- 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 the signs your dog is dying and underlying causes for certain symptoms like vomiting or loss of coordination.
- Your dog may qualify for end-of-life care — End-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.
Signs your dog is dying
The thought of any beloved pet reaching the end of their life can be extremely tough and heartbreaking for any pet parent. But, it’s an unfortunate reality that every pet owner has to go through at some point.
Our furry family members play such big parts in our lives, so it’s important to be aware of the signs that your pet might be nearing the end. This will help you keep your dog as comfortable as possible as you explore end-of-life options.
With the proper knowledge, you can prepare yourself and all of your family members can know the signs your dog is dying and prepare for those final days with your beloved dog. It’s impossible to know exactly when the end is near, but the below signs may indicate that your dog is nearing the end of their life.
Loss of appetite
One of the early signs that your dog is nearing the end of their life is that they stop eating and drinking. Loss of appetite in dogs is usually due to a decrease in energy levels and interest in food. It can also be a result of pain or difficulty swallowing. 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.
Lack of interest or depression
Dogs who are nearing the end of their life may become dispirited, retreating 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.
Decreased mobility or coordination
As your dog ages, you might notice your once-active pup becoming hesitant to jump up on the couch or go for a walk around the block. 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 to see if it could be an indication of the onset of something more serious.
Vomiting or diarrhea
Two common symptoms of a dog nearing its end of life are vomiting and diarrhea. Vomiting can be caused by a number of issues, such as infection, inflammation, or metabolic imbalances, while diarrhea is commonly a result of intestinal irritation or the inability of the organs to absorb nutrients.
Both of these gastrointestinal symptoms can result in dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, leading to further health problems. It’s important to stay aware of these signs in your pet so that you can provide them with palliative care and make them as comfortable as possible.
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. A veterinary oncologist will be able to help diagnose the root cause and provide cancer treatment options.
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 could indicate that your dog’s life cycle is slowly coming to an end. It’s a good idea to let them rest on a comfortable dog bed to help them cope better during the days ahead.
A change in bathroom habits can be caused by a number of 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 of life is nearing – or it could mean that they’re just not feeling well. A trip to the veterinarian can help determine the underlying cause and give you peace of mind.
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.
Shallow or labored breath could be a sign 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. You might also notice a bluish tint to your dog’s gums if their oxygen levels are decreased.
Changes in heart rate or body temperature
Just like humans experiencing the end of life, dogs have a range of heart rates and temperatures that are indicative of this process. A sudden change in heart rate or temperature—either an increase or decrease—can be a sign that your dog may be near death.
How to help your dog at the end of life
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.
Euthanasia vs. natural passing
Given the severity of illness or age, one decision that pet parents are often faced with is whether to pursue euthanasia or allow their dog to pass away naturally.
Most vets agree that euthanasia is the kinder option because it offers your beloved pet “death with dignity.” It can also save pet owners from having to deal with the unknowns of a natural passing, including pain and suffering or respiratory distress.
If you prefer to let your dog pass naturally, it might be a good idea to see if they qualify for end-of-life care. Caregivers may be able to provide pain management which can be a huge help in your pet’s final days.
In either case, it is important to talk with your veterinarian about all available options beforehand so that you can make an informed decision and have an idea of what to expect throughout the entire process of death.
While difficult, this choice depends on a variety of factors like the individual situation and preferences of each family member, all of which should be taken into consideration before making any final determination.
Cremation vs. burial
Once your beloved family pet has passed away, there are also two common choices for disposition: cremation or burial. For those who choose burial for their canine companion, it is important to consider location and if there are local ordinances.
In some residential areas, health or zoning code regulations may prohibit burials. Consider contacting your local municipality office just in case. It is also important for interred pets to remain untouched by other animals or people, so using proper protective measures such as markers or cages may be necessary. This may be especially important if your pet has been euthanized, due to the presence of pentobarbital in their bodies. Failure to follow local regulations can result in fines or even jail time for the owner.
On the other hand, those who choose cremation can find a company based on reviews or research, or use whatever service the vet clinic has contracted. Often, these companies will include mementos such as ceramic paw prints or decorative wooden urns to memorialize your beloved pet.
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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. Ways to do this include writing about them, creating a memorial, or creating something symbolic in their honor.
How can I tell whether my dog is dying or just sick?
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 be an indication of 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, some older dogs’ 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 are able to administer home euthanasia services if requested. However, you should contact your local veterinarian to see if they offer house calls with this service as regulations may vary. Additionally, the decision to euthanize a pet should never be taken lightly and it is important to discuss all other options with a qualified veterinarian before making this difficult decision.