Signs a Dog is Dying of old Age, (symptoms & behavior)

None of us are ever ready to say good-bye to our loyal, furry friends. For most, dogs become a part of one's family and losing one is paramount to losing a beloved relative far too soon.

Signs of a dying dog staring out of window

But we all must accept the passage of time, one way or another, and the best thing that any of us can do for ourselves and our dogs is to prepare for the end as well as we can.

First, however, there are a few key symptoms and behaviors to keep any eye out for that are your dog's way of letting you know their time is coming.

Signs a Dog is Dying

1. Balance Issues

If you notice that your dog, who normally is light on his feet and able to walk around without issues, is beginning to stumble more or is having a more difficult time moving about, there is a possibility that they are losing their sense of coordination.

Balance issues can stem from an underlying disease or other impairment that is a sign they may be dying. However, this symptom is also indicative of a possible ear infection or other balance-affecting condition. If you are in any doubt, take your dog to the vet to make sure that he or she is not suffering.

2. Loss of Appetite

Most dogs have a healthy appetite: mealtime is one of their favorite times of day and they just can't wait to get eating. Even if your dog is a less enthusiastic eater, you still recognize that your dog enjoys eating to an extent (as we all do).

If you notice that your dog is eating less or not at all, there is a possibility that he or she is showing signs of increased weakness as they near their end. Again, however, this could also be a sign of an unrelated illness or condition, so seek out veterinary care if you are in doubt.

3. Lethargy or Disinterest

It is normal for everyone--human and dog--to start slowing down as we age. Our bodies hurt or our energy levels are lower than they used to be, and we just can't bring ourselves to run that marathon like we would have ten years before.

Old dogs will certainly be less active, but if you notice that your dog is primarily staying in one place most of the time (and they are lying around most of the time), there is a chance that he or she might be dying. Dogs in this state will lose the desire to move about as they conserve what little energy they have left to deal with death.

Along a similar vein, you might notice that the toy your dog used to absolutely love or a treat that it used to beg for without shame no longer holds any interest for your companion. Rather than get excited, a dying dog is likely to ignore whatever you are trying to bribe him or her with. Again, it is likely that the dog is conserving its energy as the end nears.

4. Health Issues

If your dog is still eating, but he or she starts vomiting up the majority of the meal, there is a good chance that your dog's digestive tract is no longer functioning as it should. You will notice that the food your dog regurgitates is still whole in most cases, because his or her body is not capable of digestion.

A clear sign that your dog is probably dying is the weakening of its internal workings: its immune system it beginning to fail, and it can no longer function as well as he or she once did. This gradual failure of biological function can move into the cardio-pulmonary tract, as well, resulting in labored or shallow breathing and a decreased, sluggish heart rate.

If your dog is beginning to experience these symptoms in addition to some of the others mentioned previously, then it is likely that your dog is showing you signs that it is time for him or her to pass on. 

If you are not sure if your dog's breathing or heart function is due to dying or some other medical condition, contact your vet to rule out all possibilities and give yourself some peace of mind either way.

Providing Comfort for a Dying Pet

As your dear companion reaches his or her end, there are steps you can take to try and offer what comfort you can in your dog's final days. If you choose not to seek out euthanasia and keep your dog close at home, make sure that he or she has a warm, comfortable, and quiet place to sleep.

If you have young children or other dogs who are hyper or seem to be causing the older dog stress, limit interactions so that your dog can get the rest he or she needs.

Make sure that food and water are always available, but if your dog shows no desire to partake, do not force him or her to eat or drink. Your dog understands what is happening perhaps better than you, and he or she knows that there is no reason to expend energy on eating. Again, comfort is the primary concern that you should have when it comes to helping your dog in this heartbreaking situation.

If your dog is struggling to move and walk around, even to go outside, consider creating a washable space where he or she can go to the bathroom or investing in pet diapers so that your dog will not have to strain itself.

In your dog's final days, it is possible that incontinence will become an increased issue, anyway, and there is no reason to cause your friend more stress by forcing them to go outside.

Stay calm. Dogs are extremely sensitive to human emotions, and if you are stressed or anxious, then they will pick up on that and often mirror what you are feeling. If your dog is in the process of dying, the last thing you should want to do is cause him or her undue emotional trauma.

Pet your dog, speak to him or her--do everything in your power to be a soothing force. It will not be easy, especially as your mind wanders to the painful reminder of what is going to happen, but it is the least that you can do to make sure your pet passes in peace.

Facing the End with a Brave Face, Together

If you know that your dog is dying and you notice that he or she is in constant pain, it might be time to consider a medical choice to end his or her suffering. No one wants to watch their dog die before its time, but in cases of great suffering or terminal illness, euthanasia is often the most humane choice for both your dog and yourself.

carry your dog to the vet

When you bring your dog into the vet, your veterinarian should be able to examine their condition and tell you whether or not euthanasia is the right choice.

