The Signs Your Dog is Dying (Detailed)

Signs Your Dog Is Dying. Photo of a dying dog in bed.

Whether suddenly or after a prolonged illness, a dogs’ death looms ahead. You’ll want to know when that time comes so that you can be ready to help your dog pass away. Here’s what you should know about the signs your dog is dying.

Common signs that your dog is dying include:

  • lack of appetite
  • incontinence
  • sudden irritability
  • increased pain
  • and extreme lethargy.

These signs might be present for a long time before his death, or they might come on suddenly and lead to your dog’s demise.

Below, we’ll talk about what the signs look like, what they mean with your dog’s end of life, and how to prepare yourself for it.

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

None of us want to say goodbye to our beloved dogs. They are core family members, and we always want them to be around forever.

That being said, every dog’s life reaches its end. Some signs repeat from one case to another when it comes to your dog nearing the end. The most common ones include:

  • Losing quality of life
  • Lack of appetite
  • Incontinence/vomiting
  • Hiding away
  • Irritability

These signs can appear, as mentioned, suddenly or build up over time. They can look different in each dog, so it’s essential to recognize them in your dog.

Losing quality of life

This will be personalized, in particular, to each dog and their relationship with life. In most situations, many find that their ordinarily social, loving, and friendly dog suddenly becomes quiet, uninterested in toys or people, and just wants to be left alone to sleep. These changes could be very subtle or all at once.

In other dogs, losing their quality of life could be more physical. They can’t eat or drink and vomit and eliminate on their dog bed, often without realizing they’ve done so. They might be showing signs of pain when moving or unable to walk on slippery floors.

Whenever a dog has a lot their quality of life, it means that they are no longer enjoying life enough for their discomfort or pain to be worthwhile. At that point, you’ll need to decide on what to do about it.

Lack of appetite

Most dogs love food and treats. If your dog isn’t eating their regular portion of food, or they suddenly seem uninterested in food or treats. In that case, this is another sign that they are nearing the end. As their bodies prepare for death, their appetite and interest in food will decline gradually or suddenly.

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At this point, you may need to get creative in how you feed your dog—for example, mixing wet food with dry food. Or delivering protein through plain, boiled chicken. If your dog still won’t eat any of these, it means that they are indeed nearing the end.

Incontinence/vomiting

Dogs start to lose control over their bodily functions as they get older. This often starts with occasionally peeing or pooping. That will become more frequent and often happens without the dog even knowing it’s happening.

This often distresses them since they know they aren’t allowed to do it inside. Don’t scold your dog since this will only add to their distress, and they’re unable to control it at this point.

Some dogs will vomit, too, especially if they aren’t interested in eating, but try to anyway. This could just be regular dog vomit, or perhaps bloody vomit. This is common when dogs are nearing the end.

Hiding away

Biologically speaking, dogs know that they are vulnerable when sick and injured. This means that they will often hide to protect themselves from harm while they do so. Dogs will do this when they are dying because, to them, they just feel unwell.

It could be hiding away from people in another room, under a bed or somewhere inaccessible, or even with their favorite human. They’ll consider this human their protector while recovering.

Irritability

Dogs that are confused, unsure of what’s happening, or in a lot of pain will get irritable. They could snap at other people, other animals, or even at nothing in particular.

If your dog is usually well-mannered and suddenly turns nasty, this is a sure sign that they struggle with their pain and require some serious support.

It could be a subtle changeover, but most cases call for this change to be very sudden and often very near the end of their lives.

In these cases, respect their desire not to be touched or left alone, since pushing them into contact they don’t want can be dangerous and even distressing to your dog since they don’t want to hurt you.

These signs of death are the most common ones that pet parents see in their dogs. These can all be signs of other issues, too, of course, so it’s best to get your vet’s opinion on what’s going on.

Photo of a sick dying dog.

Signs your dog is dying of old age

Most dogs do die from old age. This can be a sudden discovery one morning, much to our horror. Signs that your dog is dying from old age include:

  • Incontinence
  • Coordination issues
  • Lack of appetite
  • Skin changes, twitching

When you see these changes in your dog, it’s best to prepare yourself that you may end up making a grim discovery when you come home from work one day. These signs show that your dog’s body is starting to fail and that death is in the future for them.

Depending on where your dog falls on the quality of life scale, you might want to decide to consider euthanasia to ease their suffering (more on that later).

Signs a dog is dying of cancer

Cancer, unfortunately, is as common in dogs as it is in humans. The actual signs of a dog dying of cancer can depend mainly on how severe their cancer is and what kind of cancer they have.

Above and beyond the ones that we’ve talked about, common signs of a cancer-related death include:

  • Coughing
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Vomiting

Coughing is rare in dogs and occurs when their lungs fill with fluid. Cancer is a cause of this, as is heart failure (more on that in a moment). 

A dog whose body is being overrun with cancer will be extremely lethargic, often sleeping for days at a time with little to no movement.

Lastly, vomiting will be severe enough to be bloody, and it might even be preventing them from eating or even drinking.

