Timeline of Signs as a Dog Goes through the Dying Process

There is nothing more heartbreaking than the prospect of saying goodbye to a canine companion after years together. Except, perhaps, watching them decline. Even though this is unpleasant and hard, being aware of what to expect when your dog gets to this point will be beneficial for you and your dog, and will help you to face these events with more confidence and ability to help your dog.

Lethargy, weight loss, decreased appetite and thirst, struggles with mobility, and more are signs that a dog is getting closer to death. As the dog gets closer to death, the signs will get worse. In any case, helping the dog be comfortable should be the first priority.

Below we will discuss the signs and symptoms of the health decline and passing of dogs, when to expect these symptoms to occur, and more about the natural passing of dogs.

Early Signs a Dog is Dying

It is important to note that when you begin seeing abnormal behaviors in your dog, or when your dog just does not seem quite right, that does not automatically mean that your dog is getting closer to death. If this is happening, though, you should not just brush it off and chalk it up to a bad day. Call your vet and make an appointment, just to check in. It is always better to be safe than sorry, especially in regard to your dog’s health. Here are 6 common signs that your dog’s health is declining.

Lethargy and Reduced Mobility

Lethargy is one of the easiest symptoms to spot, especially if your dog is a fairly active one. A lethargic dog will sleep more than usual or just lay down for longer than it normally would. If experiencing this, your dog may also show apathy towards usual activities, demonstrate poor hygiene, or seek solitude more often than usual.

Your dog may not be feeling lethargic, but their lack of movement may be caused because of physical pain, difficulty getting up, and effortful movements. This could be an indicator of significant arthritis. You may see these problems often if you have stairs in your house that your dog is having trouble scaling.

Seeing a dog that was once very active struggle to move is very difficult, and many people wonder how best to support their dog in this struggle. The best thing to do is to provide your dog with comfortable places to rest. If they are going to spend most of their time resting, making them comfortable should be your top priority.

Another way to help your dog is to assist him or her with gentle grooming. Offering skid-proof flooring or using slings and harnesses to assist with mobility may also be a good idea, depending on your dog’s situation.

Decreased Appetite

If your dog, who usually loves food, starts to show disinterest in food, you will be able to tell that there is a problem. This may also be evident if your dog begins eating smaller portions, eating less regularly, or just demonstrating a preference for certain foods. This may be an indicator of many things, but this symptom is commonly related to kidney or liver failure. If this is the case, this sign may be paired with other things, like increased vomiting and weight loss.

To support your dog in their decreased appetite, try feeding them smaller meals at appropriate frequencies. Even if they are only showing a preference for some foods, try to offer them proper nutrition, but do feed them what they take interest in if it means getting them to eat.

Weight Loss

By weight loss, we don’t just mean a pound or two that seems to fluctuate at annual veterinary appointments. We are talking about a gradual or rapid reduction in weight over a period of time. If this happens in a short period of time, it is much more concerning than a longer one. This symptom is often accompanied by wasting.

Seeing your pet deal with this is hard, and so is supporting them through it. To best help them, consult with your vet. They may prescribe an appetite stimulant or a diet for weight management.

Social Detachment and Extreme Behavioral Changes

Oftentimes, health problems are paired with behavioral changes. In dogs, this can be seen as increased isolation from people and other pets, loss of vision, loss of hearing, changes in coordination, seizures, or even a decrease in mental awareness. (Source)

The best way to help your dog in these situations is to cater to their needs. Respect their desire for solitude, and approach and speak to them calmly when engaging with them. Talk with your vet about the best way to help your dog deal with seizures and hearing and vision loss. (Source)

End-Stage Signs a Dog is Dying

After seeing these early signs, these end-stage signs will start to appear as well, signaling a more significant decline in your dog’s health. Remember that these signs may also be the effects of other underlying issues. After they are addressed, your dog’s health may improve. Here are 5 signs to look out for in the end stages of your dog’s life.

Decreased Thirst

Your dog’s disinterest in food may start to branch out to a disinterest in water as well, which may cause your dog to eat and drink very little amounts of food and water if any. In this situation, there is not much you can do, but you should still try to get your dog to eat.

Make their water bowl easily available, but do not force your dog to drink. Consult with your vet if your dog is on medication, as this may sometimes cause decreased appetites. In addition, if your dog is not eating, administering medication may be trickier than usual.


When your dog starts to struggle with incontinence, try not to punish them for it, because they can not control it. Accidents in your house will become more frequent. You may also see your dog’s bedding becoming soiled more often. To support your dog through this trial, place hygienic pads underneath your dog when they lie or sit down. Change the pads frequently. This will assist you in cleaning up any messes.


