Warning Signs a Dog Is Dying

Kelly Roper
Little girl holding her dog

It is relatively rare for a dog to pass away suddenly and without warning. It's much more likely there will be some signs your dog is dying, especially if he has been unwell for a while. Whether you choose to let a pet die in peace at home or have him humanely euthanized, it's helpful to be aware of the signs that will help you understand how to tell if your dog is dying.

8 Signs a Dog Is Dying

If your dog has a terminal illness, you may need to care for him at home during his final days. There are some common signs that a dying dog is in its final decline. Just keep in mind that each dog experiences dying differently, and some dogs may not exhibit every symptom listed. Speak to your vet about how to know if your dog is dying and when those signs might start to show as a result of his condition.

1. Lack of Coordination

A dying dog becomes very unsteady on his feet and has difficulty moving from one point to another. This might be due to physical weakness, impaired brain function or even a combination of the two. In a dying dog, weakness is most likely due to not eating, severe diarrhea or blood loss. However, as PetMD explains, a dog that suddenly becomes uncoordinated may have a treatable condition such as an ear infection, so be sure to seek veterinary attention if in doubt.

2. Extreme Fatigue

A vomiting dog will have less energy and be less active even if the condition is not serious. However, when a dog is actively dying, he will show signs of extreme fatigue. He will most likely lie in one spot without attempting to get up anymore, and he may no longer even have the strength to lift his head. Again, this tends to be a slow decline and may be due to anemia, poor circulation or lack of energy. If his gums go white instead of pink, this can indicate anemia, which is a serious sign. Likewise, if his gums are pink but when pressed with a finger go white and stay white for several seconds, this is a sign of circulatory collapse which is a precursor to death.

3. Complete Loss of Appetite

The dog shows practically no interest in food or water. When he does eat, he often cannot keep food down. As death draws closer, he refuses to eat anything at all. Again, be aware that a dog that feels unwell may not want to eat, so interpret his lack of appetite as part of the bigger picture and seek veterinary attention where appropriate.

4. Vomiting

Vomiting is a general sign that can occur for many reasons from motion sickness to an infection or virus, or a more serious decline. For the dog with a terminal diagnosis, when the digestive system begins shutting down, undigested food in the stomach can make the dog feel nauseated. He may vomit to purge the contents of his stomach. Starting to vomit is a serious complication, especially as he may not keep water down and become dehydrated. However, for the dog that has been relatively well and suddenly starts to be sick, there may be options to make him more comfortable and buy him more time.

5. Incontinence

A dying dog progressively loses control over bodily functions as he may be too weak to get up and have accidents where he lies. Alternatively, as his body weakens, he loses control of his sphincter muscle as well as the muscles that control his bladder. Good nursing is crucial so that the dog doesn't develop sores secondary to urine or feces in prolonged contact with the skin.

6. No Interest in Surroundings

Most dogs begin to withdraw into themselves as they draw closer to death. They no longer respond to what's going on around them, and they may even cease to respond to their favorite people as their bodies begin shutting down.

7. Twitching

The dog may twitch or shake at times. This is typically an involuntary response, but the dog may become chilled as his body temperature begins to drop. It may help to make the dog more comfortable by putting him on a heating pad or providing extra warmth.

8. Worsening of His Terminal Illness

If your dog has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, such as severe heart failure, kidney failure, or cancer, then be alert for a deterioration in his condition. For example, if the dog has heart failure then his breathing may become far more labored and his belly may swell.

Facing the End With Your Pet

Many of the signs listed here are quite general and, in isolation, can simply be signs your dog might be sick. If you are undecided whether the end is close, look at the bigger picture. An older dog with a terminal diagnosis that has pale gums and not eaten for days is more likely to be dying than a fit young dog with no pre-existing medical conditions. On the whole, the more of the signs listed above that are present, the more serious the outlook. Your best source of advice is the vet familiar with your dog's case, who can offer advice about whether there are any treatment options that would make him more comfortable.

Ways to Comfort Your Dying Dog

If you choose to let your pet pass away at home, there are a few things you can do to make his last hours on earth more comfortable.

  • Provide a warm and quiet place for your dog to rest comfortably. Carefully monitor interactions with other pets and children who may not understand the dog's condition.
  • You can try offering your dog food and water if he's willing to take it, but don't try to force it on him. Dogs know when eating is no longer any use to them.
  • Pet your dog softly and talk to him. Reassure him that everything is OK and that you love him. Even though it is difficult, try to be calm and soothing to your pet. He can pick up on your emotions.
  • Place waterproof pet pads close to or beneath your dog if he cannot go outside. You can also have him wear pet diapers if that's easier.
  • Ensure the dog is not suffering or in pain.

Care Matters

When the end is close, your care and attention can make your pet's passing a little easier. He will still appreciate knowing how much you love him even if he's past the point of responding to you, and you can take comfort in the fact that you were there for him when he needed you most.

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Warning Signs a Dog Is Dying