How to tell if your dog is dying

how to tell your dog is dying
(Last Updated On: April 20, 2020)

Owning a dog can bring so much happiness and companionship. Dogs are known as man’s best friend for a reason, as humans and dogs have enjoyed lives together for thousands of years.

However, no dog will be around forever. And the unfortunate part of owning a dog is knowing that one day, your dog’s life will come to an end.

As a dog owner, I understand how hard it is to lose your dog after spending its life together.

Many dog owners have experienced the pain and sadness that comes from losing a dog. Unfortunately, we all know that losing your best friend is just a hard reality to the rewarding joys of adopting a furry member of the family.

The experience of losing a dog is hard for anyone, and it can be especially troubling for children and other family members. Many pet owners are shocked or confused when their dog passes and this only makes the grief and pain greater.

Many owners feel that they didn’t see their dog’s impending death early enough and end up wishing they had done more for their dog in the end. However, if you pay attention, you will see all the ways your dog is telling you that their time is coming to an end. Some symptoms will indicate that your dog is suffering from some kind of illness while some are simply signs of old age.

No matter what your dog is going through, you’ll be able to see some very common indicators that your dog is nearing the end of its life.

white dog dying signs

1. Loss of Energy

One of the main ways you can tell that your dog’s life is coming to an end is if you can see lethargy and a loss of energy in your dog.

Loss of energy is a gradual process, which definitely can make it hard to monitor. If you’re unsure of the extent of your dog’s energy loss, just think: what was my dog’s energy like a year ago? You may notice that your dog doesn’t run around or play as much as he or she used to. He may have completely lost interest in toys, treats, and people and just wants to lay around in one place all day.

If you notice that your dog is lethargic, it’s a good sign that your dog is slowing down and conserving the little bit of energy he or she has left.

2. Vomiting

When your dog is dying, you may notice that your dog is vomiting a lot even when they aren’t sick. We know that vomiting is usually a sign of illness, but in old dogs, it can also be a sign that their digestive system is slowing down.

When the digestive system shuts down, the upset stomach takes longer to digest food and your dog will end up vomiting the undigested food in his or her stomach. While vomiting can be concerning and no fun for you and your dog, you can find ways to ease their pain.

Talking to your vet and buying food that is easy on your dog’s bloated stomach will make the process a lot easier for you and your dog.

3. Loss of Appetite

If your dog is not expressing interest in food or eating less than they used to, there is a chance that they are nearing the end of their life.

You may notice that your dog doesn’t get excited at mealtime like they used to or that he or she no longer waits by the bowl before you feed them.

Just like people, dogs typically don’t want to eat as much when they get old and are close to death. Whether it is a sign of weakness or an indication of a serious illness, your dog may eat less than they typically do or stop eating all together.

4. Muscle Tremors

Muscle tremors are a direct result of loss of appetite. When your dog isn’t eating or drinking, the lack of nourishment in your dog’s system will lower glucose levels and result in weakness. Your dog then will become dehydrated and get muscle tremors.

If you’re not sure what they are like, these tremors manifest in twitching, shaking and loss of body temperature. The best thing you can do is make sure your dog is getting the best nourishment they can and make sure they are covered with a blanket to keep their temperature up.

You may want to spend time holding your dog to keep it warm and comforted in it’s last days.

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5. Trouble Walking

As your dog gets old, you may notice that they begin having trouble balancing themselves. Dogs may stumble or fall over while moving around, and this can be especially troubling if your dog is typically athletic.

Balancing issues and trouble walking may be an indication of certain illness and diseases or may also be a sign of inner ear infection.

If you notice that your dog is not as coordinated as he used to be, it’s a good sign that your dog is dying.

6. Respiratory Problems

A telltale sign of old age is trouble breathing. While your dog may have enjoyed running around and playing while he was younger, he may not be able to do so without panting as he gets older.

You may notice that your dog takes longer to inhale and exhale or has trouble catching his or her breath.

Respiratory problems are often a sign of heart failure or issues with the respiratory organs. Your dog’s ability to breathe will probably get progressively worse as they come to an end.

When your dog is near death, you may notice that he or she is breathing heavily or having trouble breathing even while laying still.

7. Irritability

As your dog’s life ends and he slips into confusion, you may find that they are more irritable and this can manifest in overt aggression. Your dog may begin growling or even snapping at other pets and family members, such as children.

If this becomes the case, remember that it is not your dogs fault; they are experiencing a lot of pain and suffering and are not able to verbally communicate what they are going through, so must express it in other ways.

If you start seeing irritability and aggression from your dog, make sure your dog is kept away from other pets and children to avoid injury. Try to keep your dog away from new situations, people and animals to make sure your dog does not react negatively. Try to comfort your dog as much as you can and don’t put him into a situation that could upset him.

Does a Dog Know when He’s Dying?

does a dog know he's dying

There have been many cases of animals being aware of death and grieving for other animals. Elephants, whales and even dogs have been seen to show grief for the death of herd or house members, and many dog owners have reported stories about their dogs grieving the death of another dog or pet.

One story from a dog owner tells of dogs howling over the body of their deceased friend. Another story tells of a dog staying by its deceased friend’s side all night then sadly wandering around the house for multiple days after.

These stories and many others have basically proven that dogs truly do understand when other dogs are dying. However, while there seems to be a lot of evidence that animals and dogs do understand death and understand when other animals have died, it is not clear whether or not dogs actually understand when they themselves are dying.

