How to Recognize a Dying Dog in the Final Moments

Man and woman with dying 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 what happens to a dog's body when it dies and how to tell when those final moments have arrived can help you prepare and provide your dog with love, comfort and dignity as he leaves this earth.

What Happens When a Dog Dies Naturally

In some cases, an aging or sick dog dies quite suddenly and there's no time to realize it's happening. In other cases, death comes slowly with some signs that are obvious if you understand what to look for. So how long does it take for a dog to die naturally? There is no set timeframe; each dog's situation is unique. According to Leesville Animal Hospital 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.
  • Vomiting and bouts of diarrhea as the digestive system shuts down.
  • Urination without warning - may be bloody.
  • 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.
  • Muscle spasms and twitching - reflexes and the sensation of pain will decrease
  • Skin will be dry and pale due to dehydration
"After reading this, I know now why she was acting the way she did. I knew she was going soon. It's helped me to understand better her last few days. She just went to sleep. I was keeping a close watch on her. At one moment I noticed she was completely still. I put my hand on her and she was shaking. I picked her up and held her in my arms. A few seconds later she was still. She died in my arms." -- Reader comment from October

Dog Dying Process and 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.
"I took him in my arms, layed with him on his bed, and told him it was ok, to relax, I will always be there with him. His breaths deepened and became more spaced, gradually he let go, I felt him completely relax in my arms. He went in peace, surrounded with my love." -- Reader comment from Leah

End of Life Pet Hospice Program

If your pet has significant health issues such as cancer, kidney failure, another 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.

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How to Recognize a Dying Dog in the Final Moments