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Signs Your Dog is Dying: How to Know When Your Dog is Ready to Go

Dog Loss By Kristin Hitchcock 20 min read May 23, 2021 8 Comments

signs your dog is dying

One of the worst things about owning a dog is that their lifespans are much shorter than ours. 

It is rare for a dog to live for 20 years, and most dogs don’t even live this long. Bigger dogs typically live shorter periods than smaller dogs, but there are plenty of exceptions, and all dogs are individuals

While most dog breeds have a typical lifespan, that doesn’t necessarily tell you how long your particular dog will live

And as your dog reaches the end of his lifespan, you may begin to worry about when the time will come for him to move on. 

There are a few signs you can look for to let you know when it is your dog’s time to go, which we’ll share below. Looking for these signs is essential, as there are many things you can do to bring your dog comfort at the end of their life.

Signs Your Dog Is Dying: Key Takeaways

  • Dogs exhibit a number of common signs that signify the end is near, including things like lethargy, reduced appetite, and seeking more human comfort than usual.
  • You’ll want to be especially compassionate to your dog during this time, and work with your vet to ensure he remains comfortable as possible. This includes deciding whether a natural passing or euthanasia is most appropriate.
  • It is imperative that you take care of your own mental, emotional, and physical health when caring for a dying pet, and give yourself plenty of time to grieve.

Signs That Your Dog is Dying

Dogs still hold onto many of their old instincts from their wild days. Because of this, many will try to hide the fact that they are ill.

In the wild, showing signs of injury or illness makes an animal a target for predators, which is why many dogs will naturally try not to show pain or display signs that indicate illness.

This can make distinguishing whether or not your canine is nearing the end of his life difficult. Unfortunately, you often won’t know until your dog is very close. 

However, there are a few things you can look for that can help you determine whether your dog is nearing the end of their days. 

1. Loss of Interest

When a dog approaches the end of his lifespan, he can begin to lose interest in the world around him.

Toys he once loved will gather dust, and he might not jump up to greet you at the door anymore.

In fact, this is often one of the first (and most heart-breaking) signs that your canine’s quality of life is beginning to decrease. 

A loss of interest in previously enjoyable things and activities is usually due to multiple reasons. 

  • Firstly, your dog is likely to feel more tired than usual, which will decrease the amount of time he feels like playing. 
  • It may also be painful for him to move around too much, especially if he has arthritis or joint pain. 
  • Finally, even when not in pain, it is also common for old or dying dogs to experience problems with mobility. He might be extra-cautious on slippery floors or have trouble judging distance. 

These factors can make it much easier for your dog to simply lay around all day, instead of participating in their favorite pastimes. 

depression in dying dogs

2. Depression

Dogs that are dying will often experience many of the symptoms of depression.

This is not necessarily because your dog knows he is dying. Instead, it is likely that he simply doesn’t feel well. 

He may, for example:

  • Stop doing things he once loved
  • Cease responding to your attention
  • Become withdrawn
  • Exhibit changes in his sleeping patterns
  • Lose interest in walks or trips to the park

While dog depression is treatable during other occasions, it may not be easy to address as your dog approaches the end of his life.

Medication is used for some depressed dogs, but your canine may not respond well to medication if he is very old. It is important to speak to your vet about your options. 

3. Loss of Coordination

It is very common for dogs to lose coordination as they reach the end of their lifespans. They may not have the muscle strength they once did, which can affect their balance. 

Furthermore, they may have trouble judging distance or suffer from less-than-stellar eyesight. These factors can make them much clumsier than usual.

There are countless disorders that can also cause a loss of coordination, including dehydration. If your pooch is experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms and then a loss of coordination, it could just be that he’s dehydrated.

But your canine developing more than one of these symptoms is worrying. 

4. Incontinence

Dogs often lose control of their bladder as they age.

Because of this, incontinence by itself isn’t necessarily a sign that your dog is about to die. Instead, it may just be a part of their normal aging process. 

Aging dog incontinence

However, if incontinence develops quickly and is paired with other symptoms on this list, it could be a sign that your dog’s body is beginning to shut down. 

But if your dog is having accidents yet still jumping around and happy, he is likely not near the end of his life. 

We highly recommend taking your pet to the vet if he has lost control of his bladder. Incontinence can be a sign of many different health problems, many of which are treatable.

