From the moment a puppy comes into your life, you want to do right by him. Ensure he’s healthy, happy, and progressing well. There’s a feeling of deep love and protection from an owner to a dog, and this is something that remains from the very beginning to the very end. Being able to recognize the signs of your dog dying is as upsetting as it is imperative.
It’s sad, but it’s true that dogs don’t live forever. They will love us for all of their lives, while we only get to spend a portion of ours showing them our love. We ultimately owe it to our dogs to learn about the natural death process so that we can provide the proper end-of-life care and support they so desperately deserve.
In this guide, we are going to look at a number of topics, including:
- What the early signs are
- The definition of a natural death
- When it is time to say goodbye
- How to assess the quality of life
- What the latter stages of dying involve
- How other dogs in the house can be helped through the process
Early Signs Your Dog Could Be Dying
It isn’t nice to think about, but it is always best to be informed. Dying is usually a gradual process, which means that you have time to make your dog comfortable and prepare you and the family for what’s to come.
There are some generalized early signs of a dog dying, and these could begin months before the event; they could also mean that the dog may only have a matter of days left. These signs include:
- Decreased Appetite
- Weight Loss
- Social Detachment
Signs That The Natural Dying Process Has Begun
Dogs’ life expectancy varies from breed to breed and even littermate to littermate. It boils down to genetics, breed, lifestyle, and existing health conditions. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the dog, the shorter his life expectancy. A large breed like a Newfoundland has a typical life span of 8 to 10 years, while a smaller breed like a Yorkshire Terrier can live up to 15 years.
Much like that in humans, the dying process takes place days, weeks, or even months before the tragic event. It is essential to recognize when your dog is starting to slow down a little and make adaptations that increase their comfort. For example, you may look at ramps and stairs that’ll make it easier for your older dog to access trunks, cars, and furniture.
If your dog isn’t as energetic as he once was, it could be time to reduce the walks into more manageable periods; i.e., twice a day of 15 minutes a time, rather than one long one. In the form of activity toys, mental stimulation is vital to prevent your older dog from becoming depressed or wanting to give up. Providing he isn’t in pain.
You may notice that your older dog has joint or mobility problems, like muscle stiffness, and his weight could be decreasing or increasing with age. Consider a suitable senior diet to keep him as comfortable as you can. Purina Pro Plan Senior is an excellent choice as it caters to the changes in an old dog’s nutritional needs.
Owners often choose to add Senior Supplements to their dog’s daily diet to optimize physical health and mental wellbeing. Often elderly dogs will suffer from weak hind legs, which is usually down to a degenerative condition. The hind legs can sometimes collapse under the dog, and towards the end, your dog may even lose the ability to use his back legs completely.
It can be traumatic to witness personality changes towards the end, but they are a strong indicator that the process has begun. Elderly dogs can exhibit unusual behavior, such as pacing up and down, not recognizing their owners or familiar people, or being disinclined to interact. Brain changes can often mean an irreversible condition such as Alzheimer’s has started.
A dog with Alzheimer’s can quickly become a dog you don’t recognize. He may exhibit aggression or display destructive behavior, which could mean it isn’t feasible to keep him alive after his personality has left. A vet may be able to provide medication to curb the effects of Alzheimer’s, but often these will only slow down the inevitable – at a high financial cost.
You should always consult your vet about any concerns you have with the behavior or health of your pet.
Choosing When To Say Goodbye
Choosing the right time to say goodbye is a very personal matter, and sadly, it may be that due to things like finances, the choice is taken out of your hands. Dog medical bills can be a significant expense, and especially without insurance, end-of-life care for weeks or months can just be too costly.
There is no right or wrong time to say goodbye to your dog during the dying process. Many people can’t bear to watch a dog struggle to the end, while others want to keep their pooch with them as long as they can. It is always essential to ensure that the dog isn’t in pain or suffering unduly.
Assessing A Dogs Quality of Life
It can be one of the most challenging choices you will ever make in life, certainly as a dog owner, but assessing a dog’s quality of life requires a great deal of consideration for the dog. It can be considered selfish and cruel to leave a dog to suffer just because you don’t want to say goodbye.
Assess what your dog is getting out of life and ask yourself the following questions:
- Is he able to eat and drink normally?
- Does he have control of his bowel and bladder?
- Is he experiencing any joy?
- Is he having more bad days than good?
- Is he in pain?
What the Latter Stages of Dying Involves
Around a month before a dog naturally passes, you may notice:
- Increasing weight loss
- Change in respiration problems
- Increased self-isolation
- A disinterest in his family and surroundings
In the days leading up to natural death, you may notice:
- Extreme weight loss
- Inability to hold his bowel or bladder
- Shaking or weak hind legs
- Unusual stillness
- A smell
- A distant look in his eyes
You may decide during these stages that enough is enough and consult your vet to discuss euthanasia. Often, it is the kindest thing you can do for your dog during his final days. A dog won’t fear death or even realize what is happening. He may just feel exhausted and find great comfort in having you with him, reassuring him, and keeping him comfortable.
Helping Other Dogs in The Household
It is widely believed that dogs feel grief just as much as we do. Dogs have been known to look for their companions for days, or weeks, following their passing and pine a great deal for them. A dog left behind can whine, cry or stare endlessly at the door, waiting for their friend to return.
Although you can’t explain what has happened, you can provide reassurance and comfort. Dogs adjust well, and by implementing new forms of training, such as crate training, you can significantly reduce issues like separation anxiety.
There is nothing wrong with breaking a routine to try and cheer your dog up, and it may also benefit your mental wellbeing, to take some time out and have fun with a dog again. It is never too soon for this. Have extra cuddles on the couch, provide extra treats or an extra walk and let your dog know that things really will be ok.
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.