It is relatively rare for a dog to pass away suddenly and without warning. It's much more likely there will be some signs your dog is dying, especially if it has been unwell for a while. Whether you choose to let a pet die in peace at home or have them humanely euthanized, it's helpful to be aware of the signs that will help you understand how to tell if your dog is dying.
9 Signs a Dog Is Dying
If your dog has a terminal illness, you may need to care for them at home during their final days. Knowing how dogs act before they die can be helpful. There are some common signs that a dying dog is in their final decline. Just keep in mind that each dog experiences dying differently, and some dogs may not exhibit every possible symptom. Speak to your vet about how to know if your dog is dying and when those signs might start to show as a result of their condition.
1. Lack of Coordination
A dying dog becomes very unsteady on their feet and has difficulty moving from one point to another. This might be due to physical weakness, impaired brain function, or even a combination of the two. In a dying dog, weakness is most likely due to not eating, severe diarrhea, or blood loss. However, a dog that suddenly becomes uncoordinated may have a treatable condition such as an ear infection, so be sure to seek veterinary attention if in doubt.
2. Extreme Fatigue
A vomiting dog will have less energy and be less active, even if their condition is not serious. However, when a dog is actively dying, they will show signs of extreme fatigue. The animal will most likely lie in one spot without attempting to get up anymore, and they may no longer even have the strength to lift their head.
Again, this tends to be a slow decline and may be due to anemia, poor circulation, or lack of energy. If your dog's gums appear white or pale instead of pink, this can indicate anemia, which is a serious sign. Likewise, if their gums are pink but, when pressed with a finger, become white and stay white for several seconds, this is a sign of circulatory collapse, which is a precursor to death.
3. Complete Loss of Appetite
A dying dog likely shows no interest in food or water. When it does eat, it often cannot keep food down. As death draws closer, your dog may refuse to eat anything at all. Again, be aware that a dog who feels unwell may not want to eat, so interpret your pet's lack of appetite as part of the bigger picture and seek veterinary attention where appropriate.
Vomiting is a general sign of illness that can occur for many reasons, from motion sickness to an infection, virus, or a more serious decline. For the dog with a terminal diagnosis, when the digestive system begins shutting down, undigested food in the stomach can make the animal feel nauseated. A dog may vomit to purge the contents of its stomach. Starting to vomit is a serious complication, especially as a dog may not keep water down and can easily become dehydrated. However, for the dog that has been relatively well and suddenly starts to vomit, there may be treatment options to make the animal more comfortable and buy them more time.
A dying dog progressively loses control over bodily functions because they may be too weak to get up and therefore have accidents where they lie. Alternatively, as the body weakens, the dog loses control of its sphincter muscle as well as the muscles that control its bladder. Good nursing is crucial so that your dog doesn't develop sores secondary to urine or feces in prolonged contact with the skin.
6. No Interest in Surroundings
Most dogs begin to withdraw into themselves as they draw closer to death. They no longer respond to what's going on around them, and they may even cease to respond to their favorite people as their bodies begin shutting down.
A dog may twitch or shake at times due to their declining body temperature. This is typically an involuntary response, but the dog may become chilled as their body temperature begins to drop. It may help to make the dog more comfortable by putting the animal on a heating pad or providing extra warmth.
8. Labored Breathing
When a dog is close to death, their breathing may become slow, labored, or erratic. They may gasp for air as a result of fluid in their lungs or another severe respiratory complication. If your dog exhibits these signs, they are in distress and don't have much time.
9. Worsening of Dog's Terminal Illness
If your dog has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, such as severe heart failure, kidney failure, or cancer, be alert for a deterioration in your pet's condition. For example, if the dog has heart failure, their breathing may become far more labored, and their belly may swell.
Facing the End With Your Pet
Many of the signs listed here are quite general and, in isolation, can simply be signs your dog might be sick. If you are undecided whether the end is close, look at the bigger picture. An older dog with a terminal diagnosis who has pale gums and not eaten for days is more likely to be dying than a fit, young dog with no pre-existing medical conditions. On the whole, the greater the number of the signs that are present, the more serious the outlook. Your best source of advice is the veterinarian who is familiar with your dog's case and who can offer advice about whether any treatment options could make your pet more comfortable.
