was attacked or her collar got stuck and she was unable to free herself. Of course, I will not comment about it to my sister-in-law, but hopefully they will not get another pet. I have two dogs and two cats. My cats do not go outside and my dogs are always leashed when we go outside. My pets are my furry children and I would never just let them out on their own. It's sad, my sister-in-law's cat was a very nice girl.

January 18, 2018

I think we all have an opinion from personal experience...better to die the way nature or if you believe God intended or be euthanized in a clinic....Ive had pets wander off come back when called, sit with me for a while then go back into the woods like they were saying one last good bye....I know all of the personal stories can be construed as projecting human thoughts and emotions on animals, but the thing all grieving pet owners need to remember is no matter how you pets life ended you ultimately saved that stray cat or dog cared for and loved your pet and that's really what matters, we shouldn't be judging each other...

bob hill
January 15, 2018

I live in a remote area where my dogs definately go off to die. I have observed the last one doing so. The dog was completely in control of what it wanted to do. I could have brought it back and injected it but to disturb it would have been unfair.

January 14, 2018

Dogs are not people, Yes, they do, when whatever it is inside them know they are going to die, they prefer to go off and do it alone. We had several dogs while I was growing up, everyone of them did that. My beautiful yellow lab came back home after wandering away, stayed the night in house with me, next morning, walked to door wanting out. I went out with her and cried, begged her not to go (I knew why she was going) She stopped and looked at me a couple of times, but her eyes were telling me she had to go. She never came back, I know she is gone.

December 23, 2017

I also disagree with this article. My 16 1/2 year old Shih Tzu passed away the other day. He declined rather rapidly, out of nowhere, and in his last 48 hours started losing control of his bladder and bowels. We kept him hydrated with syringe feeding him water and chicken broth. We took him to the vet, got medications, etc. Whenever he'd be really sick, he'd never leave our sides. He'd stay by our beds or follow us everywhere, looking miserable. This would often be the case when he'd have tummy issues, or an infection somewhere, etc. We'd always take him to the vet and fix him right up. In the last 48 hours before he died, it was very cold here and raining. My dog NEVER went outside the doggy door in the cold or the rain. Much less in both at once, a double whammy. He'd step outside the doggy door, see that it was cold and raining, and would be like "NOPE" and would march right back in and pee or poop on our hardwood floors. In the last 48 hours, he didn't go outside at all. He peed and pooped EVERYWHERE but outside. I think this was due to him not having any energy, along with it being cold and wet outside because those were cold and gloomy days. So, for 2 days, he didn't go outside at all. We cleaned his urine and poop 2-3 times a day off the hardwood floors. On the day he passed away, we sat with him until 1 AM in the morning, petting him, giving him his medicine, comforting him, etc. I woke up two hours later due to my anxiety, I guess, because I was worrying about him and couldn't sleep easy. Two hours after I last sat with him, I couldn't find him in his room or doggy bed. I looked everywhere. Finally, I got a flashlight and went outside. He went out into the cold and rainy night to curl up under a tree, where he died. I think he knew exactly what he was doing. I've known my dog for 16 years. He always found his way back to the doggy door, so, he couldn't have gotten lost. We have a small backyard that's fenced in and there's nowhere really to go to get lost. And, my dog absolutely hated the cold weather and the rain. For whatever reason, in his final moments, he decided to go out there, curl up under a tree, and die. This is a phenomenon that just about every member of my family has witnessed, especially the older generation, that has had a LOT of dogs do this. Lots of people that I have spoken to have also told me that their pets have done this sort of thing, as well. Perhaps, we'll never fully know what goes on inside an animal's mind in their final moments. I respect the fact that you took the time to write this article and scrutinize and psycho analyze dog psychology and behavioral patterns, but, the reality is that we can scrutinize all we want, but, we'll never 100% know because we are not them. Lots of people have witnessed their beloved animals exhibit similar behaviors before death which I described with my own dog, and, that shouldn't just be completely dismissed as being wrong. As I said, we can scrutinize all we want, but, we'll never 100% know, will we? It's not like we can ask a dog that has passed away why they did the things they did in their final moments. But from what I've seen my own dog do in his final moments, and what many friends and family members have witnessed, I have to disagree with this article.

