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Old dog looking sad laying on floor

The essentials

  • Not all dogs will have the same end-of-life experience — Older dogs nearing the end of life may experience more or worse symptoms than younger dogs.
  • Some end-of-life signs mimic treatable conditions — Your veterinarian can help you determine if your dog is dying and the underlying causes for certain symptoms.
  • Your dog may qualify for end-of-life careEnd-of-life pet care or hospice care may be an option for dogs with certain conditions like kidney failure, heart failure, or another terminal illness.

12 signs your dog is dying

The thought of a beloved pet dying can be extremely tough and heartbreaking for any pet parent.

With the proper knowledge, you can prepare yourself and your family for those final days with your beloved dog. It’s impossible to know exactly when the end is near, but the following signs may indicate that your dog is nearing the end of their life.

  1. Loss of appetite. One of the early signs that your dog is dying is that they stop eating and drinking. Loss of appetite in dogs is usually due to decreased energy levels and interest in food. A reduced appetite is often connected with other health conditions, such as dehydration or organ deficiencies, so make sure you get them checked by a vet.
  2. Lack of interest or depression. Dogs nearing the end of their life may become dispirited and retreat from activities, treats, or toys that once brought them joy. If you notice your dog becoming more lethargic and disinterested in their favorite things, it’s time for a trip to the vet.
  3. Detachment. Many dogs will distance themselves from their owners when they are in the process of dying. If your dog seeks solitude or isolation when they normally don’t, that could be a sign.
  4. Decreased mobility or coordination. Sometimes, decreased mobility is just a normal symptom of aging. But if movements suddenly become more difficult, or your dog seems wobbly and uncoordinated, you may want to consult your veterinarian.
  5. Vomiting or diarrhea. Two common symptoms of a dog nearing their end of life are vomiting and diarrhea. It’s important to stay aware of these signs in your pet so that you can seek veterinary care and if necessary, provide them with palliative care and make them comfortable.
  6. Weight loss without a change in appetite. If there has been a noticeable decrease in your pet’s weight or muscle mass despite normal feeding and appetite, it could be a sign of something more serious. A sudden weight drop may be a sign of an underlying illness such as cancer.
  7. Lethargy or increased sleeping. It’s quite normal for elderly dogs to sleep more due to tiredness, so don’t panic right away when you notice an increase in nap times. However, pay attention if this behavior becomes chronic, affects their routine activities, or appears suddenly without an apparent cause. It’s a good idea to let them rest on a comfortable dog bed to help them cope better during the days ahead.
  8. Incontinence. A change in bathroom habits can be caused by many things, from kidney disease to old age. If your once-house-trained dog suddenly starts having accidents in the house, it could be a sign that the end is nearing — or it could mean they’re just not feeling well.
  9. Mood changes. Monitor any recent behavioral changes. If your normally happy, friendly dog becomes withdrawn or aggressive, it could be due to a number of things, including pain, fear, or confusion.
  10. Labored breathing. Shallow or labored breath, or a bluish tint to their gums, could indicate that your dog is not getting enough oxygen or is having difficulty breathing properly. This change in breathing can be due to many different things, including congestive heart failure, lung disease, or cancer.
  11. Changes in heart rate or body temperature. Just like people, a sudden change in heart rate or temperature — either an increase or decrease — can be a sign that your dog may be near death.
  12. Body odor. Sometimes when an animal’s body doesn’t function normally, their body and breath can have a pungent or different than normal smell. This can be due to oil buildup on the fur or dental disease.

How to evaluate your dog’s quality of life

When it comes to your dog’s quality of life, there are ways to evaluate their physical and mental health and overall happiness. Many veterinarians use the HHHHHMM Scale which stands for hurt, hunger-hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and ”more good days than bad days.”

While you don’t need to use this exact scale and assign scores or ratings to each of these factors, you can still track the changes in quality of life over time. Some questions you may want to ask yourself are:

  • Is my dog still able to enjoy their favorite activities and social interactions?
  • Are they eating and drinking? Has the amount they’ve eaten or drank changed?
  • Is my dog still mobile?
  • Are they having more bad days than good?
  • Can my dog hold their poop or pee until they’re outside? Have their bathroom habits changed?

Depending on the answers to these questions, you may want to consult your vet about care options.

End-of-life care

Losing a pet is one of the hardest things a person can go through. But the unfortunate reality is that our furry friends don’t live as long as we do, and there will come a time when we need to say goodbye. Knowing what options and decisions you have available to you can make the process of death and grieving easier as you help your best friend transition peacefully in their final days.

  • Offer treats. Spoil your pup with their favorite dog-safe foods.
  • Don’t deviate from routine. Avoid any big changes to your daily routine.
  • Help them drink. Offer them water or low-sodium broth at regular intervals.
  • Manage their pain. Medication may help ease their pain.
  • Be present. Spend as much time with them as you can.
  • Create calm. Try to lessen loud noises, sudden movements, and high energy.

Talk to your veterinarian about whether your dog may qualify for palliative care , which is a form of care where comfort is prioritized and attempts to cure a terminal or life-threatening illness.

There are many things we can do to keep pets comfortable at the end of their life, such as medications and special diets, among other things. Frequent conversations with your vet are necessary to adjust treatments and decide when it may be time to say goodbye.

Dr. Jennifer Schott

Losing your pet is difficult, but it’s important to know the signs that your pet is at the end of their life. That way, you can ensure they receive the proper care and attention, and that their final days are full of love, joy, and their favorite person: you.

Frequently asked questions

What do I do if my dog passes away in their sleep?

If your dog passes away in their sleep, the first step is to contact a veterinarian. It is important to have a professional confirm the death has taken place. After completing this step, you should take steps to dispose of the remains according to your local laws and regulations.

Additionally, if you feel comfortable doing so, honoring the memory of your pet can be an effective way to cope with your grief. This includes writing about them, creating a memorial, or creating something symbolic in their honor.

What are the signs that your dog is going to pass away?

It can be very difficult to tell whether your dog is unwell or nearing the end of its life, but there are some signs to look out for. Common symptoms include decreased appetite and energy levels, weight loss, increased sleeping or restlessness, excessive panting, vomiting or diarrhea, and lack of interest in things they used to enjoy.

The sudden onset of any of these symptoms could indicate acute illness. But, even dogs with terminal illnesses can have good days and bad days. If you have concerns about your pet’s well-being, consult your vet as soon as possible.

Can I call 911 if I find my dog in a critical state?

Unfortunately, no. 911 is for human emergencies only and calling this service can negatively affect its operations. If your dog is in a critical state, it is important to seek emergency veterinary attention. The faster they can be diagnosed and treated, the more likely they are to have a positive outcome. It may be beneficial to keep a list of emergency clinics near you and have their contact information on hand, just in case.

Do senior dogs run away to die?

It is a myth that old dogs run away to die. Dogs do not purposely seek out death, but they may stray from home if they are confused or scared due to age-related medical conditions. In addition, their behavior may change as their cognition deteriorates, leading them to wander far from home in search of familiar smells and sights. If you notice your dog has gone missing, you should take necessary steps to locate them quickly, such as contacting local animal agencies and searching your local area.

Can vets administer euthanasia at my home?

In some states, veterinarians can administer home euthanasia services if requested. However, you should contact your local veterinarian to see if they offer house calls with this service. Additionally, the decision to euthanize a pet should never be taken lightly. It’s important to discuss all other options with a qualified veterinarian before making this difficult decision.