At this point, you’ll want to think carefully about your dog’s suffering through medication or the possibility of euthanasia

Signs of a dog dying of heart failure

Heart failure in dogs is often the cause of death in “old age.” Their heart simply fails and doesn’t restart. However, the symptoms can be very different as heart failure takes place. These include:

  • Erratic heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy

As you might be able to guess, these symptoms show that your dog’s death is going to be sooner rather than later. Since your dog’s organs all depend on the heart working properly, everything else will start to shut down. We’ve talked about this more below.

The steps of the dog dying process

There are specific steps of the dying process in your dog. Understanding where your dog is will help you get a feel for roughly how long they have left. A vet can help you assess this, too, which is a good idea. The dying process is split into two categories, including:

  • Early-stage signs of death
  • End-stage signs of death

Early-stage signs of death

Consider these as your warning signals. As your dog’s body starts to fail, you notice subtle signs of weight loss and muscle mass loss. They will become less active and won’t want to go on their walks or play. They often detach from the people around them and spend more time sleeping.

These are all signs that your dog’s preparing for their end, as alarming as it seems to us. At the very least, you should have your dog to the vet to ensure that there is not something else going on that is causing them.

End-stage signs of death

As your dog’s death grows nearer, you’ll notice other symptoms start to appear. Again, they could be subtle or very obvious. These include restlessness in finding a comfortable position, incontinence with eliminating themselves, vomiting, and extreme lethargy. They’ll detach further from their people, toys, and more.

You’ll also notice signs of pain, such as panting. They may struggle to breathe at times and otherwise seem very uncomfortable. These stages are often distressing for your dog and you, too.

How long is the dying process for a dog?

Unfortunately, it depends on the cause of death for your dog. For example, cancer-related or sickness-related deaths tend to be quick. They could be days to weeks. For age-related deaths, it’s often closer to months.

The symptoms of your dog’s death will change from early-stage death to end-stage death. This will give you the best indicator of when your dog is getting closer to the end.

Feeling overwhelmed on understanding this? You don’t have to — and shouldn’t — deal with this on your own. Get a vet to help you understand what’s going on in your dog for everyone’s benefit.

When a dog stops eating, how long before they die?

The timing will vary depending on whether they’re eating less, or different food or they’re not eating at all. If they’re still eating a bit and are enjoying the wet food instead of their traditional kibble, they could continue to live for weeks. 

On the other hand, if they’ve stopped eating entirely and are drinking very little, it could be days to perhaps a week. 

How does a dog usually die?

The actual cause of death in a dog usually is heart failure. This is often age-related and very often occurs in their sleep.

Some dogs will have strokes, too, which are often noticeable in them as they happen and after the fact. This can lead to many taking their dog to the vet to be put down manually since strokes can bring suffering.

Do dogs know when they are dying?

You might be relieved to learn that dogs do not know when they are dying.

They will understand that they are unwell and that they need help to “recover,” but they have no understanding of death in and of itself. Understanding their death as imminent is harder on us since we understand it.

It’s always helpful to remain calm and in control of your emotions as much as possible since dogs can pick up on your stress and sadness. While it’s perfectly understandable that you can’t hide all of your sadness, try to be strong for your dog’s sake.

Do dogs know they are loved when dying?

While it’s common for dogs to be fearful as they die, they understand you love them. They will understand your comfort and love even in those final moments, and they will take it for what it is.

Do what you can to convey your love to your dog using favorite toys, scratches, pets, and hugs. This helps you show him how you feel.

Will my dog know he is being put to sleep?

If you decide that euthanasia is the right path, you might worry that they know they are being put to sleep and are upset and scared and angry with you.

This is not the case at all. They will actually be grateful and comfortable as they are being put to sleep. This is part of how the humane process happens. Your dog will understand that someone “new” is there (aka the vet), but they won’t understand why. 

As long as their favorite human (aka you) is there, they will be calm and relieved once their pain stops. To them, it just feels like drifting into a peaceful sleep, after all. It is one of the best gifts that you can give your dog!

How to help your dying dog

When the time comes and you accept that our dog is dying, you’ll want to do everything in your power to comfort them.

Understanding how to comfort a dying dog is about taking charge of this indisputable fact and doing everything that you can possible for your dog’s best ending.

To Summarise

Many of the signs of death in your dog will be very obvious to the pet parent paying attention. The most common ones include a lack of appetite or thirst, incontinence and vomiting, irritability and aggression, signs of pain, and extreme lethargy.

These can either be sudden onset or be subtle and long-term. These signs all indicate that your dog is nearing death, and you’ll need to make sure that you are prepared for it.

While no one wants to see signs that their dog is dying, understanding those signs and preparing yourself and your dog for them will be much better than ignoring them.

Know someone who is struggling with interpreting their dog’s changes? Consider sharing this with them to help ease the blow.

Writer, Editor and member of the Council, I am a dog person and I thrive to get the answers that will help you provide the best care a dog can have. You can also find me on my personal blog here.