Nirvan Siga
July 12, 2012

I had adopted a stray that was already quite old. A week ago he lost his appetite and got quite wobbly-er on his feet so i took him to the vet. Vet put him on iv-drip and said his kidneys were failing due to old age. She said he wasn't in pain yet so i could maintain him so i took him back home. just before taking him in, i let him go do his business after which he started walking off. at first i thought he wasn't finished or wanted to roam about but then he started going into territory he never goes into ever(belonging to another stray that attacks him). at this point i got worried and picked him up and got him in. All the while i was following him he knew i was there because he would look at me when i called him and when i picked him up, he just curled up in my arms which he's never done before. He passed away the next morning. My friend told me about the 'old dogs go away to die' thing and i came here to check it out. I'm inclined to think that it's mostly disorientation but his behavior just seemed oddly similar to other posts supporting said theory.

November 29, 2017

Dr. Smith, I disagree. I had 7 golden retrievers and they were our children. They all reached a point where they were frustrated by the limitations of their age. They became immobile and sad. The ones who reached old age all went off to die. I lived in Alaska and they would go off in a blizzard and my wife would cry until I found them curled in the snow under a tree. I see this in myself in my old age, isolation, and loneliness. "hiding doesn't necessarily mean that death is inevitable." Death is inevitable and when you feel or see it in caregiving you will recognize "time to die" as anything but poetic and idyllic.

Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM
October 7, 2017

Hi Joe, I don't think our opinions differ much at all!  When animals are in pain and distress, their natural instinct IS to hide and conceal themselves from potential harm (i.e. predators).  Thank goodness you found your beagle and were able to spare him the suffering of the longer, slower death he would have had if you had not been able to locate him.  The same applies to Cindy's story--the pain and distress from her dog's cancer caused that instinct to hide kicked in, but the dog's death would have been much slower and more agonizing if they hadn't found her. That really was my point.  These animals don't "go off to die" a peaceful, natural death.  Yes, they die.  However, it's anything but gentle.  They suffer terribly, and there's no way for us to know how long that suffering is prolonged before they finally pass on.  And . . . sometimes the injuries or illnesses they have that cause them to hide are treatable.  They don't know that they're going to die--they just know that they feel really bad and that they're vulnerable, so they follow the instinct that tells them to hide.  This is a situation where I think a disconnect can happen for us--this business of going away and hiding doesn't necessarily mean that death is inevitable.  Do some animals that hide have incurable illness?  Certainly.  Do they all, though?  I've seen plenty of very sick animals who were able to come around, with medical intervention, and continue to live normal, happy lives.  So I'm not trying to say that the *behavior* doesn't occur.  I'm just not buying the notion that they have an internal alarm clock that says "Time to die!" and take a last, deliberate journey to bring their lives to a poetic, idyllic conclusion. THAT is the myth.

October 7, 2017

I,too, wish to differ w/ the author of the opinion piece. While I certainly respect she is a vet and understand that her position is coming from years of experience, I can only relate my own experience. One morning I went to let my 3 dogs in and the 13 yr. old beagle-mix had not returned. When I found him, he wouldn't come to me when I called him. He kept lying in the grass or, if he did get up, would try to go in a shed and crawl under the space between the lower shelf and dirt floor. And when I did get him into the house, he even crawled behind furniture. He, in my humble opinion, was definitely looking for someplace where he could die. Now, whether it's animal instinct or borne out of some need to spare the other members of his "pack" (i.e., human family) the pain of watching him die, I don't know, but he definitely tried to be alone. I took him to vet and tests discovered various internal issues. He was in a lot of pain so the family made the difficult decision to end his suffering. We were all present and were gently petting him as the vet helped him move on. The ER vet even added, "He's now in a better place..."

