How Do You Know A Dog Is About To Die?

The lifespan of dogs varies greatly depending on their breed, size, and health. However, there often comes a time when a dog’s health declines due to old age or illness. Owners may notice changes in their dog that indicate the end of life is approaching. It’s important for owners to know the signs that a dog is dying, so they can provide comfort, say goodbye, and make any necessary arrangements.

This article will discuss the key physical and behavioral changes to look out for when a dog is nearing the end of life. It will also provide guidance on making a dog comfortable, coping with the loss, and knowing when to let go. While losing a pet is always hard, being prepared and recognizing the signs can help owners deal with the transition and memorialize their dog.

Physical Signs

As dogs near the end of their lives, it’s common for their bodies to show signs of decline. Lethargy and weakness are two of the most noticeable physical changes. According to PetMD, dogs approaching the end of their lives often have less energy and may seem sleepy or fatigued more often. If your dog seems to have trouble getting up or moving around, has less interest in exercise, or spends more time than usual resting, it can be a sign their body is starting to shut down. Along with lethargy and weakness, you may notice weight loss, loss of appetite, dehydration, duller eyes, less grooming, vomiting, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal issues as physical changes near the end of a dog’s life according to CareCredit.

Behavioral Changes

As dogs get closer to death, you may notice them withdrawing or hiding more. According to, dogs tend to seek out hiding spots, such as under beds or behind furniture, as they near the end of their lives. They may want to be alone more and avoid interaction. Your once social dog may start shunning affection and attention from people and other pets.

Dogs naturally hide when they are sick or injured, and the same withdrawal behavior can happen when they are dying. Hiding is a protective mechanism for vulnerable dogs. If your dog was once lively and social but suddenly becomes reclusive and withdrawn, it can be a sign the end is near. Respect your dog’s desire for solitude during this time.

Eating Habits

As a dog nears the end of life, they will begin to lose interest in food and eating. This is one of the more obvious signs that a dog is dying. According to PetMD, dogs typically show no interest in eating or drinking during the dying process as their body begins to shut down. Agape Pet Services notes that the closer your dog is to dying, the less of an appetite they will likely have. If your dog completely stops eating, it is likely a sign they are close to death.

Pet owners may notice their dog begins skipping meals or eats less and less each day as death approaches. According to CareCredit, a dog that is dying may go 1-3 days without eating towards the end of their life. It can be difficult for pet owners to see their dog refuse food and water, but it is part of the normal dying process. As a dog’s health declines, the dog loses interest in daily activities like eating. Trying to force your dog to eat will likely cause more stress.

It’s important for pet owners to remember that loss of appetite is normal as a dog nears the end of life. Avoiding forcing food and providing comfort and pain management are recommended during this stage. According to PetMD, the body’s organs begin to shut down during the final transition to death, which causes disinterest in food. Making a dog as comfortable as possible with palliative care is the goal rather than attempting to prolong eating habits.

Breathing Changes

As a dog nears the end of life, you may notice changes in their breathing patterns. One common sign is labored breathing, where the dog struggles to take deep breaths and seems to be breathing heavily or panting even at rest This could indicate that the dog is having difficulty getting enough oxygen or is trying to cope with pain or discomfort. Their breathing may become more rapid or shallow as well. Dogs naturally pant to help cool themselves, but excessive panting when the dog is not hot or active can signal distress. Noisy breathing such as wheezing or raspy coughing can also occur if the dog has fluid buildup in their lungs. As death nears, some dogs exhibit irregular breathing patterns where they seem to occasionally gasp for air or temporarily stop breathing. If you notice any concerning changes in your dog’s breathing, contact your veterinarian to see if any treatments may help ease their discomfort.


As dogs near the end of their lives, many experience incontinence and lose control of their bladder and bowels. This happens because the muscles in the rectum and bladder weaken as the body starts to shut down. Dogs may be unable to get up to go outside to relieve themselves, or they may not even realize that they need to go. As a result, urine and stool accidents become more frequent. Owners will often find soaked bedding and feces around the house. Some dogs may even lose bowel control in their sleep.