Ways to Comfort Your Dying Dog
If you choose to let your pet pass away at home, there are a few things you can do to make their last hours on Earth more comfortable.
- Provide a warm and quiet place for your dog to rest comfortably. Carefully monitor interactions with other pets and children who may not understand the dog's condition.
- You can try offering your dog food and water if they are willing to take it, but don't try to force it on the animal. Dogs know when eating is no longer any use to them.
- Pet your dog softly and talk to them. Reassure your pet lovingly and say that everything is OK. Even though it is difficult, try to be calm and sooth your dog, as they can pick up on your emotions.
- Place waterproof pet pads underneath your dog to prepare for accidents if they cannot go outside. You can also have your dog wear pet diapers if that's easier.
- Ensure the dog is not suffering or in pain.
Saying Goodbye to Your Dog
You've done all you can for your pet, and now the moment has come to truly say goodbye. It can be overwhelming, so it's best to focus on taking things in stages.
Don't Rush If You Don't Have To
Unless your pet is in pain, take your time to say goodbye in person, whether you're at home or at the vet clinic. Really focus on your dog and talk to them. This is your moment to tell your pet how much they have impacted your life, so try to say everything that's in your heart. Your dog may not understand every word, but they will understand your tone, and your reassuring words will help you, too. This dialogue is the first step to gaining closure.
Treat Your Dog One Last Time
Take this last opportunity to give your dog something they have always loved. If you think your pet is still capable of enjoying it, give them a treat that was usually decadent, such as a small bite of chicken or a French fry. Just a taste of your pet's favorite food will give them an extra moment of joy that comes straight from your hands. You can make the food at home or stop at a drive-thru on your way to the clinic.
The treat doesn't have to be food; do something for your pet that used to make them happy.
- If your dog loved to sit in the backyard, wrap them in a blanket and take them outside one last time. You can let your pet pass away there if that's your plan, or you can just spend some time cherishing your buddy a little longer until you're ready to head to the clinic.
- If your dog has a favorite stuffed toy, place the toy with them.
- If your dog has a canine pal, try to let them spend a few moments together before they must say farewell.
Be Present If You Choose
Whether you're allowing your pet to pass away at home or taking it to the clinic, being with your dog in the last moments of their life will certainly be heartbreaking for you. But it can provide them with safety and reassurance. If you decide to allow your pet to pass at home on their own, it's best to stay with your pet, so you know when they are gone.
If you elect to have your dog humanely euthanized at the veterinary hospital, you may wish to be with them through the process, or you may elect not to watch as they go. This choice is yours.
Save Something to Remember Your Dog By
Having a memento from your dog can also help you say goodbye. In the immediate moments after your pet passes, gather a few keepsakes, so you don't regret missing the opportunity later.
- Clip some of their fur and put it in a special container.
- Take a print of one of your pet's paws. The author's daughter keeps a canvas and uses a little acrylic paint to add one print from each pet that passes away. Taking the print is very easy if you wait until this point to do it.
- Remove your dog's collar and create a shadow box featuring it, along with some photos and your pet's favorite toy.
Hold a Small Memorial Service
A memorial service serves the same purpose for pets as it does for people; it's a final and formal way to say goodbye. It's also an important part of the grieving process and will help you on your journey to achieving closure, even though you will continue grieving for your pet for some time to come.
The service doesn't have to be a big event. It can include just you and your family. As long as you do something that's meaningful to all of you, your memorial will have served its purpose.
- You might all take turns sharing your favorite stories about your dog.
- You could add a beautiful marker to your yard to commemorate your pet and read a letter or a poem to your dog, which you've composed yourself.
- Some people like to plant a tree, a shrub, or some perennial flowers in remembrance and then say a prayer. Flower bulbs are especially nice for this purpose because they can be lifted and taken with you if you move.
- You could have a portrait painted using your dog's best photo and hold your ceremony as you put it in its permanent spot.
- If you opt for cremation, you could bury your pet in their favorite part of your yard. Alternatively, you could transfer your dog's ashes into a memorial urn or a box you've decorated.
When the end is near, your care and attention can make your pet's passing a little easier. Your dog will still appreciate knowing how much you love them, even if they are past the point of responding to you. You can also take comfort in the fact that you were there when your dog needed you most.