Cindy Chang
September 27, 2017

I beg to differ. My own personal experience when I was a teenager, we had an amazing dog  (husky/malamute mix) named Shasta.    One day we couldn’t find her. We had a fenced yard, but my dad had a fenced area with ferns within the fence boundaries.   It took us a while, but we found that our dog climbed the fence to get into the back of the ferns to lay down. My dad carried her out and we took her straight to the vet. They found that she was riddled with cancer. We had no idea. We put her to sleep that day. The veterinarian is the one who told us that she probably was hiding to die. It took a lot for her to get over that little fence. But she obviously was determined to hide. I appreciate your thoughts, but I just know what happened in our life. The dog was eight years old and had never done anything remotely similar to this.  

Jo P.
September 21, 2017

My 14yr old dog is missing for a week. He has arthritis in his hind legs & needs meds to walk. He has basically been attached to me since I adopted him at 2yrs old so he never wanders. The vet basically prescribed meds to make him comfortable. He has soiled himself due to losing his balance or just not making it outside. I also have a steep driveway that I must carry him up. Lately he was hanging around the gate which he never does, also was ingesting his urine & feces. Now he is missing. I'm stumped as to where he is. Neighbors & I have searched everywhere. There's no trace. I even considered that he went away. But honestly don't accept it. Can you recommend anything that may help me find him. He doesn't deserve to die aslone. I've already done the basics, flyers, social media, contacted police & humane societies & extensively search several times a day. Please help me in anyway. Thanks so much

September 15, 2017

I don't fully believe this. I have a 4 year old dog who has rapidly declined over the last 2 1/2 weeks. I've taken him to 2 vets for care and there is nothing to be done. It is hemangiosarcoma. I see him suffering so I contacted a 3rd vet to do in home euthanasia when I got home from work and found him stumbling and not doing well. She will be here tomorrow but I'm not sure he will make it through the night. He keeps going to the gate and looking back at me as if he wants me to let him out so he can leave. I never let my dogs run loose so this isn't a normal behavior for him to act as if I would let him out the gate.

Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM
September 2, 2017

Hi Chris, Because cats tend to mask signs of illness, not eating and/or hiding is a good indication of a sick cat.  If you haven't already, it would be a very good idea to take your kitty to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Chris Dykstra
August 29, 2017

Our cat had a tumor remove from his head.  Though he was old, we felt he wa worth it.  Several months later he stopped eating and started hiding.  He would return after 1 1/2 days....I/d feed him & love him.  He's disappear, and return in few days.  He's back to hanging around more..sleeps a lot....eats very little....but better than he was a week ago.  How long do I let this go on?

Lori Craddock
July 17, 2017

@Denise, Your comment is not only ill-informed, but insensitive as well. My beloved cat who is 23 years old loved to be outside. She would not accept being kept in, as she loved to go out in the evening and lay on our front porch or in our driveway and take in all the sights and sounds happening at that time. NEVER was I irresponsible or lazy to take care of her. She was pampered like the Queen that she was. When she was outside, she never went beyond our driveway. I have had her since 1995 when I rescued her, and have given her a great life. She was given less than a month to live a year and a half ago, but somehow pulled through and kept on going. 3 1/2 days ago she just vanished. I have scoured this neighborhood, knocked on every door, put clothes out for her to smell, hung fliers all over, checked the animal shelter website every day, and no luck finding her. She was my baby and I am beyond devastated. To blame the owners and say that they are irresponsible and lazy is ignorant. If you know cats, then you also know that some will simply NOT ACCEPT being kept indoors. That was my Queenie. I suppose she died on her terms and I will have to live with that the rest of my life.

Ron Bond
May 26, 2017

My 12 year old Cocker Spaniel had been blind for 17 months but was coping well with his disability. We would go for walks where he would get petted by all. One evening a knock at my door was a neighbor who told me Reese was laving at the bottom of my next door neighbors driveway. I carried him home and marvelled how he had gotten there. He had gone out his pet door,as usual, into the fence yard, then made his way to the front porch that I had fenced off. Somehow he found a gap in the hedge  and made it to the street and to my neighbors driveway where he went to sleep. The next day he went for his usual grooming where they called to say he was having seizures. After a week of visits ti the emergency vets and some over night stays it was decided that it was time to say goodbye. I was heart broken but wanted to do what was best for him. Now, 26 days later I was rethinking the episode of this blind dog making his way to my neighbors drive and thought perhaps he knew the end way nigh. The comments that other owners have made  convince me this is true. We bought him (literally) an extra week of life, or was it just existence? I rationalized that he was recalled by God and my loan of his company was over. I will weep for him for ever.

phil feser
May 3, 2017

Thanks for making us feel WORSE about our 18 year old cat disappearing. she walked to our neighbors a few times every day like clockwork and one day simply didn't return. No vehicle traffic, no dogs, nowhere to really go in a safe neighborhood. we looked everywhere for days. She was super thin and obviously "losing it" in the end. the only thing that helped was thinking she took matters into her own hands.