If the veterinarian's prognosis of your dog's condition is dire, then you will be talked through your options and offered what help the vet can offer. 

Even at the vet, make sure that your dog is comfortable and warm; bring his or her favorite toy or blanket so that they have familiar things surrounding them near the end.

If you are unable to watch the euthanasia process, your vet will escort you from the room. No matter what you decide to do, you have no reason to feel any sense of shame; again, the loss of a family pet is one of the hardest ordeals that an individual in our society must endure if he or she chooses to invite a pet into his or her home.

Final Thoughts

Coming to the realization that your family dog is dying will never be an easy ordeal. Much in the same way that humans deal with the death of other humans, we must go through the stages of grief as we fight to find a measure of acceptance with the situation. This is necessary so that we can provide our family friends with the comfort and care that they will need during their final days. 

Do what needs be done for your furry friend, and make sure that you do not leave them suffering. Be aware of the signs and know how to react in a calm and collected matter to prevent your dog from experiencing any further stress.

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Juanita and Brett - April 18, 2018

Thank you for letting people know how to make it through these heart breaking days of losing a best friend. Mr Rufus was 20 yrs old. I feel blessed to have had him in my life. Everyone loved him and his attitude. My grandbabies go outside look to the sky and they let Rufus know how much we all love him and Miss him so much. My honey became Rufus’s dad when he was only 1 yr old…. So needless to say he is still missing him so much. He passed on Jan 31 2018 here at home sitting out side in his favorite place looking out to say hello and so long to all his friends. He was such an amazing 🐶… Love you then and now… Forever my Rufus. Love you… Mom and dad

luis colina - April 21, 2018

i cried so much when i eutanazided my sharpei,march 12,2005,but it was bumps on her kidneys,did not live too long,was born in st. hilaire,1998,i did not have dog from then to jan.4,2007,but it was horrible time,without company,my goldendoodle will be 12 on oct.3,hope she lives many more years,the black sharpei was cremated,but we never saw the ashes,the saturday afternoon we took her to the vet near the montreal airport,was the last time,saw her moving her tail as we put her on our laps,before being inyected,as a way to say bye forever,hope we dont have to do the same thing with our present pet companion

    david - August 2, 2018

    I just read your message you left on this website comment box. I saw that you had put your dog to sleep on March 12, 2005. I had an incredible beagle hound named Mikey.
    Its been a year and four months or so since I put him down on March 12, 2017.
    I truly miss my dog every single day. MIkey was seventeen years old and he didnt have a terminal illness ( that I knew of). Yes he was a senior dog I keep telling myself to this day, and the other side of me in my mind continues to punish me and my body for letting him go I feel too soon. I will never have another dog for Mikey was the best dog that anyone could ever have. I am an old man now and my life has been a total wreck ever since letting go of my dog. I hate the month of March.
    I really miss my dog like crazy.

      Toni - September 5, 2018

      I’m so sorry for your loss and grief. I am a senior also and have lost several best friends through the years. The only thing that ever helped my heart ache was rescuing a new little guy that needed my love. My dogs are such comfort and appreciate all the love and care. Just thought you might give it a try.

      Roberta Hall - September 10, 2018

      David, I understand your grieving and pain. Been there. It does take more time than we might expect to process the loss. Our own aging also has many smaller losses as well, which mixed into the loss of losing my closest friend. I fought to not let resentment grow, for all of it mixed together. I encourage you to hang in there, and dont close yourself off to dogs…they need us as much as we need them. Good luck!

      Janeth - January 7, 2019

      Hi David. I was so saddened to read your comment about your Baby. My beloved beautiful little ChiCorgi Toby was killed on Halloween 2011. I hate Halloween and do not even recognize the day since then, I stay in bed and soak the pillow. Now my sweet beautiful darling 17 yr old Schipperkee Tessy is in her stages of old age. She stumbles around now, has lost her healthy appetite and shivers from cold, so now she wears little sweatshirts and sleeps with about 5 blankeys. I am also a senior, blind and with a heart condition. I just want my Little Love to be as comfy as she can be. You are such a wonderful doggie Daddy. I understand every pain you have. When its Tessy’s time, I will be an absolute mess. No more Babies after that. I don’t deal well with loss of my Babies. We lost our ChiWeenie Gomez in 2002. All I can say, David is Mikey knows how much you love him still. That’s a gift he still gives you, his unconditional love. XO my friend.

Carol - April 23, 2018

The absolute Best article I’ve ever read about preparing for losing a pet. Thank you so much.

Donna - April 23, 2018

i am sorry for your loss. Especially after 20 years it surely would be hard. You were fortunate to have had him so long.

