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 they have been unwell for a while. Whether you choose to let your 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.
- Lack of coordination
- Extreme fatigue
- Complete loss of appetite
- No interest in surroundings
- Twitching or shaking
- Labored breathing
- Worsening of terminal illness
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 a combination of the two. In a dying dog, weakness is most likely due to not eating, severe diarrhea, dehydration, or fluid loss. However, a dog that suddenly becomes uncoordinated may have a treatable condition such as an ear infection or vestibular disease, so be sure to seek veterinary attention if you're in doubt.
2. Extreme Fatigue
A sick dog will have low 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, a dog can lose control of their urinary sphincter muscles. 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 them on a heating pad or providing extra warmth via blankets.
If it doesn't cause your dog distress, it can be helpful to take their temperature so you know if their body temperature is low or high. Some dying dogs can develop a fever and cooling them can make them more comfortable.
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 familiar with your dog's case and who can offer advice about whether any treatment options could make your pet more comfortable.