When your dog is in visible discomfort, it may either become lethargic or completely restless. Restless dogs will pace back and forth, or just have the inability to sit still. You may hear them pacing a lot in the nighttime, or be unwilling to lie or sit down because it is too painful for them.

To support your dog through these issues, do your best to help it to get comfortable. Reposition them often to avoid bedsores, and offer warmth or cooling as needed. Remember, your top priority should be your dog’s comfort.

Pain and Labored Breathing

Pain is often accompanied by restlessness, inappetence, and even labored breathing. This features irregular breathing patterns. Labored breathing may be an indicator of advanced heart disease, and in this case, it will most likely be paired with significant coughing.

To support your dog through these challenges, consult with your vet to offer pain meds or homeopathic remedies. If your dog is specifically having trouble breathing, make an appointment with your vet. They will help you to figure out exactly what is going on and how to help them. (Source)

Common Timeline of Symptoms

Knowing the symptoms is really helpful when you’re trying to make your dog’s declining health easier on your dog, but knowing the timeline will help you better prepare for these major changes in you and your dog’s lives.

3 Months to 3 Weeks Before

At this point in time, you may start to see that your dog has begun neglecting to groom themselves. You will also notice the beginnings of weight loss, duller eyes, and beginning issues with dehydration. You may also notice gastrointestinal changes in your dog at this stage.

3 Weeks Before

When you hit this point, it will start to become more obvious that your dog’s health is declining substantially. Increasing weight loss will characterize this time, along with changes in respiration patterns, and possible eye discharge and skin problems. Your dog will begin to have less interest in activities that they once found pleasurable, and will begin to start isolating themselves.

Last Few Days Before

Arriving at this point will be characterized by many mixed emotions because it is hard to see your dog this way. Your dog will now have extreme weight loss, and they may sport a distant, absent, or dull look in their eyes. A lack of interest in anything is another common sign that passing is near. Your dog may also experience either restlessness or unusual stillness. They may also have a change in smell and temperament.

Remember that these signs are different for every dog because each dog is different. Some dogs may have an onset of some of these symptoms earlier or later than what has been detailed here. Either way, remember that each day you get with your dog is a gift. (Source)

Signs of Death

When your dog finally passes away, it may be hard to tell whether or not it has totally passed. These signs can help you distinguish whether or not your dog has passed.

Cool Body

When your dog passes, you will notice their body temperature drop, as they will be cooler to the touch. If they have not quite passed yet, give your dog a light blanket to help them feel more comfortable. This temperature drop is due to the lessening and soon lack of blood flow in your dog’s body.

Post-Death Reflexes

After passing, your dog’s body may still move a little bit. These are normal body contractions, it happens in many dogs, humans, and other animals. Though it may look painful, consider the fact that your dog has died and is not aware of any of this happening.

Bladder/Bowel Emptying

At this same point, your dog’s muscles will relax, which will allow the bladder/bowels to empty. Because of this, you may want to keep a urinary incontinence sheet under your dog at the time of death.

Lack of Heartbeat

This is the ultimate proof of death. The lack of a heartbeat in your canine companion may cause you to feel like your heart will stop beating as well, but your heart will heal with time. Check your dog for a lack of heartbeat and other signs of sure death to know for sure whether or not your dog has passed.

Exhale of Final Breath

Your dog’s body will deflate slightly as the lungs exhale the last bit of air. This will be hard to see and hear, and it will be accompanied by a lack of heartbeat and other signs.

After about 30 minutes of absolutely no signs of life, you can be sure that your dog has passed away. (Source)

Natural Passing of Your Dog

If you have not yet experienced this, and are still experiencing earlier symptoms, you may not be quite sure how to move forward, even though you know what is coming. Talk to your vet about possible options for euthanization and other homeopathic methods to help your dog pass.

Many people don’t want to have to go through the process of euthanizing their dogs- they’d rather keep their dogs at home and allow them to pass away naturally. Remember, there is nothing wrong with wanting to let your dog pass away completely naturally, but only if they aren’t in pain or struggling to breathe.

If this is happening and your dog is in pain, the AAHA, or American Animal Hospital Association, has declared that allowing your dog to pass away naturally is unethical, inhumane, and that it shouldn’t be done. (Source)

Euthanization can be done at an animal hospital or in-home, and many vets offer hospice and end-of-life care for pets. In addition to these options, many homeopathic methods exist if euthanization is not something you’re interested in considering. Talk to your vet about what the best option is for you, your family, and your canine companion. (Source)

Carolina Pieters

I'm Carolina and created this blog, to provide practical advice and emotional comfort for those dealing with pet loss.

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