5. Odd Breathing

When a canine is very close to death, his normal bodily functions may begin to break down. This can cause him to breathe in an odd manner

This is actually true for humans too. If you’ve ever been at the deathbed of a loved one, you may be familiar with the irregular breathing that commonly accompanies an individual’s end of life hours.

Your dog’s breathing may be very slow or very fast. It may be normal for a bit and then become labored before returning to normal again. He may also simply have to work hard to move air in and out. 

If your dog begins having trouble breathing, it is essential to call your vet right away if you have not already done so. This can be a sign of illness that is treatable with the right care. 

This is often one of the last signs that develops when a dog is dying. However, it can also go on for quite sometime before your dog finally passes.

6. Extreme Lethargy

In many ways, lethargy looks a lot like depression. And while they can occur simultaneously, some dogs will experience lethargy without feeling depressed.

In either case, dogs near the end of life rarely move around much.

Your pet may not play as much as he used to, and he will probably spend most of his time lying around. Your canine may refuse to go on walks altogether, or he may ignore your invitations to play. 

Of course, lethargy is common anytime your pet is feeling under the weather, so he could just be sick.

However, unexplained lethargy or lethargy that is paired with advanced age and other symptoms can be a sign that your pooch is dying. 

7. Appetite Changes

Dogs who are close to the end of their life will often experience a change in appetite. They may even stop eating altogether, which is the most common.

lost appetite in dying dogs

Just like humans, dogs will often stop eating when they feel bad.

If they also have gastrointestinal problems, their appetites may decrease simply because they don’t feel well. 

A loss of appetite isn’t always a sign of your dog’s impending death, though.

Almost all diseases — and simple stress — can cause changes in appetite.

It is unexplained appetite changes that are most concerning and what we’re talking about here. 

8. Gastrointestinal Symptoms

This is a bit rarer than the other symptoms we’ve mentioned, but some dogs do develop stomach problems when they reach the end of life. This may include vomiting and diarrhea or just nausea. 

These intestinal issues can develop for a few different reasons:

  • Firstly, as your dog nears the end of their life, his digestion may not work as well as it used to. This can make vomiting and diarrhea common. 
  • Secondly, your canine’s appetite might be messed up as well, which can cause (or stem from) nausea. Gastrointestinal symptoms are associated with a huge number of different diseases. 

Given the myriad causes for gastrointestinal upset, we really recommend speaking with your vet if you notice any of these symptoms. 

In any case, it is very important to keep your dog hydrated if he’s beginning to experience gastrointestinal symptoms. Diarrhea may cause dehydration, and constipation can result from dehydration.

9. Seeking Comfort

Dogs may become clingier when they begin approaching the end of their lives. They likely won’t feel well and some dogs will look to their owners for comfort

With that said, this is somewhat rare.

Dogs still hold onto many of their natural instincts when it comes to the end of their life, so they may often try to hide that they’re sick — even from their favorite person.

dying dog seeking comfort

Furthermore, a dog that is suffering from lethargy may not have the energy to seek out comfort. 

Some dogs may also hide as death nears, instead of seeking comfort. They often won’t want to be around others when they die and may seek comfort in the silence of their beds.

It isn’t uncommon for dogs to go under beds before they die and hide there. 

10. Twitching

Your dog may experience some loss of muscle control with age, which can lead to twitching.

Pain can also cause twitching, as can some secondary symptoms, like dehydration. 

Twitching by itself, isn’t always a bad sign. Like humans, dogs can twitch for almost no reason.

However, very bad twitching that causes your pooch to lose his balance or twitching that lasts for a long time could be a sign of a deeper problem. You should speak to your vet, in this case, to rule out a treatable illness. 

11. Changes in Gum Color

If your dog’s organs are not working as they should be, his gums may change color.

If your dog’s gums are blue, for example, it may mean that appropriate amounts of oxygen are not being circulated in his bloodstream. 

This can be caused by either a problem with the lungs or heart and can be a sign of serious illnesses like congestive heart failure. Of course, some very serious but treatable illnesses like pneumonia can also cause your dog’s gums to turn blue. 

White gums or very pale gums are often the results of insufficient blood flow. This can be a sign of blood loss, which can be the result of internal bleeding if your dog is not bleeding outwardly. 

Alternatively, it can be a sign of severe anemia. This can be caused by dietary problems and other underlying problems. 

Bright red gums can also occur in aging dogs, and is often a sign of heatstroke. Your dog’s gums will turn a bright color when he is too hot, which can be caused by your dog’s inability to control his own body temperature.