Dogs obviously show physical signs of impending death and will often experience behavior change. For example, a dog may avoid human attention or crave more of it in their last days of life. Or a dog may choose not to eat or drink as they near their death.

But whether or not these behaviors mean that the dog actually understands that they are dying remains a mystery. Many symptoms dogs face simply come as a result of old age or the illness they are suffering from and it is unclear whether or not dogs understand that these symptoms mean they are dying.

The symptoms and behavior changes that dogs go through before they die may or may not be related to awareness of their death. Many dog owners do, however, believe that past dogs understood their coming death. For example, some pet owners have experienced dogs “waiting for the right time” to die.

There have been stories of dying dogs waiting for their owner’s arrival before passing away or of dogs who choose a certain place to die.

But whether these stories are actual evidence of dogs being aware of their death or just circumstantial situations is unclear. It’s impossible to know whether or not your dog knows it is dying, so the best thing you can do is make sure your dog is not stressed out while he is dying.

What is the Average Age for a Dog to Die?

The length of a dog’s life depends largely on his or her adult size and breed. A tiny or small dog, such as a shih tzu chihuahua or teddy bear puppy, will most likely live for upwards of 15 to 16 years.

This may seem old compared to giant breeds, such as mastiffs, who will most likely only live 7 to 8 years. The dogs in between, the medium to large sized dogs, will usually live 10-13 years. This includes dog breeds such as labs and golden retrievers.

It’s important to understand that every dog is different and their life expectancy depends largely on it’s breed and size. Just because you at one time had a chihuahua that lived to be 17 years old doesn’t mean the lab you have now is going to live as long.

You also have to remember to ignore myths like the one that says dogs age in “dog years”. A common belief is that 1 human year is equivalent to 7 dog years, but that’s just not true. Different dog breeds reach maturity at different ages, grow at different ages and die at different ages. For example, most dogs reach adulthood at around a year old, but giant breeds may take up to 2 years. Because of this there is no standard aging reference for all dogs.

How Do You Comfort a Dying Dog?

When it comes time for your dog to die, you’ll want to make sure you’re there to provide comfort and peace for your dog in his or her last days and hours. I recommend spending this time to cherish the last few moments you have with your beloved pet. Reflect on the memories you shared together.

This can be an extremely trying and difficult time for you mentally, as you’ll be losing a friend and family member. But remember your top priority: making sure your dog’s last hours are comfortable and happy.

A few things you can do to accomplish this goal for your dog are:

  • Get your dog the medical attention he or she needs. It’s important to make sure that your dog is not in too much pain during his or her last days and hours. By now, you should have talked to a vet and gotten the necessary medications or painkillers. This is especially important if your dog is suffering from some kind of illness because you’ll want to make sure your dog’s remaining time is pain-free.
  • Offer your dog food and water. Make sure your dog has the option to eat or drink if they want to. Keeping a water bowl close by isn’t a bad idea so your dog has the option to drink. I have even offered past dogs their favorite treats or chicken to make them happy before they go. But don’t be concerned if your dog chooses not to partake in the food or water you offer them. They may not be in the mood to eat and at this point, there is no use in forcing them.
  • Create a quiet, warm environment. Closing off a section of your house or devoting a room for your dog will help create a calm, quiet environment for him or her to peacefully pass away. Let your dog lay on his bed and make sure there are plenty of blankets or wrap him up in. In addition, make sure your dog isn’t being overwhelmed by other pets or children so he can remain calm and serene in his last hours.
  • Soothe your dog. You can help your dog relax by petting him and talking to him softly. While it may be difficult to hold yourself together, remember that being as calm as you can will help your dog find peace more easily. Stroke your dog’s ears and tell him you love him. I also find that it helps to talk out loud to your dog about your favorite memories you share. Your dog will understand the sentiment, and this will help him or her slip off happily and comfortably.


Losing your dog is literally losing a member of your family. As a dog owner, I know that it is one of the hardest things that you have to do. Having a dog is such a rewarding experience and can bring so much joy to any person or family, but the day must inevitably come for your dog to leave this life.

Once you know that your dog is dying, there is nothing you can do but be there and comfort your dog. Pay attention to the signs your dog is giving that the end is near and do everything you can to make your beloved best friend’s last months, weeks, days and hours as comfortable as they can be.

Respect the physical and behavioral changes your dog may begin going through. Make sure they get the proper medical and emotional attention they deserve.

When it finally comes time for your dog to die, you have a few options. If your dog is relatively comfortable and slowly dying of old age, you can choose to allow them to die in it’s home. You can set up a room in your house for your dog to quietly pass, and you can choose to let your dog die surrounded by family.

How can you tell when your dog is in pain?

If your dog is ill or experiencing great suffering, you may want to consider euthanasia. Your dog’s vet will be able to euthanize him or her if it is necessary for your dogs situation. If your dog is in a lot of pain, it is truly the best choice not only to end your dogs suffering. It is also to save you from watching your dog die a slow, painful death.

If you decide that euthanasia is the way to go, you can bring along your dog’s bed or favorite toy to let him or her go with a little piece of home. You can choose to sit with your dog and hold him as he slips off, or you can choose to wait outside as the vet administers the euthanasia.

No matter what you choose to do, remember that the best thing you can do is make sure your dog dies peacefully. After a long life shared together and many memories created, the least they deserve is to pass as happily and comfortably as possible. 

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