March 20, 2017

Denise...please do not assume that every lost pet is the result of someone not caring about their dog or cat. I'm a grandmother who was taking care of my two grandchildren.  My hands were full with a baby and a toddler. My daughter's dog begged to go out to the back yard. After getting the babies taken care of I went to let her in, but she was not at the door. It was dark and I assumed she was out in the yard where I couldn't see.  Later, we found a space between the fence and the house that was big enough for her to squeeze through.  I had no idea it was there.  I feel badly enough that I am the reason their dog is missing without having someone judge me without know the facts.  There could be many reasons animals escape their yards, or car or run after the neighbors cat etc.  Their fur baby is older, but I do not think she would be inclined to go off to die.  She was not in poor health, just slowing down and a little hard of hearing.  This conversation is good so some people will not be so judgmental about how pets become lost.  I am broken hearted for my daughter and her family.  I pray everyday that we find her.

February 5, 2017

My kitty of 18 years started to decline and the only thing she wanted to do was go outside in the cold. She was an indoor kitty but would not rest until she was allowed outside. I snuggled her up in my coat and took her outside and that is where we sat together until she seemed ready to go back inside. We did this several times a day until she finally passed away in my sons arms while sitting in her favorite spot under our Christmas tree. I think there was something internal in her that wanted to be outside at that time in her life because she never before showed any interest in being outside.

February 4, 2017

i can agree with this supposition. as to old,therefor,hard to Get Back Home. we had an old cat[euthinized] who we had for 18 yrs.don't know age when he adopted us. always same spots to enjoy a snooze.yet that one day,that turned into four days,with no sightings. worker said he say Tucket walking by barn. couldn't find. day four ,found him hiding by hay rounds. to vet,was determined,issues possible.would need testing. but it was time to say bye. why test? we would not operate,or do other invasive options. so we gently said bye,as tucket drifted off.

December 8, 2016

I so agree with you. I get so angry when irresponsible pet owners open their doors and let their dogs and cats outside to wander unsupervised. Are they too lazy to walk their dogs on a leash? Too much bother to keep the cats SAFE indoors with a kitty litter tray? It takes very little to get a dog's attention and they will often wander off the owner's property if not in a secure fenced yard. Older sick pets DO need as much attention as puppies or kittens and they should never be allowed to go on suffering if the vet suggests it is time to say goodbye. Every time I see a dead dog or cat on the side of the road, it's because someone did not care enought to keep their pet safe at home. It's too bad people didn't have to pass an intelligence test before they could have pets.

Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM
August 29, 2016

Mendee, I am so sorry; I know that feeling all too well.  Cats are very good at hiding--I wouldn't give up just yet.  Use social media, use flyers if you can.  Check the shelter.  Contact all the local vet offices (and show them pictures). Look *under* things.  I had a friend who lost a cat downtown; he had jumped through a screened second story window while she was at work.  She was afraid he'd been killed in the fall, but because there was no body, she kept looking.  Thanks to her persistence, two weeks later she found him hiding underneath a building two blocks away.  I hope you find your old man.  Thinking good thoughts here.

August 28, 2016

I appreciate this article. My 18 year old cat is missing and I am sick. It has been 6 days and people keep telling me he knew it was his time and all that. I do not believe it. I just found your article looking for some real science behind what I believe is a wives tale...  I am so heartbroken and feel he needs our help.

July 12, 2016

How depressing. I let my 17 year old ShihTzu out to pee a little past midnight, and five minutes later I couldn't locate him.  He walked off to die.  He had been peeing in the house, but I've been carrying him downstairs at night to go outside.  I'm so depressed.