This gum color is much rarer than the others when it comes to your pet nearing their death, but it is possible. 

12. Irritability

When your dog is nearing the end of their life, he will likely not feel well in the least. Because of this, he may become very irritable.

He might snap unexpectedly, react badly to things he used to tolerate, or growl unnecessarily. 

This is often a response to fear and/or pain.

irritability in dying dogs

If your dog is in pain, he may be afraid that contact will cause him more pain.

He may be afraid that you’ll push down in the wrong spot, for instance.

Because of this, he may try to protect himself by becoming irritable and somewhat defensive. 

On the flip side, if your dog has the energy to be irritable, it is possible that he is not as close to death as you may fear. Dogs that are very close to death are often listless and lethargic, rather than irritable. 

Suffice to say, if you notice any significant behavioral changes in your canine, speak to your vet. 

13. Lowered Body Temperature

Dogs may lose their ability to control their own body temperatures as they age and suffer other health problems, which can make them lose body heat. 

Because of this, dogs who are extremely close to death will have a lower body temperature than usual.

Just be sure to consider the circumstances;  if you are in a colder climate, your dog might just be too cold. 

Either way, just be sure to monitor his temperature so you’ll know for sure.

You can also help your dog stay comfortable by raising his body temperature using hot water bottles, heated beds, and warm blankets. You should also call your vet. 

Use Your Best Judgement

You know your dog better than anyone else, so you’ll know best when something is wrong.

Old age is tied to plenty of health hiccups – not all of which indicate death is imminent.

However, you’ll know when your dog’s quality of life has been significantly affected.

Often, the little hiccups just add up until you know your canine isn’t having such a good time anymore.

Point being: Whether your dog is exhibiting one of the signs mentioned above or several, factor your own intuition in to achieve the best understanding of the situation.

How to Help Your Dog at the End: What Should You Do?

When your dog is nearing the end of his life, there are a few things you can do to help keep him comfortable. 

Just remember that all dogs are individuals. Some of our these suggestions might not fit your canine’s personality, and that’s okay. Do what you think will make your dog the most comfortable.

Limit the Pain

The easiest way to help your dog enjoy their last few days is to manage his pain as much as possible.

If he has arthritis in his hips, for example, you probably want to ensure he’s in a comfortable location and avoid making him move too much. 

He may also benefit from a super-supportive memory foam dog bed.

Work closely with your vet too. With your vet’s approval, you can use over-the-counter dog-safe pain medicine to ease your dog’s discomfort. Your vet may also be willing to prescribe more powerful canine pain meditations that’ll help ease your dog’s suffering. 

pain management for dogs

Once again, you know your dog best, so you’ll be the best judge of how much pain he’s in.

While many dogs do suffer a bit in the end, a combination of medication, compassion, and common sense can help keep him more comfortable

Continue Daily Routines

Dogs thrive on routines, so it is important that you continue yours for as long as possible. This will alleviate some of your dog’s stress.

Your dog many not be able to go on walks, once the end approaches. But, if you sit on the couch and cuddle at the same time each day, be sure you continue that ritual. 

At some point, you will likely need to suspend your usual routine because your dog won’t be up to it anymore. But try to continue your typical routine for as long as you can. 

Limit New Activities

While you want to continue old routines and activities for as long as possible, new activities should usually be avoided.

Your dog probably won’t be able to do much anyway, and new activities may cause more stress than they are worth. 

Any significant changes to your home or surroundings should be put off as well. You want to keep everything as normal as possible, so you don’t cause unnecessary stress. 

Stay Close

Your dog will benefit from your presence during this stressful time, so be sure to stay close.

Furthermore, you’ll want to be there to help your canine reposition or take potty breaks as painlessly as possible. 

Your canine may also go downhill rather quickly, so you’ll want to be around when that happens. If possible, plan to be at your dog’s side for at least a few days. 

stay close to your dying dog

If you can’t be there for whatever reason, ask a family member or friend who is familiar with your dog to spend some time with your pooch.

You don’t want to have a stranger watch them, as this may stress your dog out, and that’s the last thing you want to do. 

Your buddy has been there for you during trying times for years, and this is your chance to return the favor. 

Two Important Decisions: How Will It All End & What Happens Afterward?

As you get close to the end, you’ll need to make two very important decisions. We’ll discuss each — and try to provide a bit of guidance — below.