Linda Lopez - April 29, 2018

I can relate to all off you, I lost Heidi’s son my buddy 5 months ago he just turned 17., 5 months later my previous Heidi died 4 days ago. She put lived her mate and all five babies! My heart is broken I loved them dearly. They were dachshunds.

Donna - August 21, 2018

I lost my best friend after sixteen years may 26 2018. It was very hard for me and until this day I still sit and cry for him. He was a Shitzu and very sweet.He started having seizures and medication was not helping him.came home one day and he was gone.I feel bad because I was not there to comfort him..

Precy - August 25, 2018

We just lost our dog last night. She was with us for 2 months and 7 days only. It was very sudden. I’m still crying until this time for the lost of our doggie, Rita. Together with my kids, we prayed that Rita will be in heaven and that she will not forget us.

Barbara J. Ross - August 27, 2018

I am taking my “heart” dog to the vet tomorrow morning for euthanasia. I’ve had dogs all my life, but this little girl has been my best friend. I call her “Little Mama” because she has always thought her job was to watch over me, all 17 lbs of her. I will miss her forever. She’s 14, and has congestive heart failure from a life-long heart murmur. They gave her 6-12 months to live, and, with medications, she is in the 12th month. Goodbye, Maggie.

    Leanne - September 9, 2018

    I do not know you Ms. Ross but am sending you strength from my home in Manitoba Canada. My lab is 12 and I just cannot imagine life without him. May you find peace in your heavy heart

L. - September 9, 2018

We had to put our 10 year old dog down on September 4. It was so hard. She had started vomiting the week before. We took her to the vet. At first he thought she had some kind of a virus as she had a low grade fever. He sent her home with two meds. She could not even keep rice or water down, so my husband took her back to the vet. He took blood tests and all were perfect! But the xrays showed she had an esophageal disorder which no meds or surgery could help. She went down rapidly over the Labor Day weekend and even vomited up blood. The day after Labor Day we had her put down. Today in the mail we received a sympathy card from the vet’s office. Also in there were a set of her little paw prints!

Rosemarie Walsh - September 13, 2018

I’ve just read this very informative information and feel glad I have the insight I need. I’m absolutely heartbroken… My son Piccolo Angelo, which means “tiny angel” in Italian, is very ill and I believe he is passing away. He shows no sign of pain, Thank God. He began with tummy troubles and is now on plain simmered chicken tenders and has been drinking pedialyte. He is a beautiful black and tan long hair Chihuahua. He is 17 and my baby son who I love as my child. I’ve kept a journal for the past week, including every time he eats, drinks, makes 1&2, how he feels and acts. I’m praying everyday that he is as comfortable as can be… Pillows on the floor, his favorite blanket, food and water nearby so he doesn’t have to go far, most if all love and compassion. I’m constantly watching his tummy to make sure he is breathing, very stressful and I get panic stricken. I know I must keep my wits about me when dealing with him so he doesn’t get afraid, it’s SOOOO hard. I cannot imagine a day without my baby son. I know that I will be grieve stricken and inconsolable. I’m full of dread.

t.gosling - September 22, 2018

I’m so sorry to hear of your dear little boys serious problems, I hope as I read this the news for him has been good? I lost my darling boy Jasper on the 14 September just a week a go. It has truly broken my heart he was my best friend.

Robbie Marrow - September 22, 2018

I read your heartwarming story,Rosemary . I lost a dog too soon she was only 4 at the time, when the vet told us she had a weak heart he would be surprised if she had another week. But, she lived a month and a half. Those last few weeks were the hardest. Its been almost 2 yrs now. We still miss her. Just know how much your dog loves you and needs you. Be strong and cherish the precious moments with your angel. God Bless!

Carla M. Lively - October 2, 2018

I had a beagle. His name was Snoopy and he passed away Saturday, September 30th here at home. For several days before he passed, he would sleep on the floor by my bed so he could be close to me. I got him from my brother who had him for 6 years. He was 3 years old when he got him. Then I got him and had him with me for 14 years. He was best as we can figure close to 23 years old. When I go home I keep thinking he is going to be there. There is definitely someone missing in my house. I really miss him.

Carla M Lively - October 2, 2018

It’s me again. I just wanted to say how blessed I was to have Snoopy for so long. He was a lot of company and loved me unconditionally. I was blessed by being able to be here at home with him when he died. I glad he did not pass when I would have been gone.

Dave - November 4, 2018

I am reading all of your comments and thanking God that I still have my 15 yr. old mini pincher with me, although he is going through all the end life experiences. Sleeping, no eating, wobbly legs, but still loves his short walks.

I have two cats that love Thor. These cats understand me and since Thors deterioration, they surround me and stare into my face looking for my emotion.

I allow all three on the bed at night,as we are a family in this together.

The vet says it is time to help him pass, but I want to get every moment of his life. I will cry later, not today.