April 10, 2016

My female silky terrier, 13,  had been failing for about a month, having trouble going up stairs and getting outside. She stayed mostly in her pet bed for weeks until one night she went outside at night and didn't come back in. The next morning we searched for her and found her alive but very weak and cold. We brought her inside and warmed her with a heating pad. We comforted her and put her back in bed. She told her it was ok to just rest and let go. A few hours later she managed to slip back outside with the last of her strength. Our yard was fenced but near a copse of woods. We searched everywhere for her and called her but she did not return. We have looked everywhere but I do believe she left to go die alone. I have never had a dog do this before. She was very determined to go thru with her plan even after I had tried to make her understand that she could be warm and safe with the family who loved her and die on her own terms and in her own time. I feel she chose to leave us for reasons known only to her. She had always lived life on her terms and she died the way she chose. I am rather proud of her for that.

Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM
February 29, 2016

Shirley, I'm so sorry to hear that your little guy is missing.  I'm sure you're doing everything you can to find him--don't forget posters with a picture, social media, and that some cable companies have a channel that runs local advertisements.  When my dog went missing (she wasn't elderly, but she was still just as gone), I was able to get an announcement on the cable channel free of charge for a few days.  Check with veterinary clinics in a wider range than you'd think practical--I put notices in all of them within a 30 mile radius in case someone had picked her up while passing through the area.  And don't forget about the neighborhood kids--sometimes they see things but don't think about telling their parents. It's been two years since my dog disappeared, and I will never know.  I hope you find him or at least discover what happened, because in my experience, that empty space really never goes away.  Take care.

February 28, 2016

My little wiener dog of 16 years just disappeared.  He was still fetching balls and eating well one day and gone the next. We've searched our fenced yard and neighborhood for him but can't find him anywhere. He's never run away before. I wish I knew what happened to him.

December 6, 2015

I am coming to this article because my cat is 16 and she started losing weight, hair falling out, lethargic, and I thought she was ailing and was considering having her put to sleep. It turned out her teeth were bothering her and she can't eat dry food any longer. I only discovered this after giving her tuna to see if it was her appetite or the food. Her health has rebounded since I started feeding her wet food, her fur is nice and shiny and she is playful again. But this turn of events had me questioning: when do I know it is time to put her down? I won't let an animal suffer because it would hurt me to make that decision, but it is hard to know. My sister kept her 17 year old dog in diapers and couldn't bring herself to put her to sleep even though she was deaf, blind and incontinent. The dog got out and wandered off and she never saw her again. I just couldn't do that to my girl. She has been such a good friend for so many years, but still, how do I know when to make that choice for her?

Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM
June 29, 2015

Susan, I'm so very sorry.  The worst part is not knowing what ultimately happened to her, and that pain takes a very long time to heal.  I do hope you find her regardless of the outcome--even if she has passed away--so you'll at least be able to have the peace of knowing it's really over. Please take care of yourself. Wendy Smith Wilson, DVM

June 28, 2015

I'm reading this article a week too late.  My beloved dog of 17 years wandered off last Monday and I have been beside myself with guilt and grief. I thought she was getting pretty close to the end but she was eating, drinking and moving around in her normal routine.  She had slowed down over the past few months and I kept telling myself that it just wasn't "time". Now she is gone and it may be too late to find her.  Like so many others I thought she wandered off to die.  Now I'm afraid she may be wandering around lost, hungry, thirsty and afraid. Toby, please forgive me. God, please send her back to me if it isn't too late.

May 15, 2014

This is a good article  --  with a little reality - but the very people you would want to read it probably won't.  I used to be told the same thing as a child. And doubted it then ... I also had one dog who developed - I think - a sort of dementia-  and who both became really frightened at being alone ( totally new behavior) and once chewed and pushed his way out of a door and went wandering - and did get lost, just a little ways from the house. I found him, but before then, I didn't really consider that an animal might become so frantic and disoriented.  And eventually, he was euthanized, but in the meantime, I was much more careful ( actually, I pretty much kept him with me, or had someone stay with him)


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