Jack Russell dog dying

 Hiding from human contact may be a sign that your dog is unwell.

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Signs a dog is dying

By Dr Holly Graham BVMedSci BVMBVS MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Knowing just how ill your dog is – and whether it's curable or time to say goodbye – are important things to know as a pet owner.

It's never easy to say goodbye to your pet, so it's important that you're ready for when it happens. Read on for some useful information on what to do when the time comes.

What are the signs that your dog is dying?

There are many signs that your dog may be struggling with a terminal illness, or even just old age, and recognising them is important to allow your dog to pass with peace and dignity. Some signs may be expected in older dogs and you may just think that your dog is ‘slowing down’ as they reach their geriatric years. Unfortunately, there are conditions that may cause premature deaths in younger animals too. Signs that a dog may be ready to pass on include:

●    Loss of interest: withdrawing from interactions with their family, no longer being interested in walks or play

●    Reduced or lack of appetite: most dogs love their food and, if they don’t want their favourite treats anymore, this may be sign of illness

●    Incontinence

●    Changes in breathing: faster, deeper or more shallow breaths, or breathing with their abdomen

●    Stiffness, inability to move or collapsing when standing

●    Depression and general lethargy

●    Pale or blue gums.

The signs you may see depend entirely on what’s going wrong with your dog. If you think your dog is unwell or dying, please seek veterinary attention immediately – even if just to let them go humanely.

Do dogs hide when they are dying?

If your dog is usually social and enjoys human company, it’s probably very unusual for them to withdraw and hide. Hiding or withdrawing from human (or animal) contact may be a sign that your dog is unwell or, in the worst case, dying. Some dogs take themselves off to places they wouldn’t usually be found.

How long does it take a dog to die?

The length of time it takes for a dog to pass varies massively, depending on what’s causing the problem. Dogs with chronic issues may cope with the condition for months or even years before they decompensate and require euthanasia or die at home. Other dogs may die suddenly. Wherever possible, take your pet to the vet for euthanasia, if you think they may be close to death.

How long does the transition stage of dying last?

The transition stage all depends on what’s happening with your dog. Dogs with chronic problems or just ‘old age’ may have a longer time to allow you to say goodbye and make final memories. Some dogs may pass very suddenly or require euthanasia as an emergency. It’s important to recognise the signs that your dog isn’t quite right because sometimes problems can be cured or life can be extended with treatment.

How do you know if your dog is dying of cancer?

Often with cancer in dogs we see no signs until the disease has progressed and is fairly advanced. You might see physical lumps, or your dog may steadily or rapidly lose weight. If there are tumours in your dog’s lungs or respiratory tract, you may see changes in their breathing or they might be coughing. Cancer in your dog’s abdomen may cause their stomach to look bigger or rounder, and they may lose interest in food or drink more than normal. If you think your dog may have cancer, consult a vet, as certain tumours can be curable. Some dogs cope well and can manage for months with palliative care – or even just with lots of love.

What are the signs your dog is dying from cancer?

There are a wide range of tumours that can affect dogs. These can be found almost everywhere in the body and symptoms depend on where the tumour is growing. Brain tumours may cause changes in your dog’s personality or behaviour, or could cause seizures. Cancer in the lungs or respiratory tract may cause coughing, faster or shallower breathing, or an increase in respiratory effort. Abdominal tumours often cause a dog’s abdomen to look distended, may reduce their appetite or increase how much they drink. Lots of tumours cause weight loss, and this can be an early sign that something is going wrong. Other types of cancer may be visible on your dog’s skin as lumps – these could be itchy or bleeding. Any signs that your dog is unwell should be checked out by a vet as soon as possible.

What are the signs your dog is dying from kidney failure?

Kidney disease can happen suddenly, if something toxic is ingested. Or it can happen over a longer period of time as an animal gets older. Chronic renal failure in older dogs is often associated with the signs of ageing. Acute kidney failure can be treated, but unfortunately chronic kidney disease can only be managed. There are things we can do to prolong life, but it isn’t curable. Signs of kidney failure are: drinking and urinating more than usual; vomiting; lethargy and less interest in daily activities; weight loss; paler gums. In severe cases, your dog may begin to have seizures.

Should you let your dog die naturally?

Most dogs don’t pass peacefully in their sleep and the process of dying can be traumatic, depending on the cause. The act of dying can take a long time and this may be painful or cause suffering to your dog. Euthanasia is generally a better option and can alleviate suffering. This is sometimes the kindest decision that you can make for your dog.

What is the dying process for a dog?

Some dogs have conditions that cause their life to be unexpectedly shortened, and death can occur quickly. In geriatric animals, things may just begin to slow down. Most people begin to recognise the signs of ageing in their older pets and accept these as the years go by. While some dogs are suddenly very ill and pass away quickly, other dogs show a gradual decline in their health. Your dog may become more fussy with their food or eat a little less than before. Often their appetite comes and goes, but towards the end appetite is usually consistently poor. Dogs lose interest in their favourite things, whether this is walks or play, or just cuddling with their owner. Your dog may sleep more than normal and become less social. Lots of dogs are stiffer, or slower on walks.

Other dogs are found by their owners when they have already passed away. Others are taken to their vet to be humanely euthanised. This process is often very sad, but the vet will talk you through all the options and allow your pet to pass with dignity. An intravenous injection of pentobarbital is a fast and painless way to let your pet go.

What should I do if my dog is dying at home?

Occasionally dogs pass away in their sleep, but this isn’t as common as we’d like it to be. Dogs may collapse or become seriously unwell at home, and this can be upsetting for both you and your dog. If you think your dog is very sick and may die at home, it’s best to get them straight to a vet, as your dog may be suffering. If your dog passes away at home, they can be buried in your garden or their body can be taken to the vets for cremation.

Is my dog dying or just sick?

Some dogs may be incredibly sick and may be close to death, but with prompt medical or surgical treatment could be cured – depending on the problem, of course. Even dogs who have been very unwell for a long time can often be successfully managed with medication, and can still have plenty of happy times ahead of them with their owner. If you notice signs of your dog being unwell, always consult a vet as things may be fixable.

What is a dog's behaviour like before death?

If your dog is unwell, you might notice changes in their behaviour – or they may be completely normal. Lots of dogs don’t show any signs of illness until they are so sick that their bodies can’t cope anymore, and then they deteriorate very quickly. Some dogs are still very excited to go on their walks and still enjoy their dinner. Other dogs may become withdrawn and anti-social, they may avoid cuddles with their owner and might sleep or rest in unusual places or positions. Lots of dogs lose interest in even their favourite foods and can become grumpier with their owners.

When should I see a vet?

If you think your dog is unwell, call a vet for advice. While some conditions can be fixed, others may be incurable. Even if your dog’s condition isn’t something vets can do anything about, you can make the selfless decision to help them pass away peacefully.

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