Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is never easy. When you first notice the signs your dog is dying, it will leave you with a heavy heart. A natural death is no easier to face than an accidental one. And yet, as pet owners, this is something we all must face one day.
Most people know their pet dogs well. They are essentially family members, after all. Parents know when there is a change of any kind in their child. It is the same for pet owners, they know when something has changed.
They may not know exactly what the change means, but these 10 warning signs your dog is dying will alert you to the inevitable. They will tell you what to expect. When your dog is near death and it’s almost time to say goodbye, you’ll be glad, when it’s all over, that you were able to help your dog through the dying process.
Generally speaking, smaller dogs tend to live longer than large dogs. However, as a rule of thumb, once a dog has had 10 years of life, she is living on borrowed time. Yes, some dogs live to 15 years or more, but pay closer attention to her wellbeing after her 10th birthday, and be grateful for any extra time there is.
1 – Labored breathing
This was the first sign I noticed when my dog, Sam, started to show signs he was dying. That was maybe two months before he died.
His breathing wasn’t exactly labored at first. We just noticed a kind of slight rasping sound in his breathing when things were quiet. Everything else seemed fine, so we thought it was maybe just something that would pass. It didn’t.
In the final stages of dying, your dog’s breathing may become increasingly labored. The breaths may become more and more shallow, with longer times in between each one. This is usually a definite sign your dog is dying, though by this time there will likely be other indications as well.
2 – Loss of appetite
A healthy dog will usually have a healthy appetite. When she stops eating and drinking, and likely experiences weight loss too, there probably isn’t too long to wait for the end.
Of course, there could be other reasons why your dog is off her food, so consult your vet to be sure. Don’t write her off just yet, especially is she is not really into old age.
The day before our dog, Sam, died, we were increasingly concerned that he was not eating. I wondered what might be tasty enough to make him show an interest in food again, and decided to try a small tin of tuna fish.
To our surprise, Sam showed an immediate interest in the tuna as soon as he smelled it. He ate it down with relish, wagging his tail vigorously, causing us to think, mistakenly, that he was ‘getting better’.
We didn’t know the signs of a dying dog back then. However, I am glad the last thing Sam ate was such a pleasure for him, but there were many other signs he was near death.
3 – Lack of interest
Your dog may be dying if she exhibits a lack of interest. In the final weeks or days, she may withdraw into herself. She may show little interest in her surroundings or anything else – even the people she knows best.
This should definitely trigger alarm bells. Consult your vet, but understand that this behavior is among the common signs your dog is dying, especially if she is well into old age.
Most dogs get extra excited when you announce a walk. If your furry friend still doesn’t rise to the occasion for a walk, then there certainly is a problem and she may be dying.
4 – Fatigue
There can be many reasons why your dog appears fatigued. If your dog is not tired out from an unusual amount of exercise, then fatigue for no apparent reason is definitely a cause for concern.
Consult your vet, but if your dog is over 10 years old, and if there are any of the other signs of dying mentioned in this article present, then it may be getting close to the time to say goodbye.
5 – Twitching or tremors
Some dogs will experience a twitching, shaking or trembling that can go on for a long time. Nothing you try to do for her will seem to ease the problem.
Sadly, this is a sign that she is near death. She is experiencing a drop in her blood sugar levels. This is caused by her digestive system, which is no longer functioning properly.
6 – Incontinence
This is one of the more unpleasant aspects of the dying process with a dog. When a dog who is properly house trained, and who has never or rarely made a mistake since puppyhood does her toilet where she is lying, it’s a sign she may be dying.
As her body slowly but surely shuts down, she will start to lose control over her bodily functions. She may also be too weak to move, or move in time, and she may also have lost all interest in ‘getting it right’.
This is a time for patience and understanding on your part. Help your dog as much as possible, and never chastise her for making this kind of mistake. She can’t help it, after all. Old age can be cruel, and someday it may be you making similar ‘mistakes’.
7 – Coordination problems
When your dog shows a lack of coordination, difficulty getting from one place to another, for example, and seems unsteady on her feet, that could be a sign your dog is dying.
If your dog is still young, then consult a vet, but if she is into old age, then it is likely your dog is dying. The reasons for her lack of coordination could be because she is just too weak to physically coordinate properly, or it could be that disease has caused brain impairment.
8 – Vomiting
If your dog starts to vomit regularly, you should of course consult a vet, but it could be one of the many signs your dog is dying. As her digestive system starts to shut down, any food she eats will be largely undigested, which in turn can cause nausea and lead to vomiting.
You should try to make her as comfortable as possible if her eating and drinking results in subsequent vomiting. However difficult it may be for you, having to clean up the mess, remember that she is having an even more difficult time. Try to be as understanding as you possibly can.
9 – Sadness and depression
Dogs don’t show their emotions as easily as humans can. However, if you know your dog, you will know when she is sad. There are many possible reasons why a dog may be sad, but if there are other signs that she is already in the dying process, her depressed sadness should be considered another sign.
Try to keep her as comfortable as possible. She may be unusually irritable at this stage, so don’t unnecessarily annoy her. Just make sure she is warm and comfortable. She will know you are trying to help.
10 – Loss of consciousness
If your dog starts to have fainting turns, she may be near death. Fainting is not common in dogs. It happens when the blood flow to the brain is reduced. She will probably be within hours of dying, so stay with her, for this is when she needs you most.
You should take her to a vet immediately as a fainting dog indicates a serious condition. If she is a young dog and this happens, it could be some other still serious problem. However, with an old dog this usually indicates she is very near death.
Comforting a dying dog
It is important that you provide your dog with a warm, quiet place where she can prepare herself for the final moments. If there are children or other pets in the house, keep a close eye on them. Try not to let them annoy your dog. They might not know what is happening, or know how to behave in the situation.
You should make food and water available for your dog, but don’t try to force her to eat or drink. Dogs usually know when food and drink is no longer of any use to them. Let her be the judge of whether to eat and drink, or not.
The greatest difference you can make to a dying dog is to speak gently to her. She knows your voice. She will know through soothing tones that you are trying to help her. And she will be comforted by your voice. Speak to her, softly and gently with all the love you have for her.
When the time finally comes, try not to panic. She does not need her last moments alive to be a kind of agitated circus. It certainly IS a difficult moment, but this is all about her – not about you! Try to keep the moment as dignified and peaceful as possible. You’ll be glad you did when it’s all over.
When you decide to have your dog put down by a vet
If you decide that, for whatever reason, she needs to be put down by a vet, stay with her to the last moment. I once read an article written by a vet who said that pet owners should always stay with their pets who have to be put down.
All too often, he said, he was the one trying to comfort an animal who was desperately searching the room for a familiar face. Don’t feel squeamish about being with your dog when she dies. It could be your face your dog is searching for.
So no matter how uncomfortable you might feel about witnessing your pet’s death, you owe it to her to stay right there, right alongside her. Stay with her right up to the last moment, providing her with the comfort and love she deserves.
You obviously cannot prevent your dog’s eventual death. Her time will come, and that’s something you just have to accept. One thing you can do, though, is to make her days with you as comfortable and healthy as possible.
There’s been a lot said about CBD oil, cannabidiol oil derived from hemp. It has almost magical properties when ingested by humans, and dogs are no different. They can benefit enormously from a regular routine of CBD oil as well.
Her final days will come, no matter what, but with CBD oil, those days can be gentler, calmer and much more dignified.