Dog lying on the ground looking depressed

Key takeaway

There are many symptoms that can indicate a dog is dying, including depression, lethargy, and decreased appetite. Knowing the signs can help you make their final moments more comfortable.

Losing a dog is one of the most difficult parts of being a pet parent. Your dog will change in many ways through the years, including physically and psychologically. As your dog grows older, pet owners should know the signs their dog is dying to ensure they can give their pup a peaceful place to rest. 

There are many signs that can indicate a dog is dying, including depression, lethargy, and a lack of appetite. This article will discuss the signs a dog is dying and what pet parents can do to make their pet more comfortable. 

Note: Not all dogs with the symptoms in this article will die, especially younger and otherwise healthy dogs. Many of these symptoms can also point to other health conditions, so make sure to talk to a vet about your pet’s health. 

  1. Depression
  2. Incontinence
  3. Lethargy
  4. Change in Appetite
  5. Lack of Interest
  6. Decrease in Mobility
  7. Change in Breathing

How Do You Know When Your Dog Is Dying?

While the only accurate way to know if your dog is dying is to take them to a veterinarian, there are signs that you may notice at home. We’ll cover the most common signs a dog is dying below. 

Signs a dog is dying

1. Depression

Dogs don't get depressed in the same way humans do. While dogs may know that they don't feel well, they likely won't understand why. When dogs feel unwell, they may get depressed because they can no longer do the things they like, such as playing fetch, going for long walks, or jumping on the bed. Depression can also be triggered by environmental changes, pain, stress, and lack of stimulation.1

Dog depression can happen at any point in their lives, so if your dog appears depressed, it may not be because they're dying. Dogs can get depressed when the seasons change, especially if they can no longer play outside during the cold winter. If your dog is otherwise healthy, there are several reasons they can be depressed. Additionally, older dogs may seek solitude and are less needy and energetic, so they may spend more time alone compared to younger dogs. 

Of course, many pet parents believe their dogs know when they're dying. Dogs are intelligent, and many will find hiding spots where they can pass away in peace. However, this is not the case for every dog. Many dogs will remain affectionate with their humans, with many becoming more clingy in their final days. 

If your dog appears depressed or is spending more time away from you, don't bother them. While you can still spend time together, you should never try to wake a sleeping dog who wants peace. Instead, you can sit quietly and pet your dog to help them feel relaxed. You should also avoid bright lights and loud noises during this time so they won't get startled. 

2. Incontinence

If your dog is peeing inside after being potty trained, it may have a bladder infection or other health condition. However, as dogs age, they can experience incontinence like humans. Dogs are complicated, though, and losing bladder control is not always a sign that your dog is dying or a medical issue. Many dogs lose control of their bladder when they're excited or anxious, and it's not typically a cause for concern. 

In other cases, a dog losing control over its bowel movements can indicate it cannot control its sphincter. Dogs can lose control over their bowel movements when they're weak and can't get up to go to the bathroom outside anymore. 

No matter how old your dog is, if they're relatively healthy and have more accidents in the house than usual, it's always a good idea to take them to the vet to see what's causing the problem. 

If your dog is experiencing incontinence because they're old and weak, you can put potty pads under your dog to soak up their accidents. Of course, you should always clean up messes as soon as possible. If your dog is lying in their urine or feces for too long, their skin can become irritated or develop an infection.

3. Lethargy

Older dog lying on a bed

If your dog is lethargic and no longer moving around as much as it once did, it can indicate that they are close to death. Of course, lethargy can also be a sign of illnesses that won't result in the death of your dog. For example, dogs can become lethargic if they have diarrhea or pain. Dogs who are old and extremely lethargic may sleep in a quiet area of the home, and many will hide away from the family so they can get some rest. 

As time passes, your dog may start sleeping more and being less active. Dogs may also no longer greet you when you come home from work or want to go on walks. As dogs become more lethargic, they'll slowly stop getting up to eat food and drink water. They may also stay in the same spot for long periods. 

If your dog has become lethargic, let them sleep and never disturb them. If they like to sleep away from loud noises, you can provide them with a comfortable and quiet place by adding blankets or a dog bed to their favorite spot. 

4. Change in Appetite

A change in appetite can be a result of an upset stomach, but it can also indicate that your dog is dying. When dogs are in pain, they may not be able to get up to their food bowls. Reduced appetite can also occur due to treatments or medications your dog is taking. Changes in appetite won't always stop your dog from eating altogether, but they may become disinterested in food and picky about what they eat. 

Additionally, dogs undergoing cancer treatment typically feel nauseous, so they'll only be able to consume small meals. 

A reduced appetite in dogs that are dying is normal since their bodies are no longer as active and don't need as much energy from food. However, most dogs will still love their treats. 

