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All About Dog Behavior Before Death: 14 Signs Explained

All About Dog Behavior Before Death: 14 Signs Explained

How do we know when it is time to say goodbye? How do we know those are the final moments of our beloved friend? How do we deal with the idea of pet loss?

There are many open questions.

How do you provide the best end-of-life care? Should I seek hospice care or seek vet house calls? What happens after the dog passes? Is there a solution for cremation or something else?

What does a dog’s behavior before death look like? What do I do after the pet passes? How much time needs to pass before I consider getting a new one?

Those and many other questions are inescapable for a pet owner because the moment of death must necessarily come. But, when we know what we are dealing with, then we are able to help better.

And, the process of grief should be a bit easier when we know that we gave our best to make those times as comfortable as we could for our friend.

Let’s see now which signs are indicating that a dog might die.

Signs Of A Dying Dog

old boxer dog

There are many signs that can indicate that a dog might die soon. Some of these signs when taken individually can occur in many other conditions or illnesses that might not have a fatal outcome.

But, dog behavior before death often includes a mix of these symptoms, especially if the dog is old. For elderly dogs, it is a natural decline in functions. Sometimes, they have comorbidities such as kidney and liver failure, then they can have diabetes or cancer or some other chronic condition.

All in all… all of this emphasizes the hardship of the whole situation. We must have a lot of compassion for our dog that is suffering, and try our best to give him all the help we can.

Let’s see which signs we are talking about.

1. Losing Weight: Suddenly And Extremely

Even though losing weight is something we usually hope for in the normal context, when we are getting ready for an important occasion or just a beach, it is not always a good sign.

Sudden and extreme weight loss is almost always a red light that something is wrong in the body. We must take into account many factors in order to estimate where the problem comes from.

Weight loss in the context of a dog can come from cancer, and it is called cachexia. That is when muscle energy is used by the cancer cells.

It can also occur in many other illnesses, and the fact that the dog is losing weight is causing him to get even more sick.

It is also part of the process of aging where the body is not able to transform protein into muscle mass equally efficiently.

You should ask your vet how to change a dog’s diet so the proteins can be digested. A good choice is hamburger and rice. Just try to avoid some bad commercial foods so you can ease your dog’s condition.

2. Peeing And Pooping Without Control: Incontinence

Near the end of life, our four-legged family member starts having problems with controlling its basic physiological needs. What happens is that the old dog has problems with keeping poop and urine under control, and the dog may poop too much.

And, he poops unknowingly anywhere around the house. Near the end of their life, it happens a lot more. It could be a disturbing sign that something is not okay with the dog’s health.

It is also a problem for you because you need to figure out how to clean diarrhea from the carpet all of the time.

Of course, many factors determine dog behavior before death, and these may not necessarily be signs that a dog is dying. It could be a temporary problem, but it should be fixed, if so.

The signs that something is wrong with the dog’s body are changes in their urine and poop. Poop can turn yellow, and the changes in the urine color could be tracked in the urine color chart.

The other sign that dog owners might notice is that the dog is pooping while walking or that he goes potty while he sleeps.

Uncontrollable peeing may also be a sign of kidney failure, which can lead to a fatal outcome if not treated. Luckily, there is a treatment for such a condition – a change of diet. You just have to find vet-approved food recipes for kidney disease.

3. Refuses Food: Loss Of Appetite

golden retriever in front of a full bowl of food

You know it yourself. When something is troubling you, almost always, your appetite changes. Some start to eat more, others start to eat less.

That is maybe a good moment to think about what to feed a sick dog with no appetite.

The same is with dogs. When a terminal illness occurs, a change in appetite is invertible. Lack of appetite is one of the most common signs your dog is nearing his end.

He often either refuses dog food completely or in bigger amounts. This is true especially for elderly dogs. But, lack of appetite doesn’t necessarily lead to death.

Some dogs have some temporary phases that will pass. They just may need some appetite stimulant to get going.

Certainly, decreased food intake leads to weight loss, and by that order, loss of muscle.

Try to keep a bowl full of your beloved dog’s favorite food. Some dogs don’t want to eat their food, but would like to eat treats. In those moments, take all the chances you get to make him feel better.

Older dogs might have problems with teeth, and dry dog food could be too hard for them, and even harder to chew. Try to soften the dog food to make it easier to chew and digest.

