Dog behaviour before death: 10 signs to look for

A dog’s behaviours usually change as they get older, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between the deterioration of quality of life, and general slowing down with age. That’s why dog behaviour before death is not always obvious to spot, even for the most dedicated of pet owners. 

As a result, it is common for concerned canine parents to be left wondering how to determine if their dog may be nearing the end of their life.

In some cases, an elderly or sick dog can pass suddenly, before owners realise they were nearing their end of life. Other times, the end-of-life journey can be a slower process and there are some signs to look for.

We’ve put together the below list of common dog behaviours before death, to help dog owners determine when it may be time to euthanise your pet.

By recognising the signs of a dog’s end of life, we can help make our pet’s final days as comfortable and dignified as possible.

Dog behaviour before death

Here are 10 common signs of dog behaviour to watch out for, which could indicate that your pet is nearing their end of life.

1. Lack of appetite

A common dog behaviour before death is refusing to eat or becoming fussy with certain foods. If they feel sick or take medication that causes a loss of their sense of smell or taste, the pet may also lose their appetite.

Offering foods with a strong smell, or warming up the food to increase the scent, can be ways to help engage your pet’s senses. Putting out smaller portions could also help to increase your dog's interest in food.

A vet may also be able to prescribe either an appetite stimulant, or a medication to reduce the nausea, if that is the cause. 

2. Extreme weight loss

Weight loss is commonly a result of a decreased appetite (as mentioned above). It is a common part of the ageing process in senior dogs who often have trouble digesting protein. Weight loss often accelerates as the dog ages or becomes more ill. 

Try feeding the dog more easily digestible protein to try and determine if digestion is the cause. Eggs, chicken, beef, lamb and proteins derived from organs like kidney, heart and liver, are some good options.

3. Dehydration or not drinking

If your dog is losing interest in their water bowl, it could be a sign of illness. Try switching to canned food, or adding a little water to their food to stimulate your pup’s hydration. 

In some cases, you may need to give your dog water through a squirt bottle or oral syringe, but be sure to only squirt a small amount at a time. Be sure to use a clean bottle that never had any chemicals in it. 

Dehydration is a common dog behaviour before death.
Dehydration is a common dog behaviour before death.

4. Lethargy

Lethargy is another common dog behaviour before death. As a dog nears their end of life, they will usually sleep more and become disinterested in going for walks or other usual activities. 

Support your little mate by providing more dog beds or comfortable places to rest around the house, with toys and their favourite blankets.

5. Isolation or becoming extra needy

Other indications of a dog nearing their end of life is if they either socially distancing themselves from humans or other pets, or become unusually clingy or needy.

If you notice your dog seeking solitude, respect their space and engage with them slowly and calmly.

On the other hand, they may instead express an unusual desire to be closer to you, so give them some extra TLC. 

This behaviour will be unique to the pet, but keep an eye out for an unusual change in their level of needs.

6. Decreased mobility or poor coordination

Decreased mobility and poor coordination are common in senior dogs and can steadily worsen with age. Changes often begin slowly, like walking instead of running, then become more progressive like stumbling when walking, slipping on non-carpeted surfaces, or struggling with getting up stairs or jumping on furniture. 

Sometimes decreased mobility may be caused by arthritis or declining vision.

To make things a little easier for a dog with decreased mobility, ensure their food and water bowls are easily accessible. Dog socks can help prevent slipping on tiles and ramps can help your pup get up stairs. 

If your pooch is a smaller breed, you might invest in a dog sling to carry them when they become too tired to walk.

Becoming unusually clingy or needy can be another common dog behaviour before death.
Becoming unusually clingy or needy can be another common dog behaviour before death.

7. Incontinence

A loss of control of the bladder or bowels is common in senior dogs but often worsens as they near their end of life. Some pets have accidents in their sleep, while others may pee or poop while they walk.

Incontinence is often upsetting for our pets because they usually don’t mean to soil the house. So avoid yelling at your pet or punishing them if they have an accident, as this will generally cause even more stress. Instead, assist your dog by encouraging more frequent trips outside.

Sometimes incontinence can be treated with medication, particularly if a urinary tract infection is the cause.

8. Irregular breathing

Abnormal breathing patterns, or signs of breathing difficulty (even while resting) is another common dog behaviour before death. 

An example is open-mouth breathing, or if the dog stops breathing for a moment periodically and then resumes again.

9. Trouble regulating their temperature

Dogs that are sick or aged are susceptible to becoming hot or cold and often have trouble regulating their body temperature.

If you live in a warmer region, or during summer months, ensure your dog has a shady place to rest, with easy access to water. On the other hand, in cooler climates, ensure you have provided your pooch with a warm and cosy bed and blanket, or there’s a warm spot in the sun to sleep.

10. Seizures

Kidney failure or problems with the pet’s brain can cause seizures in some dogs at the end of their lives. 

If your dog has experienced a seizure, consult your vet to determine any possible underlying conditions and treatment options. If your dog has had a seizure lasting longer than two minutes or has multiple seizures in one day, it is considered an emergency.

Final thoughts on dog behaviour before death

We hope this article will help owners to know what to look for when observing dog behaviour before death. Knowing the signs will help determine when to make the compassionate decision to arrange a dog’s peaceful passing.

For more information on your dog’s specific condition, take a look at our Common Dog Diseases resources page, here

To provide your dog with the most loving care as they enter their end-of-life journey, try to keep them safe and comfortable. Monitor your pup for pain or discomfort and evaluate your dog’s quality of life with our scoring tool, here

If you recognise that your dog is nearing their end of life, consult your vet and chat with other members of your family or household. Make a plan to help provide your canine companion with the best quality of life and the most comfortable passing. In a crisis, immediately contact your vet.

Saying goodbye to your best mate can be extremely tough for owners, but deterioration at the end of life can be especially traumatic for the pet. Arranging a peaceful passing before your dog enters the late stage of their end-of-life journey is the final loving gift you can give them.

Don’t wait until the very end. It’s important to consider your pet’s end-of-life journey early, so that you, your family and your pet are all supported through the process.

At Goodbye Good Boy, we provide home euthanasia services to support loving owners in providing a peaceful passing for their beloved pets. Learn more about this service in our article What happens at a home pet euthanasia appointment? and learn about the difference between dog euthanasia at home vs in-clinic, here.

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing.

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give our team of passionate pet lovers a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website