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Senior Dog End of Life Signs

Close up portrait of a woman hugging a yellow Labrador retriever

It doesn’t matter how terrible you may feel about it, death is a reality that cannot be denied. Most owners don’t like to talk about this topic because it makes them feel sad. Although most canines end up with euthanasia, natural death can also happen in dogs. In this article, we will discuss the most common end-of-life signs your senior dog can show before dying.

Senior Dog End of Life Signs

A lot of these symptoms can also be observed when your pooch is suffering from non-fatal diseases. Therefore, you will need the help of your vet to determine whether the ailment can be cured or not. Even if the disease is not terminal, it’s important to detect (and treat) it early to keep your pooch safe. Let’s discuss some of the major end-of-life signs that you can observe in a senior dog.

Lack of Interest

Overhead, closeup view of a brown and tan dog with cloudy eyes

This is the most obvious indication that your older pup is about to die. Disinterested dogs will not be attracted by toys or exercise. They will quietly lie down in one spot and stay there for several hours. Several health conditions can also make your dog allergic. However, if your vet has ruled them out and the situation doesn’t improve in 24 hours, your pooch is dying. 

Decreased Appetite and Thirst

Brown dog laying next to a full food bowl, ignoring it.

If a food-loving canine suddenly refuses to have his/her meal, terminal illness could be responsible. It is one of the classic end-of-life signs for senior dogs. However, many diseases can also affect the appetite of your canine companion. Hence, you must visit your vet before deducing any conclusions.

If a dog is not eating because of the dying process, he/she will also stop drinking water. This is because they lose these sensations and don’t feel like eating and drinking. As a result, most canines are dehydrated at the time of their death.

Weight Loss

Underweight adult senior dog outdoors

This condition is very common in senior dogs even if they are not dying. It happens because older pups can’t digest protein very efficiently and will lose muscle mass.

Similarly, many medical conditions can also trigger the reduction of your dog’s weight. For example, cancer is a potentially fatal disease that causes extreme weight loss. If weight loss is accompanied by a lack of appetite and disinterest, it’s usually a symptom that your dog’s life is about to end.


pair of dog legs standing next to a pee puddle on hardwood floors

Just like weight loss, incontinence is another problem that is often associated with senior dogs. Although this condition is curable in some cases (like urinary tract infections), it worsens when your pooch is dying. This is because your senior dog is not willing to move from his/her spot and the number of accidents increases. If that’s the case, you should treat your pup with compassion and make things (for him/her) as comfortable as possible.

Pain and Restlessness

Close up of a brown dog sleeping on a dog bed

Pain is a general symptom of discomfort and a pooch can feel it in numerous scenarios. However, if other symptoms of restlessness, such as panting and excessive vocalization, are also there, it could well be the end of the journey for your canine friend.

A dying dog could also find it difficult to move (due to the pain) and will ask for your help. For example, you may need to change their position every couple of hours to prevent bedsores. Likewise, you may have to feed them food and water in their spot to avoid the pain.  

Labored Breathing

Fluffy brown and white dog being held by a person, outdoors in a park setting

Over the years, owners become accustomed to the breathing patterns of their dogs. Therefore, you will automatically notice a change in your canine’s breathing when they are dying. Some pooches can have slower, irregular breaths while others can shift to heavy breathing. These variations can happen anywhere between a few hours to several days before the death of your dog.

Loss of Coordination

Senior boston terrier outdoors, standing in grass

Feeling disoriented or wobbly is one of the biggest end-of-life signs for a senior dog. It happens because your pup loses balance and motor control that are vital for coordination. Hence, your canine companion will be unable to control their movements. They may even shake while lying down and it’s recommended to create a safe space for them.   

Poor Response to Treatments

Blurred image of a yellow lab on a vets surgery table

Most senior canines need plenty of medications to counter the effects of aging. For example, arthritis and diabetes are quite common among older dogs and these conditions are controlled by medical intervention. However, a dying dog will stop responding to treatments as he/she loses the will to live. 

How to Decide Between Euthanasia and Natural Passing?

Close up of the face of a senior Irish Setter, sleeping

Analyzing the quality of life of your senior dog is the most important factor for making this decision. It is a difficult choice for owners to go with euthanasia because no one wants their pet to die. However, if your dog’s condition is terrible and he/she is in severe pain, euthanasia will give him/her a good death. The process is quick and your canine friend won’t feel any pain or discomfort during the procedure.

Is There a Way to Measure a Senior Dog Quality of Life?

Irish Setter with head laying down on front paws

Many owners use different scales to measure the quality of life of their dogs. Although they can’t give accurate results in every scenario, these scales give an idea about the health of your pooch. Dr. Alice Villalbos has developed one such scale to measure the dog’s quality of life.

This scale has 7 categories and is often written as HHHHHMM. The parameters that are analyzed include hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and more good days than bad. Each category can be scored between 0 and 10. If your pooch scores more than 5 for each parameter, he/she is fit enough to live. A total score of 35 or more is also considered enough to continue the care and support, even if the score for any category is below 5.

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