People often ask how they can recognize that death is coming. What does a gentle death look like? What are the symptoms of a dying dog? What does a crisis look like? Will I be able to know what to do?

Education is paramount when it comes to preparing for death, be that a hospice-assisted natural death or euthanasia. Signs of a dying dog, cat or other animal look similar. They all go through various stages of the dying process. This may carry on for weeks or last just a few minutes.

  • 3 months to 3 weeks out: weight loss, less attention to grooming, dulling eyes, increasing dehydration, gastrointestinal changes, and more.
  • 3 weeks out: more weight loss, increased pickiness over food, breathing patterns start to change, increasing solitude and less interest in playing, increasing infections such as eye discharge and skin problems, and more.
  • The last few days: extreme emaciation, dull, spacy, and distant look, sunken appearance, can be very still or very restless, the body develops a ‘smell of death,’ and much more.
  • Death itself: eyes are vacant, little to no movement as they move towards unconsciousness, mouth may remain slightly open and show a soft sucking motion, breathing can be very slow or very fast, legs may move on occasion as if reaching out, and more.

With the last breath, you may see the head stretch back and the legs stretch out, reflexive ‘agonal’ breaths may occur, urination and defecation are common, lingering electrical activity can lead to small muscle twitches, the eyes will glaze over, and more.

Canine Pain Scale

Feline Pain Scale

We at Home to Heaven emphasize that animals experiencing a natural death MUST be supported by us or another veterinary service. Pain control, management of infections, hygiene, and other issues have to be closely monitored to ensure a pain free and peaceful passing.

To learn more about the intricacies of death, a good resource is “Into the Light” by Gail Pope, an ebook that can be purchased at http://brighthaven.org/products-services/products/into-the-light/.

This book goes through the signs of a dog dying (or cat) with the reader and helps to make the process a little less scary for everyone involved.