4. Refuses Water: Dehydration

There is no drink like water, and the way it refreshes us and brings us back to life is almost irreplaceable. But, what happens when one can’t drink water anymore? It is a bad sign, and an alarm to make a move and do something.

Like humans, our dogs need enough water to properly function. It is recommendable to always provide a fresh bowl of water for your best friend.

But, a lack of interest in water can be an alarming sign of dog behavior before death. That is the time you need to use all your creativity to make sure that your pooch is drinking water in the right amounts.

One of the most useful tips is to add water to a feeding bowl, so it could be digested alongside the food.

Another tip is to use a bottle by squirting water into the dog’s mouth or by oral syringe.

But, you should be careful here because the wrong application or too much water can cause damage. Your dog can start coughing after taking water.

On the first sign of water, a dog will automatically start to drink. But, if he has lost that reflex, it is also not a good sign.

Excess water can end up in the lungs and cause pneumonia that sometimes can lead to a fatal outcome.

Oh, and one more thing – make sure that the bottle or syringe is always clean.

5. Lost In Space And Time: Loss Of Coordination

Among the signs that a dog is dying is poor coordination and a lack of strength.

These may or may not be signs of dog behavior before death because a lack of coordination can also be a sign of some other conditions.

Problems with the inner ear and the cerebellum cause lack of coordination, too.

But, if the dog is of old age, then this could be an alarm. Nerves are not working as they used to, which means that signals from the brain can’t come as fast to the muscles.

Also, the eyesight is not as sharp as it was before, and the dog may not be able to estimate the real distance between an object in his surroundings.

That is why your beloved pet can easily trip over some minor obstacles or fall when there is no carpet.

But, pet owners will recognize this as dog behavior before death because it gets worse over time. It starts with minor stumbles, and then it starts to happen much more, and the consequences get more serious.

6. Catching A Breath: Difficulty Breathing

You know how it is when you run or climb stairs, and you get all puffed up and you are trying to catch a breath. Many of us have been in such a situation, and we know how unpleasant it can be.

Now, imagine if that is happening to you while you are lying and doing nothing. You would probably get scared.

One of the signs of dog behavior before death is difficulty with breathing. They can occur as a response to the lack of control of muscles and nerves connected with the sympathetic nervous system.

It is a bad sign because it means that the body is getting weak.

It seems like the dog is trying to catch a breath. He is breathing deep at the moment, then very shallow. Breathing is also interrupted. You can literally see big amplitudes of movement in the abdomen.

This is a sign for you that you need to ask for help.

The dog also breathes with his mouth open like when he is trying to cool down during a very hot day.

7. Tired All The Time: Lethargy And Fatigue

old and tired dog

What do we all do when we are exhausted and tired? We tend to get some rest. Usually, after we get some rest, then we are renewed again and ready for the daily tasks.

But, there are some conditions where you just can’t get rest, and you are tired all of the time. That is usually not a good sign, and it means that something is happening in the body.

It could be some acute condition or some chronic illness that is making one tired.

The same is with dogs. They tend to find some place to lay down and rest all the time. It could sometimes be between your legs. They are looking for some comfort and closeness to their favorite human in those hard times.

But, they usually go to the dog bed or some other comfy place where it is warm and soft.

Older dogs sleep significantly more on average than younger dogs, and they are more tired than younger dogs.

Another sign is that they are not very thrilled to go for walks or some other playful activities.

But, you shouldn’t force it. Just go with the flow and try to ease it for your old pooch. Make him comfortable corners around the house where he can feel safe and secure. And, cuddle as much as you can.

8. Something Is Stinky: Abnormal Odor

You know how when you are sick, your body odor changes? It is not caused by a lack of hygiene, but by some inner processes.

Sometimes, odd odor is caused by the type of diet, while at other times, it can be caused by changes in the body. Some dogs can smell like fish at times, but this is caused by issues with the glands.

But, when a dog is getting older, his normal body functions are not quite normal anymore so his odor changes.

It is a specific smell that is not the same for every dog, but it has that note that reminds us of illness.

9. Sleepy Eyes: Dull Gaze

When we are tired or have a high body temperature, it can all be seen in our eyes. It is no wonder why it is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. And, in this case, the soul may leave the body.