Decide Between Euthanasia and Natural Passing

You will eventually need to make a decision on euthanasia vs. natural passing.

You won’t always have the option to make a choice, as your dog may go downhill too fast to make it to the vet’s office.

However, in the situation that you can make a decision, you’ll want to be prepared beforehand. 

Also, understand that your decision may not always be cut and dry, and you may change your mind as circumstances change.

For example, you may decide to let your dog pass naturally,  but then change your mind when your dog’s suffering stretches out for weeks. That is okay.

The main advantage of euthanasia is that your pet’s passing will likely be quick and painless. Your pet will lose consciousness very quickly during the procedure, so he won’t feel anything.

is dog euthanasia the right choice

However, you will likely need to drive to the vet’s office, which may be unreasonable if your pet is in a lot of pain. 

Fortunately, some vets will make house calls for euthanasia, so be sure to ask. Euthanasia will cost money, but it typically isn’t very expensive. 

Natural death can happen in the comfort of your own home, but it can be a drawn-out process. It can also be hard to watch.

Some pets die in their sleep in very little pain, but many do not. There can be less guilt associated with this method if you feel uneasy about euthanasia.

However, there may also be some guilt about not ending your pet’s suffering beforehand. 

The truth is, there is often no easy answer, and making this decision is often a huge struggle for pet parents.

Animals that are having trouble breathing, obviously stressed, and in severe, unmanageable pain benefit most from euthanasia. Euthanasia can be the most compassionate choice in many other situations as well. 

The decision is completely up to you. 

Be sure to take into account your dog’s personality. Some don’t mind going to the vet, while others hate leaving home. Some may be in a lot of pain, while others will have their pain managed pretty easily with medication.

There is no “right” answer, so you’ll need to just try to make the best decision on behalf of your pet

Cremation or Burial: What Will You Do Once Your Pet Passes?

While it might be hard, you should also consider when to do after your pet dies. The two most common choices are burial and cremation.

If you have land and your dog is smaller, burial is probably your best option. 

However, pet cremation is also available in many cases. This option is a great choice for bigger dogs, where burial might be difficult.

Some owners find the act of burying their dog very upsetting. You may want to consider cremation in this case too.

If you decide on cremation, there are many different things you can do with your dog’s ashes to create a lasting memorial.

You may want to consider spreading them in a flower bed, burying them beneath a memorial stone, placing them in an urn, or placing a portion in a locket or other piece of memorial jewelry.

Many owners scatter the ashes at locations that were special to their pets as well

The Very End: What Happens at the Vet

If you decide on euthanasia, and a home visit from your vet isn’t possible, you will need to take a trip to the vet’s office.

This can be upsetting, so you may want to bring a support person.

Larger dogs may need someone to hold them in the car, which can make a support person very valuable. 

Euthanasia is often very quick and will be painless. But you will need to call ahead and make an appointment.

how dog euthanasia works

Usually, the appointment will be late at night or early in the morning when the office is not busy. Most vets will build time into the appointment for you to say goodbye to your pet, once the injections have been administered. 

The procedure itself is very simple. Your vet will likely give your dog a strong sedative, which will make him very sleepy and calm.

Then, the vet will inject pentobarbital. This is a medication used for anesthesia, so your canine will drift off to sleep. 

In this case, the dosage will be much higher than is “safe,” so it will halt your pet’s breathing.

Your dog will fall asleep before this happens, so he will not feel any pain or know what is happening. This process takes about 10 to 20 seconds, and you will likely be able to hold your pet throughout the entire thing. 

The only pain your pet will feel is the prick of the needle, which does not hurt more than your average shot. After that, they will drift off to sleep and just not wake up.

It is a very peaceful process and happens very quickly. Many will lose consciousness within seconds, just like you would when given anesthesia before surgery. 

Your pet may twitch after the procedure, but this is just leftover nerve activity and reflexes. Rest assured, your buddy will be at peace.

end of life dog care

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

Losing a pet is always hard.