It's important to note that a change in appetite is not an immediate indication that your dog is dying, especially if they're young and generally healthy. Decreased appetite is just one of the signs of anxiety in dogs, but it can also point to gastrointestinal distress.2 If your dog has a reduced appetite for more than a few days, you should take them to the vet for a checkup to ensure there's nothing wrong with them.

If your dog won't eat because they're dying, you can hand feed them or warm up their meals. You can also provide them with special meals that are safe and healthy. Again, if you're not sure what human foods to feed your dog, consult a vet. 

5. Lack of Interest

A lack of interest typically goes along with lethargy. When your dog is lethargic, they will lose interest in things they once enjoyed, including going on walks, playing with their toys, chewing, and greeting their favorite humans at the door. Of course, there are other reasons why your dog may stop becoming excited, so lack of interest is not a direct indicator that your dog is going to die. 

How dogs show a lack of interest

If you notice your dog is no longer partaking in the activities they once loved, consult a vet. They can run tests to find out if your dog is sick. If your dog isn't sick, it can also be a sign of anxiety or depression. 

6. Decrease in Mobility

You can tell a lot from a dog's body language. Older dogs will eventually become uncoordinated and move around less. Loss of coordination and mobility are not always signs a dog is dying, but these symptoms can point to something wrong with them. For example, older dogs may have joint problems or muscle weakness. When your dog gets old, they also won't run around as much and may only move from room to room. 

Dogs who are dying will typically show extreme immobility, including the inability to get up from their favorite spot. 

If your dog cannot move around the house or get up to relieve themselves, you can help them by carrying them. If your dog is too large to carry, you can purchase a dog wheelchair to take them outside so that they can enjoy all of their favorite smells and go to the bathroom. Potty pads can also be a good investment if they can't stand up. Moreover, consider keeping their water and food bowls near them to prevent them from putting too much effort into feeding themselves. 

7. Change in Breathing

If your dog is coughing and wheezing, it can be a sign of seasonal allergies, but if you notice a change in your dog's breathing over time, it may indicate that your dog is dying. Many dogs have difficulty breathing when they're near death, and you may notice irregular or heavy breathing.3

If you notice a change in your dog's breathing, consult your vet immediately to ensure they're not having an allergic reaction or experiencing any pain. 

What to Do When Your Dog Is Dying

Now that you know how to tell if your dog is dying it’s important to know how to help them. While the only thing pet parents can do is make their companions as comfortable as possible during their final moments, there are ways to make them feel safe and cared for. Here are a few tips:

What to do when your dog is dying

  • Provide them with a comfortable bed—If your pet has a favorite bed, make sure they have access to it. If your pet can't get into their bed, you can lift them into it, so they're more comfortable. You can also surround them with their favorite toys and blankets. 
  • Administer pain relief medication if prescribed by a veterinarian—If your dog is in pain, your vet will likely prescribe pain medication to help your pet find peace. 
  • Give them their favorite food—If you know your dog likes a certain food, give it to them one more time to enjoy it from the comfort of their bed. 
  • Offer plenty of hugs and pets—Your dog loves you as much as you love them, so shower them with affection. 
  • Talk in a soothing tone—Dogs understand the tone of your voice. By talking gently, you can help them relax. 
  • Discuss the process of euthanasia with your veterinarian— No one wants their dog to suffer through its final moments. Thinking about how to relieve your pet's pain can be difficult, but your vet can provide you with information about the euthanasia process to ensure your pet passes away peacefully. 

Final Notes

Losing a pet is difficult for all dog owners, but knowing the signs your dog is dying can help you make their final moments more comfortable. From decreased appetite to labored breathing, it's important to understand what your dog is going through so you can make their final moments peaceful. When your dog is dying, it's always best to work closely with a vet who can provide you with guidance. 

Dutch offers telemedicine for pets to help pets and their owners overcome difficult obstacles. If you're worried about your pet, our licensed veterinarians can help you learn about ways to make your dog more comfortable. Dutch offers non-emergency veterinary services from the comfort of your own home, so you don't have to worry about taking your dog to the vet and causing unnecessary stress when you don't have to. With Dutch, you can learn about how you can enhance your dog's health and life.

References

  1. Johnstone, Gemma. “How to Know If Your Dog Is Depressed.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 20 Apr. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-to-know-if-your-dog-is-depressed/.

  2. Traverse, Teresa. "Why Won't My Dog Eat? Learn about Reasons Why Your Dog Isn't Eating." American Kennel Club, 22 Sept. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-wont-my-dog-eat/.

  3. Michelson Found Animals Foundation. “Saying Goodbye to Your Dog: How to Know When It’s Time.” Michelson Found Animals Foundation, https://www.foundanimals.org/saying-goodbye-to-your-dog/.