Do Dogs Know When They Are Dying?

By John Martin - August 10, 2021

Dying dog laying in grass

Your pooch is your closest companion and buddy. Even thinking about your pet’s death and saying goodbye is probably one of the most difficult things to do for any pet owner. The important question is, “when they are going to die, do dogs know that they are dying?”

Well, there are innumerable stories and instances, which indicate that animals, including dogs, somehow intuitively understand that their time is up and that they’re going to die, which causes them to act in certain ways.

Signs That Your Pooch Is Dying

Every dog’s journey to their death varies and the symptoms that the dog may display when he’s going to pass away also vary. However, whether your pet is old or very ill and is very close to death, they often exhibit certain signs that tell you that your pooch may be dying and some of these symptoms include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Remaining in one place the entire day
  • Lack of interest in their surroundings and activities
  • Worsening mobility and lack of control
  • Reduced interest in social interactions and playing
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Loss of appetite
  • Restlessness at night
  • Changes in the sleeping cycle
  • Breathlessness or difficulty in breathing
  • Discomfort including panting, pacing and crying

Do Dogs Know When They Are About to Die?

It is not easy to know how much your pooch understands or feels when he’s about to die. However, pet owners narrate stories of how their pets behave in the days preceding their death and they try telling their humans that they are going to die. Some dogs may become very needy and clingy to their owners and loved ones, trying to remain close to them and following them around with unusual desperation.

Your pet may attempt to wake you up in the middle of the night and ask to be cuddled. At times, you may notice that your pooch has a very sad look in his eyes. And, while some dogs may bark and whine more and display hyperactive behavior and suddenly they may become very still and quiet, others may simply withdraw, go away somewhere and hide, preferring to be all alone by themselves.

Also Read: Why Does My Dog Lay On Me And Sleep?

Why Do Dogs Behave in Certain Ways When They’re About to Die?

Pack Instinct

Often, when they are close to death, your pooch may not want to deal with you or your family and may instinctively try and hide. Your pet’s health and condition may deteriorate to the extent that he may stop eating or moving around. And, there may be a day where you may not be able to find your pet anywhere around.

In his last moments, when your pooch may realize that he’s dying, he may wander off on his own or hide away, wanting to spend his last moments alone by himself. This may be because dogs are essentially pack animals and resort to their instinctive pack behavior, where if one of the animals was aging, sick or going to die, they would go off by themselves and hide on their own to protect themselves. After all, they knew that they were too weak, making them vulnerable to an attack by predators.

Also, by hiding themselves, the wild dogs would enable the rest of the pack to move on and be safe from dangerous predators and also prevent them from missing out on any potential hunting opportunities. However, although your pooch may be domesticated and may have come a long way from being wild, his pack instinct makes him automatically behave this way and wander off by himself and hide away when he’s very sick and dying.

Brain Function

Your pet may be behaving in a certain way, whether he’s being too clingy and following you around everywhere or simply going off on his own and hiding away before his death because of cognitive dysfunction.

When your dog becomes old, you may see several neurological, as well as psychological changes including confusion, loss of motor skills, dementia, etc. and your pooch may begin to exhibit certain erratic behaviors such as running away or the need to be cuddled constantly. Several diseases may impact the cognition of your pet such as cancer, which may spread to the brain, interrupting the normal functioning of the brain and altering your pooch’s behavior.

While these behaviors may be pronounced when your dog is close to death, there is more research needed to get to the bottom of why a dog behaves in a certain way when he knows that he’s about to die. Most of the conclusions are from anecdotes and narrations of pet owners that indicate certain behavioral patterns of pets before their death.

Also Read: Why Does My Dog Howl With Me?

Sense of Smell

Often, pet owners attribute the behaviors of their pooch when they are very ill or before their death to their instinct that something is not right, even if they don’t really know or understand that they are dying. This may be ascribed to some sort of sixth sense that gives them the capability to detect certain abstract things, including death.

However, your pet’s behavior may actually be associated with one of their other senses i.e., smell. A dog has more than 100 million scent receptors and this makes the pooch’s nose among the most powerful on the planet.

The dog’s nose is a very powerful sense organ and enables him to perceive the world by picking up smells that are probably undetectable to human noses. And, it is believed that death may be one of the smells that animals, including dogs, pick up.

In fact, it has been seen in shelters and animal hospitals that dogs are drawn towards animals about to die, thus predicting an animal’s death hours or even days before they occur. It is also believed that dogs can smell and detect illnesses such as different types of cancers via cancer markers present in the urine, skin and sweat, even in extremely low concentrations i.e., a part per trillion.

So, it is not very difficult to believe that dogs can use their sense of smell to detect any changes in their bodily functions and blood levels to pick up clues that may indicate that they are about to die.

How Can You Comfort Your Dying Dog?

If your dog is old or ill and is about to die, it may take many hours or even several days for him to pass away. In the meantime, your pet may be suffering. So, if you notice signs that your pet is sick, his end is near and he may be dying, then it may be a good idea to ensure that you give him a lot of love and ensure that your pet has everything he needs to make him comfortable during this time.

You can do this by providing him with a warm and safe place, where he can rest comfortably in his last few days or hours. Here are a few things that you can do for your dog to ensure his comfort:

  • Create a warm and quiet place, where your pet can rest comfortably. Loud and chaotic environments will only stress your dog.
  • If your dog is very ill and dying, he may feel colder than normal. So, ensure that his bed is in a draught-free area and keep him warm using blankets. You could also heat the area using a heater or place a heating pad under his blankets.
  • Monitor your kids and other pets, who may not understand your dog’s condition and may want to play or interact with him.
  • Be calm and patient with your pooch even if he relieves himself, empties his bowels or vomits inside your home. Avoid shouting at your pet because this can only make him feel distressed at your anger and frustration.
  • If your pet is unable to move or go outside to relieve himself, then provide some waterproof pee pads or make him wear pet diapers.
  • Stay close to your pet, stroke him softly and speak to him in a soothing and comforting manner that makes him feel loved and cared for.
  • Hug and cuddle your pet gently; however, avoid too much of it as it can use up your pet’s energy and cause him pain, especially if he is very ill.
  • Make sure that your dog has sufficient food and water. However, don’t try to force him to eat or drink because your pet may not have any appetite.
  • If you think that your pet is in pain, consult with your vet for some pain management medications.

Also Read: Why Do Dogs Like Sticks?

It can be extremely painful to watch your pooch when he is old or ill, especially if he is close to death. But answering the question if your pet knows that they are dying is a tough existential question that is difficult to answer.

However, if you are aware that your pooch’s end is drawing near, paying attention to your pet’s physical, mental and emotional condition can be integral to ensuring that your pet’s final days or weeks are as happy and stress-free as possible.