Dee - November 4, 2018

Lost my little lady nearly 3yrs In April she was my world have my old girl she 13 now 2 b tolt her life is limited now breaks my heart she is going blind she has heart probs riddled with arthritis in her back legs. Due nother check up few weeks time scares me incase doesn’t come bck out with me she my life if goes don’t no how I will cope b looseing 2doggies not even in space 3yrs

Hope - November 11, 2018

I believe my baby boy is nearing his end at this very moment. He is a12 yr old Boxer. He has had a very long and spoiled life! It breaks my heart that he may be leaving us. I’m not positive but we are going to see the vet Monday. I don’t want him to suffer in anyway. This is perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with. They really do become part of the family. I have him covered with a warm blanket and I keep telling him he’s such a good boy. He’s under my bed..I’m guessing he feels comfortable and safe there. I just wish there was more I could do to help my baby. Thanks for this article…it was truly helpful. I just wish there were more vets out there that would allow payment plans Expecially when our furbabies need help.

Marie Coyne - November 25, 2018

I am shedding silent tears reading your sad stories. I am currently sat watching our much loved Jack Russell HenryJayBippin labouring for his breath. He is in his 19th year and like a son to us. He isn’t in pain but I can see in his eyes he wants to go. I don’t want to take him to the vets he would be so scared. I just hope that this will end soon while he sleeps xx

joe - December 1, 2018

My 17 year old brendal boxer female died in her sleep on 11/27 2018. She was my constant companion 24/7 seven days a week. The last week of her life she was falling down and having trouble getting air. I watched if she was suffering and she was not. The night she died I kissed her told her I loved her and she knew I was doing everything I could for her . I kissed her several times on the nose and said it is okay to go. I will miss you but it is okay. No pain no suffering. I am very heart broken I feel like my heart was ripped out and I lost my best friend. I will recover but the wind is out of my sails.

Brenda Horne - December 11, 2018

My Shitzu Mia has just been diagnosed with lung cancer, she is nearly 16 and is the sweetest girl possible, when my husband passed she was my reason for getting out of bed each day,she is on the same medication as my husband was (doggie) and it seems to be helping her a lot. My vet told me to take her home and just make her as comfortable as possible but waiting for the other shoe to drop is one of the hardest thing to do. I love her so much and commiserate with all the people who have gone or are going through this sad time.

Gemma - December 20, 2018

My heart goes out to you all. I have loved and lost several dogs over the years, and watching them grow old and frail and trying to prepare ourselves for the inevitable is heart wrenching. Now our 13 year old chocolate lab isn’t doing so well, and I dread the time when we have to say goodbye. I feel that the greatest gift of love we can ever give to our furry friends is to ensure that we don’t let them suffer. It’s always so hard to know when the time is right because they often hide their pain for our sake. We have found it less traumatic to have the vet come to our home so our dog could be in the place they feel safe and secure. Held, loved and reassured, so they can see our face right up to the end. It is so very sad, and the loss of a best friend leaves an empty space that is hard to fill. xxx

Millie Hue - December 26, 2018

I totally agree when you said that the loss of appetite might also mean that they only have an underlying condition. I guess I will take our dog to the vet to get treated to prolong his life. We just don’t want him to go yet because we have him for 11 years now, and we love him a lot. He was also given by my dad who passed away that is why we don’t want to lose another important part of the family.

Kathy - January 4, 2019

Hello all,
Our best-dog friend is 12 yrs. he’s a golden beautiful boy this special friend has ‘EMPATHY…”AND THAT IS THE HARDEST THING TO DEAL WITH. He has given us so much joy,love over the many years we have had him for (we adopted him at 8 weeks)oh my gosh we are going to miss him terribly.he has had a very good life hardly ever was left alone more than 5-7 hours the rest of the time has been in the company of babysitters,or someone we trusted.
2 years ago,I had knee surgery it was a complete and total knee replacement ….now I knew my fury friend Max would be VERY anxious w/o me I told my Dr. I wanted to come home asap so I placed my life in good surgical hands of an array very qualified Dr.s and Nurses at
the Mass. General hospital in Bostons most prominent among many others Hospitals would you believe that I was doing therapy up and down steps 3 hours after surgery and came home the next morning…I knew that my Max would be VERY anxious all this in the name of ❤️ UNCONDITIONALLY I Think I just needed him as much as he was going to miss me.I only prey that he has a safe passage into Gods beautiful kingdom and that it is peaceful passing for him….He has had a beautiful life giving and receiving moments of joy laughter hugs and sometimes tears always with a fluffy shoulder to lean into .I was inspired by reading all your messages and FYI,s on the care of a dieing fluffy friend. I hope that this helps anyone out there to know that death is a very real part of life for humans and Animals as well…the next few days are going to be difficult,but I’ll never leave his side.

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