Recognizing a Dying Dog's Final Moments

Kelly Roper
sad girl with dog

There's a subtle difference in a dog's behavior when he is past the point of struggling to overcome illness or injury and is about to die. Learning how to tell when those final moments have arrived can help you provide your dog with love, comfort and dignity as he leaves this earth.

Signs a Dog Is Close to Death

In some cases, a dog dies quite suddenly and there's no time to realize it's happening. In other cases, death comes slowly and naturally with some signs that are obvious if you understand what to look for. According to Best Pet Insurance this can include the following signs.

  • Dog stops eating and drinking - His organs are shutting down, so there's no sensation of hunger or thirst.
  • Loss of consciousness - Up until this point, a dog may sleep a lot with brief periods of waking. When he's actively dying, he may lose consciousness altogether just minutes or maybe a few hours before death occurs.
  • Breathing slows - The pause between breaths becomes progressively longer. Near the end, breaths may even come minutes apart after the dog loses consciousness.
  • Heartbeat slows - The heart rate grows ever slower as the muscle loses the ability to function.

The Moment of Death

When the struggle is over and the dog dies:

  • He'll exhale his final breath. His body will actually appear to deflate slightly as the lungs empty.
  • His body will go completely limp.
  • If still open, his eyes will have a blank stare.
  • His heart completely stops beating.
  • As all tension leaves his muscles, he may release urine or defecate as the muscles that control these bodily functions completely relax.
  • After about 30 minutes of absolutely no signs of life, you can be certain the dog has passed away.

Dr. Villalobos' Quality of Life Scale

In some cases, a pet owner has a choice whether to let her pet die at home or choose to have the dog humanely euthanized. Many veterinary pet hospice programs examine a dog's life quality to determine treatment plans and decide if euthanasia is in the pet's best interest. Veterinarian Alice Villalobos of Animal Oncology Consultation Services developed a life quality test called The HHHHHMM Scale. The scale test is scored from 1 to 10, with 10 being maximum health. The life quality scale examines a dog according to the following criteria.

  • Hurt - Is the dog in constant pain? Can the pain be safely controlled? The ability to breathe is also considered. Breathing difficulties can be extremely painful.
  • Hunger - Can the dog receive adequate nutrition? Is a feeding tube necessary and possible?
  • Hydration - Is the dog dehydrated or unwilling to drink fluids? Subcutaneous fluids administered under the skin can help keep a dog hydrated.
  • Hygiene - Does the dog's health problem create a hygienic problem? Dog owners can learn to keep an incontinent dog clean and how to care for any necrotic skin conditions that have foul odors.
  • Happiness - Can the dog still experience happiness or react to mental stimulation? Does he still respond to his family, even if it is only eye communication? Brushing fur, petting the dog and talking softly to him are all important to keep an ailing dog's spirits up.
  • Mobility - How mobile is the pet? Can he walk around the house or outside?
  • More good days than bad days - A dog can still have a good quality of life if he has more good days than bad ones. It is a good sign if a dog still has a zest for life despite a frequent number of bad days.

End of Life Pet Hospice Program

If your pet has significant health issues such as a terminal illness or a debilitating medical problem, the veterinarian may talk to you about an end of life pet hospice program. End of life pet hospice is a term for a personalized care plan to keep a dying pet comfortable. The veterinarian will examine your dog, run tests and develop a home care plan based on your pet's needs. The plan may include a special food such as liquid diets, medications for pain management and scheduled veterinary visits to preserve your ailing pet's life quality and dignity.

You Don't Have to Go Through This Alone

A hospice plan not only provides a dog with the most comfort possible, it helps an owner too. Knowing a much-loved dog is going to die can be extremely stressful, and it can be rough trying to make rational decisions about what is best for your pet. Having a hospice plan and a vet to lean on for advice will guide you through to the end. Think of it as part of your support program during a very difficult time.

Recognizing a Dying Dog's Final Moments