Dull eyes and a glassy gaze can be signs that those are the final moments of your pooch, especially if this condition lasts for a long period of time.

Don’t rush into it. Dull eyes and a glassy gaze can be signs of some issues that a dog can have with eyes, but if they are combined with other factors that we have listed here, then it is another story.

10. Urge To Vomit: Nausea

We all know how unpleasant the urge for vomiting is. And, it is often a sign that either we have picked up some viral or bacterial disease or that something is very wrong in our body.

Dogs can show some behaviors that look like they are going to vomit, but they actually don’t. For example, a dog might be dry heaving or gagging, but not throwing up.

But, when frequent vomiting occurs, then another problem could occur, and that is dehydration. So, it is most important to make sure that your dog rehydrates himself.

11. Loss Of Consciousness: Seizures

What happens is that you suddenly see your dog’s eyes rolling back, and it is not a sight that you are happy to see. This is something that can be an indicator of severe conditions.

Eyes rolling back can be a sign of a seizure, which is usually a very unpleasant state. This can happen at an early age so some pet owners consider putting down dogs with seizures.

Seizures are often a consequence of some neurological issue, and it can be a sign of a dying dog.

If it happens frequently, and the seizures last longer than they should, it can affect their quality of life, and many choose euthanasia over waiting for a natural death.

Even though it is hard to watch your dog get euthanized, some pet parents find it even harder to watch him suffer. That is why they want to remember the good days for the last time, which makes them go through the grieving process more easily.

12. Raging Temperature: A Lack Of Regulation

Dogs, like humans, are warm-blooded creatures that self regulate their body temperature. It is something that is also programmed into our body.

As we get old, those “programs” tend to fail. The same is with dogs. When they reach a certain age, there is a possibility for developing issues with regulating body temperature.

In its final days, a dog can easily get very cold or very hot. You should keep track of his temperature by checking if the dog’s head is hot. If it is, then you should probably contact the vet clinic to consult in which way you can lower it.

There is also a possibility that the dog’s body temperature is low. Sometimes, you can check it by touching his ears. Cold ears could be a sign for action.

It is also very important to take into account whether you live in a warm or hot surrounding. If the outside temperatures reach high values, then you should take care that your dog has enough water and shade to take some rest. Also, it would be best if you have a room with air conditioning.

On the other hand, if you live in a cold area, then make sure there are a lot of blankets for your pooch. If it is possible for you, it would be best to put him near a warm incinerator.

13. Poor Mobility: Loss of Interest In Moving

A loss of interest in moving comes out of pain and overall lethargy. There are no happy tail wags when you show a leash to your pooch.

The dog’s life becomes more static in these times, and it becomes worse over time. He doesn’t have much energy for walking or running or playing.

That could be a sum of many factors, including arthritis, problems with sight and orientation, and problems with hearing. Some dogs experience muscle twitching, which can be a very unpleasant state.

14. Becoming Clingy Or Isolated: Depressed Or Needy

sad dog lying on bed

In those last days, a dog can show some behavior changes that are not typical for him.

You may start asking yourself, why is he all the sudden so attached?… of course, if that is not his usual behavior.

Or, maybe you ask, why doesn’t my dog want to leave my side?

Or, maybe it is another case… that your usually very clingy dog is now avoiding you or even barking at you when you try to come closer. He may be retreating and showing some signs of depression.

What is crucial here is that the dog has changed. He is showing behavior that is not something we connect with him in everyday circumstances.

It is all individual. Just like humans, when they are having a hard time, some dogs might look for another being where they can find comfort and some warmth.

Others can seek a quiet place to be alone and isolated and at peace with themselves.

Some ask for a bit of extra attention. And, maybe that is something you want to give to your best friend in his last moments.

See Also: Why Is My Dog Acting Weird All Of A Sudden: 17 Odd Dog Behaviors


Dealing with the idea of losing a pet is hard enough by itself, but when you don’t know what you are encountering, it is even harder.

It could make things easier if one knows a dog’s behavior before death, and what signs to look for. That is how you will be able to ease the process both for you and your dog.

It is always a good idea to consult a vet for advice. Some pet owners choose euthanasia for their pooch in order to relieve it from pain. Others choose to stand side by side to the very end of the process of natural death.

Whatever one chooses, it is always important to seek comfort and pass through the process of grief.


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