Incontinence is very common in elderly dogs and also dogs with mobility issues. But when it appears in conjunction with other end-of-life symptoms like lack of appetite, lethargy and labored breathing, it’s usually a sign that a dog is dying. Incontinence causes discomfort, embarrassment and loss of dignity for dogs. As an owner, gently cleaning up after accidents and using waterproof bedding can help maintain your dog’s quality of life in their final days.

According to PetMD, “Incontinence (urinary and/or fecal) – Dogs may be physically unable to rise from their beds to go outside, or they may have musculoskeletal problems that make it excruciatingly painful to do so.”

Grooming Decline

As a dog nears the end of life, you may notice a decline in grooming and hygiene. Dogs typically take great pride in keeping themselves clean through regular licking and biting at their fur and paws. But a dying dog often lacks the energy and mobility to attend to this grooming. Their fur may become matted, dirty, and foul-smelling as a result.

According to Daily Paws (source), a dog that is near death may have dirty or matted fur from failing to groom itself. The dog no longer has the strength and coordination for proper grooming habits. Owners may need to assist with gentle brushing, wiping down with a damp cloth, and keeping bedding clean. Proper hygiene helps keep the dog comfortable in its final days.

As tough as it is to see a beloved pet decline in hygiene, understand that grooming is a low priority for a dying dog. The most important thing is keeping the dog’s resting places clean, dry and odor-free. With help from the owner, proper grooming can provide mental and physical comfort as your dog transitions into its final days of life.

Mental Status

As dogs near the end of their lives, their mental status and behavior often change dramatically. One of the most common mental changes is confusion or disorientation. Older dogs may seem lost or unsure of where they are, even in very familiar places. They may walk into corners, have accidents around the house, or get stuck behind furniture. Anxiety is also common, and dogs may begin panting, pacing restlessly, whining or crying, or seeking more attention and reassurance.

According to PetMD, dogs nearing the end of their life may experience dementia-like symptoms, including increased vocalization, repetitive behaviors, and forgetting previously learned commands. The Good Boy Goodbye website notes that dogs may start exhibiting obsessive behavior like licking or chewing themselves. These mental declines and behavior changes are very difficult for dogs as well as their owners.


Saying Goodbye

Making the decision to euthanize a beloved pet is extremely difficult. As a pet owner, you want to ensure your dog has a good quality of life for as long as possible. However, there comes a point when prolonging your dog’s life would only prolong their suffering. According to the American Humane Society, “In some cases, your veterinarian may be able to tell you definitively that it is time to euthanize your pet, but in other cases, you may ultimately need to make the decision yourself based on your pet’s quality of life.”

Some signs that a dog’s quality of life has declined to the point where euthanasia should be considered include: hardly being able to walk or stand, no longer eating or drinking, breathing heavily or with great difficulty, experiencing chronic pain, or appearing constantly distressed. If your dog is exhibiting these signs, it may be time to discuss euthanasia with your veterinarian as a final act of love and kindness.

Euthanasia is usually done by injecting a lethal dose of anesthetic into the dog’s vein. It is a quick and peaceful death. Some veterinarians may perform euthanasia at home for an additional fee. This allows your dog to pass on in a familiar, comfortable place surrounded by family. Afterwards, you can choose to have your dog privately cremated or buried.

Saying goodbye to your beloved companion is never easy. Allow yourself to grieve. You may find comfort in knowing you gave your dog the greatest gift of ending any suffering and allowing them to pass on peacefully.

Coping With Loss

Losing a beloved pet can be an incredibly difficult and emotional experience. It’s important to allow yourself to fully grieve the loss of your pet. Some ways to cope include:

Acknowledging your grief and giving yourself permission to express it. Crying, talking with others, journaling, and other expressions of grief can help you process the emotions involved with losing your pet (

Talking with others who understand pet loss, such as friends, family members, your veterinarian, or support groups. Sharing memories and emotions helps many people cope with grief (

Holding a memorial service, creating a special grave marker, putting together a photo collage or memory book, or finding other meaningful ways to memorialize your pet. These types of rituals provide a sense of closure (

Understanding the grieving process takes time and allowing yourself to fully experience the emotions involved with the loss of a beloved companion. Reaching out to others, memorializing your pet, and being patient with yourself can help you cope.

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