No matter how your pet’s life ended, you will likely be struck with grief. So, be sure to take care of yourself during this turbulent time

Keep the following things in mind as you grieve your lost pet:

  • Understand that grieving comes in many forms, and you may experience many different feelings during this time. That is okay. Accept your feelings and understand that they are natural parts of the process. 
  • Express your grief through whatever is comfortable with you. If you enjoy writing, you may write about it. Some also find creating photo books or commissioning a pet portrait a helpful grieving activity.
  • Lean on your friends and family. Discussing your feelings with loved ones is a great way to process your emotions. There is no right way to express them, but you will likely heal faster if you deal with your grief in an active manner
  • Reach out to others who have lost a pet. There are pet loss hotlines, forums, and many Facebook Groups where you can share your feelings with those who have recently gone through the same thing. There are also non-profit organizations dedicated to helping people cope with the loss of a pet.
  • Rituals can be particularly healing, so embrace them. You may want to consider having a funeral when you bury your pet or some sort of similar ceremony when you spread their ashes. Doing a ritual that creates some sort of memorial, like planting a tree, can be particularly helpful to some people. 
  • Attempt to maintain your normal routines as much as possible. This will provide some normalcy in your life, which can be extremely helpful during this time. Furthermore, if you have other pets, keeping a normal routine will prevent them from feeling any unnecessary stress. 
  • Take care of yourself physically. Eat a healthy diet, get some exercise, remember to take showers, and drink plenty of fluids. This will help you feel better. 

Losing a pet is incredible difficult, but we promise you that time does help.

It may takes weeks or months for you to begin to feel better, but there will – eventually – come a time when you can think of your beloved pet with more joy and less sadness.

K9 of Mine Dog Loss Resources

We understand that the loss of a pet can be overwhelming. In fact, K9 of Mine was started, in part, as a grieving project when the founder lost a particularly beloved pooch.

Fortunately, there are a variety of resources available to help you through this difficult time.

Some of the following articles may help you remember or memorialize your pet, while others will hopefully help you cope with the heartbreak you’re currently experiencing:

***

Losing a pet is obviously difficult, but we hope the information and tips above help make the process a little easier for you and your pooch to endure.

Just be sure to trust your instincts during this time, as you try to make the transition as easy as possible on your pet. 

Have you lost a pet before? Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

For that matter, feel free to share some of your favorite memories, or anything else that may help you feel better or provide some solace for others dealing with this difficult issue.  

dealing with the death of a pet
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Written by

Kristin Hitchcock

Kristin Hitchcock is a contributing writer at K9 of Mine, educating pet owners through her writing. She has rescued and cared for dozen of animals over the years, ranging from a one-eyed Shih Tzu to a disabled Chinese Water Dragon. She currently lives in Cookeville, TN with her husband, daughter, and very opinionated Husky, Atlas.

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G.

I feel my best friend is at the end. he has had several seizures and doesn’t walk with good coordination any more. He is even not wanting to sit as much near me anymore and wants to be by himself at times and does have some twitches every so often. He often twitches when he hears loud sounds and even barking at other dogs doesn’t seem to bring him joy anymore

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Ben Team

That’s heart-breaking, G.
So sorry that you and your pooch are going through this. Just try to keep him comfy and make the best of your remaining time together.
Please give him some scritches for us.

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Debra Lee Clark

My best friend is dying of cancer. Everyone tells me to watch for a sign. Last night I dreamed he saved my life I think that’s my sign. His appetite is gone and he is sleeping alot. He struggles to get up and no walks funny. The tumor is on his flank/hip. The article was so helpful and my buddy’s appointment is Thursday May 6th at 3:30. He is a rescue dog and I never ever regretted bringing home a stinky matted dog. After 4 hrs in a groomers tub I didnt recognize him. Having to make hard decisions in life is part of life but this is brutal. Tomorrow he heads to the Rainbow Bridge.

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Claudia

Thank you for this article. Our 16 year old dog is going down hill quickly. This helps our decide making much easier.

Claudia

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Ben Team

Sorry you’re going through this, Claudia. But we’re glad you found the article helpful.

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Donna

This article has been very helpful to me. My dear Pup of 13 yrs old is in the process of passing away. It is written very well and kindly. No judgement or anything. It just helps to know there is information from someone who cares regarding the passing of our little buddy. Thank you

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Ben Team

Hey, Donna.
We’re so sorry to hear about your pooch, but we’re glad you found the article helpful.
Saying goodbye is truly heartbreaking. We just hope that you and your pup enjoy the time you have left together.
Sending supportive vibes your way.

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MIchelle

Donna,

I’m so sorry you’re going through this terrible time. I lost my beloved best friend Max, one month ago. It was very hard for me. We had to euthanize him as he had bladder cancer. If you are euthanizing you pet make sure to take the time you need with him after he passes. The vet rushed us and I didn’t speak up and ask for a little more time and I regret it every day.

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